We’ve all seen them before.
Movies documenting history, or iconic moments in time which some director felt the need to make into a motion picture. Their trailers, and even the pre-movie disclaimer almost always come with the preface, “Based on a true story.” or “Based on actual events.” This is actually the producer and director’s way of saying, “What we’re gonna do is take a few parts here and there which are true, and then we’ll take license with the rest to spin some sensational yarn around everything else.” You think “Titanic” is about a ship? You think “Pearl Harbor” is about a surprise attack against the United States by the Japanese? How about you ask Jada Pinkett-Smith what she thinks about “All Eyez on Me”.
Well, nothing has changed… at least with Jordan Brand and their significant reaches to tell stories which aren’t really there. Their retro department would like to be known as tellers of great stories documenting the rich history of the player and brand with each new pack or retro release, but most often they just come out as just a bunch of story tellers…
The pack has now been out almost two weeks and everyone who ordered online should have it by now. For months prior to the release there have been various opinions about this pack and it’s accuracy, relevance and selected silhouettes. Complex Magazine’s Russ Bengtson offered his take last week.
Like Russ, I’m a purist and I care about the history of this game. I think it’s important that if stories are going to be told, they better be the right ones. Like Russ, I’ve been around this game for decades. But unlike Russ, I have a differing opinion. I’m going to break down the pack and I want to do so in 3 areas: Its official press release, the shoes included, and how this pack could have been best issued using either the shoes in it, the colorways or the themes it represents.
1. The Press Release.
This is a pack which was first referred to unofficially as the “Alumni Pack” (a name which got traction on social media channels somehow) and then officially released as “The 2 That Started it All Pack”. Nike News carefully curated a press release to highlight the pack and its contents… based on a true story.
When Michael Jordan signed his first professional contract it came with a unique clause allowing participation in competitive off-season pickup games. Specifically, this clause allowed for Jordan’s “Love of the Game” (a desire to play anywhere, anytime), regardless of potential liability.
Jordan’s relentless pursuit of off-season competition was solidified before his pro career even began. During high school, he spent countless summer days at Wilmington’s Empie Park challenging anyone who would accept. This embrace of playground hoops also continued during trips home from the University of North Carolina.
The most memorable examples of the “Love of the Game” contract clause are the famous UNC alumni games that took place in 1986 and 1987. While the September 6, 1986 game was played between Tar Heel alumni during the Dedication of the Dean Edward Smith Center, the June 28, 1987 game raised the stakes by making it against a star-studded rival alumni team. Never missing an opportunity to compete, MJ shined in both games while wearing his second signature sneaker. Not only did MJ put on a show, he also unknowingly debuted his original player edition, or PE colorway. In the 1986 game, he wore the Chicago home colorway of the Air Jordan II that featured a never-before-seen detail — Carolina Blue on the heel. In the 1987 game, he opted for a low version of the II in his alma mater’s team colors. Now, the II returns to honor both games by combining the original 1986 PE II with the 1987 game date.
We should probably put aside the fact that Jordan’s coach was named Dean Edwards Smith, NOT Dean Edward Smith, but that’s a non issue here. Let’s analyze this from a sneaker perspective. First, Michael Jordan did not wear the Chicago “home” colorway of the Air Jordan II in the Carolina Pro Alumni Game. He wore the “away” colorway. The one we know and recognize with the black midsole. This is elementary. But you already knew this, right Jordan Brand?
Yes, it featured this never before seen detail of a Carolina blue heel counter. It sure did. But as Marvin Barias (@MJO23DAN) revealed and explained in a recent Instagram post, it was a custom which Michael himself created for that specific game, NOT a PE as it is portrayed in the pack’s description. (EDITORS NOTE: and not as this author described in 2014)
Here is your FIRST LOOK at a never before seen original Air Jordan 2 worn by Michael Jordan. The shoes were worn by Jordan in the Carolina Pro Alumni game on September 6, 1986 in dedication to the Dean E. Smith Center. The sneakers are dual signed and was obtained in the summer of 1987 at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). The footage you see here is shot on VHS and has been kept tucked away ever since. Many will classify this as Jordan's first player exclusive (PE) but that simply was not the case. It may be Jordan's first custom and the first time Jordan ever wore the Air Jordan 2 on court, but it was not an official PE. In 1986, Jordan wanted to match the his Carolina Blue colors so he hand painted the red on the heel of his Air Jordan 2 to Carolina Blue. If you look closely, you can see red peeking through the heel in between its cracks. In 2017, Jordan Brand and Converse have collaborated to commemorate Jordan's "Love of the Game" in a two shoe pack. The first shoe is the Air Jordan 2 which celebrates the alumni games Jordan played in 1986 and 1987. The second shoe is the Converse Fastbreak which Jordan wore in the 1984 Olympics. Both shoes pay homage to the University of North Carolina (UNC) and the Summer Olympics. Release date for the pack is June 28, 2017 which is the 30th anniversary of the second alumni game. The pack will retail at $300. A must cop for me! #jumpman23 #converse #airjordan2 #conversefastbreak #uncalumni #ogsupportgroup
But you also already knew this, right Jordan Brand? You guys would have known if you made a PE for this game or not.
Jordan didn’t’ “unknowingly” debut anything. In fact, in this game, he “knowingly” debuted the Air Jordan II altogether. It would be the first time ANYONE saw an Air Jordan II, let alone the general release, “away” colorway. (Yes, Nike, the AWAY colorway.) The Pro Alumni Game was played on September 6, 1986. The Jordan II wouldn’t release for another two months in November in time for the NBA season, the last time his earliest signatures wouldn’t coincide with the NBA All Star Game. But you also already knew this too, right Jordan Brand?
MJ’s refusal to skip the 1984 games is another classic example of his “Love of the Game.” Having just been drafted, it was arguably in his best interest to decline, but instead he helped lead the USA men’s basketball team to a gold medal. During the games, he wore his favorite Converse model, the Fastbreak. To honor his memorable performances in Converse sneakers at the University of North Carolina (including a national title) and in the 1984 Olympics, the Fastbreak returns in Carolina Blue.
Refusal to skip?
Having just been drafted?
In his best interest to decline?
What are we talking about here Jordan Brand?
You’re talking 33 years ago. Let’s remember that Olympic basketball regulations restricted the participation of professional athletes in 1984 and the attitude towards competing in the games was COMPLETELY different then. Invitations were sent out by Olympic Coach Bob Knight to select college players to “try out” for the team in March of 1984. SIX of the 74 who received invitations were actually still in-season as their teams had reached the Final Four. Only FOUR of the 74 felt it was in their “best interest to decline”, and only TWO of those did so to based on potential draft implications (sorry Sam Bowie, you should’ve reconsidered). Tryouts were then held over the next two months to secure an Olympic roster. When was the NBA Draft? June 19. NOBODY had been drafted. But you already knew this too, right Jordan Brand?
Enough of trying to force us to believe that Jordan was some rebellious trailblazer fighting a regular practice of skipping international tournaments for personal gains. Do you know when the ’84 games began? July 28 of that summer. Do you know when they ended? August 12 of that summer. Do you know when Jordan signed this “first professional contract” of which this entire pack seems to be centered around? September 12 of that summer… a full month AFTER the closing of the Los Angeles games. Up until then, this clause was simply a request Michael asked of ProServ to include at the negotiating table.
2. The Sneakers.
Let’s face it, there’s nothing wrong with either of the shoes in this pack. Each are great silhouettes executed in colorways which are crisp and visually appealing. The fact that the Converse contribution includes a Lunarlon insole actually brings a 30+ year old shoe into the 21st century. Individually, I find them each to be great shoes. But when grouped collectively and touted with this backstory, they really make no sense with each other. Well, maybe they make a little sense, but it’s still a stretch.
The Air Jordan II Pro-Alumni, we’ll call them, was a Jordan-created custom for this game as we introduced earlier. It’s not even an exact reproduction of the shoe worn for the Pro Alumni game. If, indeed, it was a PE as the folks at Nike/JB say it was, they would have known what the shoe was like, top to bottom. Heck, they made it, right? Alas, no. Another spin to paint THEIR picture, not THE picture.
And can we talk about this date? 6/28/87.
Yes, Jordan played in an alumni game this day.
Yes, Jordan wore an Air Jordan II this day.
But No, Jordan did not wear this Air Jordan II this day.
He didn’t even wear a high top iteration, home PE, away PE or otherwise this day. He wore a Jordan II, low cut iteration, Carolina PE.
As they say, they are “honoring” 2 games. And they’re doing so by recreating what they THINK a shoe looked like for a game played on one date, but then labeling that shoe with the date of another game which took place almost a year later… when an entirely separate shoe was worn. One shoe honoring two games, one of which has absolutely no representation in the silhouette outside of the 5 numerals and two slashes which form the game’s date.
When I was trying to put this into context I thought about my Mom. When she did her scrapbooking of my high school years, my guess is that she didn’t “honor” both times I went to the prom by labeling the photos of my date and I during the Junior Prom with the date of my Senior Prom. It’s a ridiculous concept.
When questioning a Jordan Brand representative about the labeling on this shoe via his IG post recently, I was told to “just embrace the story”. We shouldn’t have to ever “just” anything. And if we are to “embrace” anything, shouldn’t it be a TRUE story and not a fabrication spun solely for the sake of having a story to go with a release?
I understand that a lot of today’s sneakerheads really aren’t interested in the history or backstory of shoes of the past, or even of the sneaker industry in general. That’s fine. To each their own. But the brand does a disservice to
- Those who do care about the history.
- Those who actually know the history.
- Those who don’t know the history and are led to believe what they’re being told is real. And,
- Michael and the Nike and Jordan brands.
The Converse Fast Break Carolina, as we’ll call them, has been the ‘adopted’ name for this shoe over the last few months as it has gotten a few retro treatments in 2017 in its “Summer of Sport” tonal releases as well as the “’83 Retro” set. I gotta say, it’s a REALLY great silhouette. Still today it is. Had it been readily available to me back then, I know for certain I would have passed on the Pro Star High for Cadet basketball that year and worn this one. But the shoe’s colorway in this pack has no historical representation in the stable of shoes Jordan has worn throughout his career. During Jordan’s college career we’ve only seen him in 2 Converse silhouettes: The Pro Leather and The Pro Star. Each in a white/Carolina colorway.
The inclusion of this specific Converse silhouette and it’s explanation reminds me of the brand’s release of the “Banned” Air Jordan I, when it was the colorway, not the shoe which was banned, and it was the Air Ship not the Jordan I which was in question.
Now, the Converse Fast Break, originally released as a high top in 1983, was a shoe incorporating nylon into the upper to offer a lighter ride and better breathability. It was one of Converse’ first forays into real, modern performance. And while the shoe Jordan and many of his Olympic teammates would wear in 1984 would resemble the Fast Break in a mid cut version, the actual Converse release in 1984 was called the Court Star. So, not only are we “celebrating” an incorrect colorway, but we’re not even calling it by its original name. Apparently over time the names have gotten jumbled in the Converse and subsequent Nike archives like a bunch of scrabble tiles…
Jordan would actually wear two separate colorways of the Court Star during the 1984 Olympics. A white/natural pair to which he added personal customization and darkened the chevron to navy, as well as a standard white/navy pair, the one which recently sold at auction for $190,000.
3. The Proposals.
Ok, so while I’ve just spent the last paragraphs and bullet points throwing barbs at the inaccuracies of this release, what should it have been? What could they have done either using these shoes or these themes?
1. UNC Pack
While Jordan Brand would want to make sure an Air Jordan is in any pack celebrating Michael’s career, a UNC Pack recognizes the Converse era of his career. And this pack would include the 2 shoes we discussed earlier, the Pro Leather and the Pro Star. Each celebrates his accomplishments at North Carolina: 1982 NCAA Champion, 1983 & 1984 First Team All American and 1984 Player of the year. The brand had already released a 30th Anniversary Pro Leather pack back in 2012 which was limited to only 30 pairs, so a release on a much larger scale would be appropriate for Jordan historians. Pairing it with a proper retro of the Pro Star would be a way to generally celebrate the 35th anniversary of that “era”.
2. Alumni Pack
If Jordan brand really wants to showcase Michael’s “Love of the Game” clause, to play off-season games regardless of liability, simply highlight some of the games he played exercising his right to do so. While there were many games Jordan played throughout his career from European barnstorming tours to charity/celebrity events, the 2 shoes he wore in North Carolina Alumni games while under pro contract aligns the past with the present. The Air Jordan II, as released in this pack (with appropriate labeling) along with the Air Jordan II Low done in the PE colorway, as worn in the June 28, 1987 game at Pauley Pavilion, celebrates The University of North Carolina, his ‘Love of the Game” clause, as well as this year’s 30th anniversary of the Air Jordan II.
3. Title Pack
Michael Jordan is one of the fortunate players who has won titles in both college and in the NBA. In fact, he is a member of an even smaller fraternity who has completed basketball’s Triple Crown of adding Olympic Gold to the resume. Even still, Jordan is the ONLY player to have an NCAA Title, NBA Title and TWO Olympic Gold Medals. While we’ll table the Olympic Gold Medal talk for now, a Title Pack recognizes not only each of the first titles Jordan won in College and in the NBA, but two iconic moments in his basketball life: his game winner in 1982, and his acrobatic layup, switching hands in the process, in Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals. The Pro Leather in white/Carolina and the Air Jordan VI black/infrared are two of the silhouettes Jordan has worn during his career which are singularly aligned with some of his most significant championship moments.
4. Gold Medal Pack
Initially Michael Jordan didn’t want to be a part of the “Dream Team”. He had always explained, “I’ve already experienced that.” But, after 8 years, an Olympic Basketball eligibility change, and some pressures from USA Basketball and the other players who had already accepted invites, Jordan went to play for Gold Medal number 2. Pairing the two shoes he wore during each Gold Medal run would be easy. We know Jordan’s early affinity to Adidas, and we’ve all seen the now famous photos of Jordan during the 1984 Olympic Trials wearing not Converse as he had in college, and not Nike as he would in the NBA (Jordan wouldn’t sign with Nike until October of 1984), but Adidas. While an impossible stretch, an amazing cross branded 3 pack of the Adidas Forum High white/royal, the Converse Court Star (Fast Break) white/navy and the Air Jordan 7 “Olympic” would be the perfect representation of the 3 shoes and brands Jordan would wear throughout his complete Olympic on-court experience. It would be unprecedented, and unfortunately we will never see it come to fruition.
While I’ll never be able to supply proof or directly take credit, I have to think that the inspiration for at least the Air Jordan in this pack started because someone at Nike read a an entry I made on this blog back in 2014 outlining this rare find.
Oh, and that photo that you’ve all seen by now? Of Jordan soaring in for a dunk during the Pro Alumni game wearing the Air Jordan II in this pack? It’s at the top of this piece. It is an iPhone photo I took of a picture in my copy of the 1987 North Carolina team book, “Carolina Court”. I’ve seen it on virtually every blog, on dozens (if not more) Instagram accounts including representatives of the brand. Did they always know about this little known custom and just wanted to wait THIRTY years to release it as part of a celebratory package? I don’t know, but my guess is absolutely not.
But man, Jordan Brand, if you want to tell stories, TELL THE REAL STORY. You have to do better. You can take all the license you want when it comes to the story behind new colorways of Air Jordan releases of the past, because, in essence, you’re creating it. But you can’t take license when it comes to releases that actually have a history that’s already been written.
Jordan Brand hasn’t exactly been a beacon of historical accuracy when it comes to its retro releases over the years. The Banned Jordan I had an incorrect date, the DMP 60+ pack infamously included a date of March 4, 1993, a date when no Bulls game was even played. Who fact checks at Nike? Does anyone there even care? A parent brand like Nike, so rich in its history SHOULD care. Hell, it’s been said that Jordan’s choice to stay with Nike after his first contract saved the brand. You’d think they’d pay more attention to the details of the shoes garnering his signature.
As one who has been in this game on various levels for over 30 years, I am always interested in the history. It tells us how we got here. I am always wanting to know more about the history of shoes, of brands, and of the back story… if there is one. And if there’s not, leave it alone, because when it’s all said and done, I’d rather a brand bypass a story altogether for the sake of integrity and get a product right.