Tinker Hatfield is a luminary, albeit a mad scientist, sent here to bless the world with some of the greatest sneaker designs of all time. Of his astonishing catalog of creations for Nike, one could debate that the Air Jordan 11 is his crowning achievement.
Pushing the limits of design, the AJ 11 hits a sweet spot where form, function, and a fashionable aesthetic converge. At the time of its release, the look of the shoe was innovative, cosmic even – a combination of mesh, patent leather, and rubber. Three simple materials merged together like Voltron.
The AJ 11 released in 1995, the period when Jordan’s basketball play and influence were in ultimate sync. Seeing him navigate the parquet with masterful tact felt more magical than usual, and it was partially the shoes. Culture shifting moments in which the AJ 11 had a supporting role were bountiful on and off the court.
In-game, MJ scored 53 points on 21-28 shooting against a Detroit Pistons team led by prodigious talent Grant Hill during the regular season; exacted his revenge on the Orlando Magic (who defeated the Bulls in the semifinals the previous year) in the Eastern Conference Championship; all pit stops on the road to a 72-10 season and eventual NBA championship.
Meanwhile, kids attempted their best Jordan impressions during pickup games on the blacktop, properly garbed in the sneaker and outfit to match. In pop culture, the likes of Will Smith, The Notorious B.I.G., and more embraced the shoe. Boyz II Men even wore the “Concord” colorway to the 1996 American Music Awards with tuxedos, because swagger.
And that is why the Air Jordan 11 occupies a place on the hierarchy of sneaker culture that few models share.
The Genesis (1995-2006)
The Air Jordan XI “Concord” hit retailers late 1995, months after the world was first introduced to the shoe; its grand unveiling actually happened on May 7, 1995.
Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls were set to face a young, energetic Orlando Magic team, led by Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, in game one of the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals. Though the Bulls would eventually lose the series, two things were soon apparent – Jordan wouldn't be rusty for long and the new sneaker he debuted looked like something from out of space. The combination of the pristine white mesh upper, black patent leather mudguard, and icy clear sole impressed Jordan so much that he wore the sample in-game, without Nike’s consent (he earned a hefty $5,000 league fine in both Games 1 and 2).
The AJ XI "Concord" hit retailers November 1995, effectively turning the world on its ear in the process. The OG run also included the "Playoff" and "Columbia" colorways. Low top versions aside, the world wouldn't see a retro until 2000, when the "Concord" returned, followed by the first ever release of the "Space Jam." The following year (2001) brought the first "Playoff and "Columbia" retros and the unveiling of the "Cool Grey."
Air Jordan 11 Retro DMP LE
Style: 136046 171
Release: January 28, 2006
Talk about a game changer. Retailing at $295 – an egregious price point at the time – the Air Jordan “Defining Moments” pack jumpstarted the trend of sneakers releasing in packs. Taking a page out of the Michael Jordan history books, the pack is an one-two punch, featuring the Air Jordan 6 and Air Jordan 11, the kicks worn at the inception of his two three-peat NBA championship runs.
While the Air Jordan 6 silhouette featured an entirely new black and gold colorway, the AJ 11 had a familiar look. It was essentially a retro of “Concord,” save for a gold Jumpman logo and matching accents on the tongue, heel, and eyelets.
Air Jordan 11 Retro CDP
Style: 136046 062
Release: December 20, 2008
In 2008, Jordan Brand reappropriated the pack idea revolutionized by the 2006 DMP release for the grand rollout of its XX3 sneaker. In turn, sneakerheads received the Air Jordan Countdown Pack (or Collezione), which doubled as a lesson on basic math. Comprised of 11 releases, beginning with the Air Jordan 1 and Air Jordan 22, each combination paired an earlier, highly coveted silhouette with a later model and equaled the number 23. That is until the numbers met in the middle on December 20, 2008, with two of the more classic colorways in the Jordan cannon: the Air Jordan 11 “Playofff” and Air Jordan 12 “Taxi.” Needless to say that the sneakers flew off of shelves in no time.
Air Jordan 11 Retro “Space Jam”
Style: 378037 041
Release: December 23, 2009
Talk about a frenzy. Two days prior to Christmas ’09, the retro of the 2000 “Space Jam 11” colorway had sneaker retailers resembling a scene in Jingle All the Way (1996). Sans Sinbad, of course. However, Turbo-Man wasn’t the draw here; but the hoopla all made sense after one gaze at the shoe.
Its upper, coated in all black, complete with mesh and the AJ 11’s patented patent leather mudguard, is offset by a white midsole and icy clear sole (one of the last cases of this, but more on that later). Blue Jumpman branding and accents give the shoe its proper finish.
Air Jordan 11 Retro “25th Anniversary”
Style: 408201 101
Release: May 1, 2010
What began as part of a traveling showcase to celebrate 25 years of Air Jordan dominance became another opportunity for Jordan Brand to capitalize on a marketplace fiending for a classic sneaker in a new colorway.
This was the exact circumstance under which the Air Jordan 11 “25th Anniversary” released. Of the AJ 1-XX3 created for the aforementioned showcase, only a handful were released for retail. White from top to bottom, the shoe was a simple, pristine take on the classic Air Jordan cannon. However, the AJ 11 “25th Anniversary” did receive critiques for the missing Jumpman logo on the ankle – a feature only 25 pairs, each numbered on the insole, would don.
Air Jordan 11 Retro “Cool Grey”
Style: 378037 001
Release: December 23, 2010
Once again, a holiday Air Jordan 11 release caused absolute mayhem at stores on release day. Like the “Space Jam” colorway, this was the first time the AJ 11 “Cool Grey” were retro’d since their first time on shelves in 2001.
The 2010 release doesn’t deviate far from the OG. Other than slight modifications to the sneaker’s shape, the cool grey upper and patent leather mudguard stay true to form. The biggest difference here was the icy sole, which features a blue hue, and elaborate packaging that would eventually become commonplace in later AJ 11 releases.
Air Jordan 11 Retro “Concord”
Style: 378037 107
Release: December 23, 2011
It’s a party anytime an Air Jordan 11 retro releases. Especially when we’re talking about the “Concord” motif. The last time any semblance of the iconic shoe released was in 2006, with the “Defining Moments” pack. But this time, the retro was completely true to its OG form, other than its icy blue sole, of course.
Air Jordan 11 Retro “Playoff”
Style: 378037 010
Release: December 21, 2012
In the three years prior, Air Jordan 11 releases made holiday shoppers (and store locations) active participants in a royal rumble. 2012 was no different, as the “Playoff” colorway returned to retailers. A true marvel of a sneaker, the distinct varsity red undersole, crisp white midsole, and an nearly all black upper comprised of mesh and the famed patent leather mudguard. Of course, the Jumpman emblem on the ankle makes the proverbial cypher complete. 1996, is that you?
Air Jordan 11 Retro “Gamma Blue”
Style: 378037 006
Release: December 21, 2013
Jordan Brand switched up the flow for its 2013 holiday release. Instead of a familiar retro, consumers received the Air Jordan 11 Retro “Gamma Blue” – a spanking new take on the model. The signature mesh upper and patent leather mudguard remain in tact. The gamma blue Jumpman, subtle hints of yellow on the heel and tongue, and black midsole account for the differences.
Air Jordan 11 Retro “Legend Blue”
Style: 378037 117
Release: December 20, 2014
Images of what appeared to be the first retro of the Air Jordan 11 Retro “Columbia” since 2001 released April 2014, sending the Internets into a frenzy soon after. Later, it was announced that the colorway had been renamed “Legend Blue.” Regardless, the shoe was of the same vein as the coveted retro. Subtle differences (i.e. a different cut on the patent leather mudguard, changes to the Jordan branding) separate the 2014 release from its two predecessors. Once you build a bridge and get over that, it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there.
Air Jordan 11 Retro “Pantone”
Style: 689479 405
Release: December 23, 2014
Similar to the “25th Anniversary” edition, the “Pantone” wasn't initially a single sneaker, but instead a themed set created for display. Fortunately, things change, and with the announcement of the Air Jordan “Ultimate Gift of Flight” Pack in 2014, sneaker lovers were in for a treat: an all new take on the Air Jordan 11. Accompanied by an Air Jordan XX9, many were drawn to the AJ 11’s exotic look – its upper drenched in an eye catching UNC-inspired Carolina Blue. However, the pack's $500 price tag made the pack a pretty lofty purchase for most.
Air Jordan 11 Retro “72-10”
Style: 378037 002
Release: December 12, 2015
72-10. On paper, the record is as daunting as it’s staggering. And still, it was the reality for the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls, led by none other than Michael Jordan.
After suffering an Eastern Semi Conference Finals loss to a younger, revered Orlando Magic team that, along with rising superstars Shaq and Penny Hardaway, included former Bulls teammate Horace Grant the previous season, it was time for a change in Chicago.
The answer to Orlando’s speed and agility came in an unpredictable package with a headful of died blonde hair: defensive specialist and rebounding machine Dennis Rodman. Setting a new regular season record for wins was but a pitstop on the Bulls’ road to winning another NBA Championship, the beginning of another three-peat run. The winning streak is a thing of legend, making the season perfect grounds to inspire a new Air Jordan 11 colorway aptly coined “72-10.”
Jordan rocked the AJ 11 the entire ‘95-’96 season, a no brainer given that the “Concord” and “Playoff” are two of the best colorways of one of the greatest sneakers ever created. In an era of retros created in new colorways, the “72-10” is a rare case when we can imagine MJ actually wearing the shoe. Credit that to a Chicago Bulls-centric colorway, and luxe features like the tumbled leather on the upper, metallic red Jumpman pendant on the ankle, and a translucent outsole.
Air Jordan 11 Retro “Suede”
Style: 914433 003
Release: November 11, 2016
What is this, velvet? No, it's actually suede.
Through all of its high and low variations, the Air Jordan 11 has remained pretty consistent in its construction: either a slick combination of mesh and patent leather, or premium leather. Until now, suede on the model was an uncharted option. But here, the use of the material is perfectly executed in a Cool Grey colorway. The white midsole breaks the monotony with some assistance from a translucent outsole in Sail.
Air Jordan 11 Retro “Space Jam”
Style: 378037 003
Release: December 17, 2016
Once again, it’s on.
The Air Jordan 11 “Space Jam” will make its return this holiday season. But this time there’s a twist. Unlike previous retros, the sneaker is modeled after the sample version Michael Jordan wore during the NBA Playoff Semifinals in 1995. Therefore, differences in its details, along with updates to the silhouette, should be expected. The most notable change is the ‘45’ heel branding as opposed to the ‘23.’ Like recent iterations of the AJ 11, the cut on the patent leather mudguard is different; it also dons white stitching. Get over it, you know you’re copping the 2016 AJ 11 “Space Jam” anyway.