While there were plenty of famous games in Michael Jordan‘s storied career, perhaps no performance was more remarkable than Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. His Airness overcame a debilitating illness to score 38 points and pull the Bulls within one game of their fifth NBA championship in a contest now known simply as “The Flu Game.”
On his feet that day? The Air Jordan XII, a sneaker that built on the success of the iconic Air Jordan XI. Nearly 20 years later and sneaker influencers like Eddie Quinn of @eqkicks are still singing the shoe’s praises, and not always for the reasons you hear people talking about today.
“The XIIs were the first pair of sneakers I actually remember wanting,” @eqkicks told us. “I was 10. I saw some kid wearing red and white XIIs, and I wasn’t like ‘Oh, those are Jordans.’ I just thought they were sick. I liked the colors and the way they looked, and I decided simply ‘I want those.’”
The Jordan Brand has long been able to successfully blend fashion with function, and the XIIs are one of the most popular sneakers straddling that line. With so many colorways already in circulation–as both highs and lows–the XIIs have versatility few sneakers can match.
Quinn certainly appreciates this approach when it comes to putting his look together.
“I don’t really have much of a plan in terms of wearing them,” he says. “Sometimes it’s based on what [clothes] I’m going to wear and sometimes I decide I want to wear a particular pair the night before. There’s no set way of going about it.”
While the XII’s ability to match with any outfit is a key reason behind its staying power, the deep personal connection sneakerheads like @eqkicks have formed with them is really the engine driving this remarkable 20-year run of popularity. While Quinn’s collection of XIIs now boasts over 15 different colorways, the memory of that first pair is never far from his mind.
Comparing the XII to other Jordans, he says, “They’re definitely my favorite, just because it takes me back to some of my first memories of sneakers, and I guess really the beginning of my interest in sneakers in general.”
Quinn is a self-professed sucker for this silhouette, coming back for every new release. He has been hooked ever since he dropped $55 of birthday money on a pair of the original White/Varsity Red Jordan XII.
“It was actually the first time I had ever bought a pair of sneakers for myself,” he says. “It was the first time I decided I wanted a pair of shoes, and I was going to find a way to get them.”
The Jordan Brand is, undoubtedly, a nostalgia-driven label. Anyone who grew up in the late 1980s and 1990s remembers Jordan, and for many, the Jordan sneakers that stand out the most are the ones most closely associated with his incredible feats on the court. The XIIs weren’t just there for the Flu Game; they were on MJ’s feet when he recorded the first triple-double in All-Star Game history, and they helped Jordan win the scoring title while being named First Team All-Defense. And oh yeah, he also won his fifth ring and fifth Finals MVP award that year too.
On-court glory is great, of course, but to truly last a sneaker needs more than that. Not only was the XII incredibly comfortable thanks to the full-length Zoom Air cushioning (a first for the Jordan line), but their clean and simple style has translated across three decades and innumerable shifts in fashion.
“I’ve just really always liked the design and look of them,” Quinn says. “There’s just something about them. To me, it really doesn’t get any better than this. The design of them, the look, the way they feel.”
Next Saturday, the highly-anticipated “Master” Air Jordan XII will drop at Champs Sports, and this release is one many people have had circled on their calendars for a long time, in part because it features a simple, black silhouette enhanced by luxuriously-styled gold accents.
Even the most casual of Jordan fans are getting in on the action. Quinn laughs while telling the story of a friend, an in-n-out-of-the-sneaker-game fair-weather fan, who, after seeing the “Master” colorway, decided he needed at least two pairs.
Perhaps that, above all else, is the Jordan XII’s greatest strength: Almost 20 years after its initial release, it still engenders that sort of “gotta have it” feeling in even casual fans. You don’t have to overthink it with the XII; most people–like @eqkicks–became fans of the sneaker simply because they thought the XII “looked cool.” Even though so much has changed since 1997, the look and feel of the Air Jordan XII is still as fresh as ever.
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