There’s a reason why Michael Jordan’s signature sneaker line has released packs with names like “Defining Moments”–His Airness certainly displayed a flair for the dramatic throughout his storied NBA career. Whether it was starring alongside Bugs Bunny in Space Jam, ending his Chicago tenure with a game-winning shot, or showing off rare colorways in All-Star Games, Jordan’s ownership of the moment helped propel his sneakers into rarified territory.
His fourth shoe, the Air Jordan IV, was under a lot of pressure to be great. After all, the Air Jordan III almost singlehandedly saved the Jordan line from extinction. The unstoppable scorer had been contemplating a move to adidas or Converse prior to the release of the AJIII, but ended up staying with his old pals after it proved to be his most successful sneaker yet.
In many ways, the success of the AJIII alongside Jordan’s ascension as a player set the stage for the Jordan IV, which has gone on to become one of MJ’s most iconic and beloved shoes.
World-famous designer Tinker Hatfield knew that Jordan appreciated the versatility of the III, so he sought to incorporate many of the elements that made the previous edition a success–mainly a perfect marriage of style and functionality.
The elephant print made famous in the previous edition was ditched, but new design elements were introduced by the IV that would go on to become staples of the Air Jordan line. Nubuck leather and mesh wiring made their first appearances on a Jordan shoe, which helped give an air of freshness to a shoe that otherwise closely patterned its predecessor.
Of course, Jordan’s shoes–and signature lines in general–resonate primarily based on the success of the sneaker’s spokesman. You could design the hottest shoes and colorways in the world, but if they were associated with some no-name player, it’s not likely you’re going to reach beyond a niche audience.
Luckily for Nike, there was nobody better to front sneaker sales than Michael Jordan in 1989. His ’88-89 campaign might go down as one of, if not the, greatest seasons ever put together by an NBA guard. Putting up averages of 32.5 points, eight assists, and eight rebounds on nearly 54 percent shooting, MJ began to silence any critics who were left that claimed he was just a high-flying scorer.
His efficiency and overall dominance while boasting the league’s highest usage rate was astounding, and though he fell short of capturing a second consecutive NBA MVP award, you’d be hard pressed to find a more dominant stretch in league history.
Of course, the question with Jordan to this point wasn’t necessarily the big numbers, but playoff faltering. Jordan’s numbers in the postseason were still brilliant, but his Bulls teams had the misfortune of coming up in a crowded East during the mid-late ’80s. His Airness and Co. weren’t losing to cupcakes; they were being ousted by the likes of the Bad Boys Pistons and Larry Bird’s Celtics.
Up against a similarly young and talented Cleveland Cavaliers team in the 1989 Eastern Conference First Round, the Bulls future dynasty was on the verge of being over before it started. Having lost all six regular season matchups against the Cavs–including a finale in which Cleveland rested their four best players–Jordan’s Bulls were considered major underdogs. This all set the stage for one of MJ’s first “classic” moments–The Shot.
Down 100-99 with three seconds to play following a Craig Ehlo layup, the Bulls had one final chance to avoid another early exit from the playoffs. The implications of the moment were huge–it’s not out of the question to think Chicago might have broken up their burgeoning core. Later rumors after the Bulls success–such as a collapsed Scottie Pippen-Shawn Kemp deal–would hint at the unease in the front office.
Fortunately for Bulls fans and Jordan aficionados, their hero came through when it counted.
Hanging in the air for what seems like an eternity, Jordan’s concentration and balance as he floated across the lane was simply incredible. The confidence he’s now revered for shone through in this moment; he began to run away before the shot even went down, and his leaping celebration remains crystal clear in the minds of basketball fans decades later.
That moment can be pointed to as one of the crucial steps in MJ’s journey toward immortality, as that iteration of the Bulls made their first appearance in a conference finals that season. Though they once again fell at the hands of their nemesis, the Bad Boys, those “big game” reps proved invaluable for the team’s future success.
Of course, that moment and that playoff run in general will forever be linked to the AJIV, as The Shot was nailed with Black/Cement IVs on MJ’s feet. The shoe’s cultural impact only grew from there; at one point spotted on the feet of head coach Phil Jackson and later featured in an iconic scene of Spike Lee’s classic Do The Right Thing, the Jordan IV rose to prominence thanks to unparalleled design and MJ’s cool factor.
Even today, the Air Jordan IV remains one of the most celebrated shoes in Jordan’s catalog, and you know Champs Sports has you covered when a re-up comes through. Jordan Brand’s latest release–the “Alternate ’89” edition–comes through today.
If The Shot helped the Air Jordan IV establish one thing still carrying weight, it was the slogan from the iconic commercial–it’s got to be the shoes.