Many may not agree with me, but for my money there’s never been a better sneaker commercial than Michael Jordan‘s “Frozen Moment.”
I grew up during the golden age for this and can still remember the years I spent in middle school downloading pixelated versions of Nike‘s iconic and game-changing “Freestyle” ad. Years later, Jordan Brand‘s “Maybe” ad inspired me while the “Let Your Game Speak” commercial for the Air Jordan XX1 left me nostalgic. However, as good as those ones were, none of them ever resonated the way the “Frozen Moment” did.
It was beautifully shot, conceptually resembling something closer to art than basketball. And so it sort of made sense why the sneaker showcased throughout the commercial was none other than the “Taxi” Air Jordan XII, one of the most elegant sneakers MJ ever wore.
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The mid-to-late ’90s marked a seminal period for Michael Jordan. No longer was he a young upstart raiding dunk contests with gold chains and flashy, devil-colored sneakers. No longer was he chasing something–a title, status, a record–that he didn’t already own. By that point, Jordan was transitioning into a business, an icon, a man who stood for something more than just a basketball player. He was building a legacy. His Jordan XII, in fact, was the first signature sneaker in the line to release under the Jordan Brand umbrella and actually didn’t feature a Swoosh anywhere on the shoe.
This updated image did need cultivating, though, considering very few athletes had made the leap to stylish idol away from the floor, and for MJ that always began with the sneakers.
What originally started with the Air Jordan XI–crafting something so beautiful it could be considered dressy–continued with the XII. Legendary designer Tinker Hatfield stayed on in production and took inspiration from the oddest places: a 19th century women’s dress boot and the Japanese war flag, known as the Nisshoki. The Japanese influence, in particular, shows up all across the upper where stitched leather radiates out like the sun. It is considered one of the line’s most supportable silhouettes, making it almost ironic how often you hear the term “tank” thrown around when talking about this shoe, considering how sophisticated certain colorways look. The shoe also featured Zoom Air for the first time in one of Jordan’s sneakers. Other memorable details included gold steel lace loops and the “JUMPMAN” printed across a side panel. The result was a resounding success, yet another classic shoe for a line with a long history of making memorable sneakers.
Jordan held up his end of the bargain too (as always). Five colorways would release that first year, and Jordan spent the bulk of the regular season alternating between the White/Red Jordan XII–yes, the pair he wore when rookie Allen Iverson was crossing him up–and the aforementioned “Taxi” colorway. Chicago began the season with one of the greatest starts in NBA history. Going 12-0 from the jump, the Bulls won 10 of those games by double digits. During NBA All-Star Weekend, MJ was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. He also produced the first triple-double in All-Star Game history and donned a pair of XIIs in the process that would go on to earn the “Playoffs” distinction.
The team would end up 68-10, within reach of tying their 72-win record the previous season, before losing three of their last four games. In the playoffs, Jordan and the Bulls continued to struggle at times and even fell at home against the Atlanta Hawks in the second round. (They were down 10 in that Game 3 as well, close to falling behind in the series, before rallying.) Jordan, wearing the “Playoff” edition Jordan XII as well as the “Bred” Black/Red pair for road games, pushed Chicago into the Finals. It was there that he took revenge against Utah’s league MVP Karl Malone for stealing his Most Valuable Player trophy.
Over the course of six games, Jordan threw up two memorable moments in the Air Jordan XII. During Game 1 while wearing the “Playoffs” XIIs, Jordan canned a pull-up jumper at the buzzer after Malone missed two free throws in the final seconds. Then in a defining performance in Game 5, MJ played through a terrible sickness to score 38 points in the Black/Red Air Jordan XII while leading the Bulls back from a 16-point deficit. In the closing minutes, he made a game-deciding three-pointer to put the good guys up 3-2. He’d win his fifth championship two nights later.
This Saturday at Champs Sports, add to the legend with the new “Master” colorway of the Air Jordan XII, which is taking its inspiration directly from a poster you may have had as a child. It features an all-black leather upper with gold and grey detailing on the branding.
Remember, the Air Jordan XII’s legacy didn’t start with the Flu Game and it doesn’t end there either. Remember how many of Jordan’s teammates wore the XII? Everyone from Scottie Pippen to Toni Kukoc to Luc Longley to Randy Brown to Ron Harper. Perhaps we should mention today’s generation, so many of whom grew up with the Jordan XII and still consider it one of the best performing sneakers ever made.
But, for my money, the Air Jordan XII’s appeal starts with the “Frozen Moment” ad. I can’t watch it without going back to my childhood, when Michael Jordan was more than just a player and his kicks were more than just sneakers.