The year 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the original release of the movie “Space Jam.” The film is not only a heartfelt homage to Michael Jordan’s career but also contains some of the most iconic moments in all of sneaker history. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck sneak into Jordan’s home in order to retrieve a pair of Air Jordan 9s. Michael Jordan wears a pair of 11s as he stretches his body to many times its original size in order to make a half-court dunk and win the game that frames the film’s climax.
As many people, including myself, grew up watching Jordan play around with their favorite “Looney Tunes” characters, he became engrained in their childhoods. And over the years, his sneakers have been laced throughout their lives and personal narratives. To be a fan of Jordan and his brand was and still is, in the simplest of terms, a lifestyle. Many people have committed themselves to collecting every one of the 23 signature shoes, an effort spanning many years and requiring many thousands of dollars. The Jordan brand is releasing a special-edition package just before the holiday season, a move that both taps into nostalgia and perhaps also gives fans a gift for their loyalty. The two-shoe collector’s box will contain one pair of 11s as well as the brand’s most recent basketball shoe release: the Air Jordan XXXI.
Knowing that one of my favorite shoe styles will soon be back on shelves (albeit in a different color scheme) has me reflecting on my relationship with the Jordan brand and on how that relationship has evolved over time.
I was four when I received Air Jordan 11s. They are still my favorite pair of shoes that I have ever owned. They were simply a beautiful pair of shoes. The shiny patent leather and red gum sole made them easily distinguishable, and, over time, they became what is arguably the most popular model and color of any Air Jordan ever released. But for me, at four years old, they were a prized possession that I would cherish long into the future.
I lost those shoes. That summer, in 2002, I was enrolled in day camp, and we were required to spend time in the pool every day. We were also required to bring a pair of flip-flops or water shoes to wear. One day, I decided not to change out of my flip-flops immediately after our time in the pool. I innocently roamed through camp activities until assembly at the end of the day. As the camp director surveyed the crowd, she spotted my bare toes and demanded that I go put my shoes on. I found my bag buried under what felt like hundreds of others, although it was more likely five or 10. When I got to my bag, there was only one shoe.
I wouldn’t find the other until a year later, when I was back at camp, one year older and likely two shoe sizes larger. After I lost the shoe that summer, I had watched my mom throw the other shoe into the trash. Now, I stared at the single Jordan 11 in the lost and found, divorced from its once faithful counterpart.
Some people are shoe collectors, allowing their best shoes to sit on shelves to be looked at like art in a gallery. This has never been my approach. I wear my favorite shoes until I hate them (or lose them), when they are so creased and tattered that their resale value might be cut to a fifth of the original price. But I think that’s the only way.
I truly believe that shoes are an extension of the individual and should be worn as such. A neighbor once told me that the most powerful thing that people can do for themselves is to make people truly see them. And shoes, clothing, hairstyles and any other part of a person’s appearance demand to be or to not to be seen. Especially for the marginalized, a loud pattern or bright coloring can be an act of courage, stepping outside of one’s comfort zone in an attempt to discover an even clearer vision of who she is and who she would like to be through the medium of her own reflection, ideally with little regard for how that image might appear to others.
When I was a child, I wore shoes because they had already been validated by the masses. But I now find it almost imperative to take risks in the way of appearance. Linda Rodin, a stylist and general figure in fashion, advised that too many opinions on a product boil it down to nothing. She said the same is true of one’s life and person. And so, I think it was fine as a child to be influenced by everything and everyone, making my decisions of what I liked and who I’d like to be based on what I found acceptable by observing others.
Now that I’m no longer a child, I find it is necessary to stop hiding my individuality because of fear of the opinions of far-off and sometimes nonexistent critics. For the most part, I now try to like my shoes and clothing based on personal taste and ideals of self-expression, an external reminder that just as I transform my appearance, I, too, can transform my person. This progression has allowed me to place a deeper investment in myself. It has made me more mindful and is perhaps the reason that I haven’t lost a shoe since 2002.