History of the Air Jordan 6

It’s often not about how a sneaker looks or what materials it uses. Sometimes, it’s as simple as what someone does in them. For Michael Jordan, the Air Jordan 1 was the first, the originator; the Air Jordan 3 was the revolution, the sneaker that saved it all; and the Air Jordan 11 was probably the best, or maybe at least the most innovative. The Air Jordan 6 doesn’t carry quite that much clout. Yet it became an overnight classic anyway because of one simple reason.

MJ finally won in them.

The 6 was released during the 1990-91 season. That year, Jordan’s seventh in the NBA, the 6-6 guard averaged 31.5 points on a career-high 54 percent shooting and 6.0 rebounds per game, winning the league MVP award. All of that we expected from the world’s greatest athlete. But Chicago was coming off a brutal Game 7 loss in the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals to their nemisis from Detroit, the Bad Boys. That series marked the third-straight year that the Pistons had ended the Bulls’ championship aspirations, and for Jordan — at this point, sporting a 25-28 postseason record — it marked the proverbial crossroads. At 28 years old, was he ever going to win? Would he ever reached the heights set by Bird and Magic and Isiah? Many didn’t think so. Jordan was a new age superstar, a player interested in winning but just as interested in dominating. The ball. The accolades. The scoring. The shots. The decisions. He wanted to dominate it all, and that left more than a few critics questioning his mentality.

So when Chicago did finally advance past Detroit and then wiped the floor with the Lakers in the Finals, winning in five games, it felt like Michael Jordan, the super-superstar, the face of the league and the legend, had finally arrived. Almost overnight. Forgive the cliche, but it was like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. For the first time, we saw how high he could soar. Jordan’s next five full seasons produced five more rings, and as Jordan’s status grew, so too did that of the Air Jordan 6.

The 6 originally released in five colorways, including the “Sport Blue” edition that’s being retroed this weekend at Champs Sports. The standout was obviously the Black/Infared version that Jordan wore throughout the Finals. During the second game of that series, Jordan hurt his foot. But when asked by trainers if he wanted a special shoe to help protect the injury, Jordan said “give me the pain” and kept on rocking his beloved 6s.

From there, the 6 gained a following among obsessed sneakerheads. It included a marketing campaign that featured Little Richard, was spotlighted in the iconic movie, White Men Can’t Jump, regularly sells for well over $5,000 nowadays, and was actually the first Jordan shoe to be retroed for the Olympics.

With a Porsche-inspired rear pull tab, designed by Tinker Hatfield to make it easier to get in and out of the shoe, this was also the first Jordan to feature an inner bootie. The Air Jordan 6 also marked the last time one of Jordan’s sneakers featured the “Nike Air” branding. In the years and retros since, with JB notably ditching the “Nike Air” for the Jumpman in most of their re-releases, prices for the originals have skyrocketed.

When it released in 1991, the Air Jordan 6 marked a passing of the torch, the point in Jordan’s career where he truly rose to icon status. Without that initial title run, and without the 6 helping him turn in legendary performances (like this one), who knows what the sneaker industry would look like today?

Go back in time this Saturday with a modern take on the OG “Sport Blue” classic colorway.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney