The Birth of the Air Jordan Player Exclusive

Players having a shoe endorsement deal is nothing new. It’s been going on for decades. Players having their own signature shoe is also nothing new. In fact, it’s becoming quite a regular occurrence in today’s NBA. As the player garners a level of popularity and success as well, shoe companies produce for them a Player Exclusive colorway. Essentially a VIP NikeID. I’d go as far as saying the PE is becoming more of the rule than the exception.

Outside of LeBron James and the literally hundreds of PE’s he’s played in over the years, the PE’s which get the most interest and hype are the Air Jordan PE’s worn by various Team Jordan members over the years and across sports.

Michael Jordan played in an era when virtually every colorway of every shoe he played in was a general release and available to anyone who wanted to buy it. If you’re like me, you probably still have most of those in your closet from their original release (or any number of the retro re-issues). We can only imagine in hindsight what Air Jordan PE’s there would have been if Nike and Jordan Brand operated similarly for Michael as they do now for any number of players.

But when was the Air Jordan PE born? Where was the Air Jordan PE born? What was the the G.O.A.T.’s first Air Jordan PE? I say we can pinpoint Michael’s very first PE to September 6, 1986 and an Air Jordan II.

The North Carolina Tar Heels first called the Dean E. Smith Center home on January 18, 1986, but the venue wasn’t dedicated until September later that year. Part of the dedication included the Carolina Pro Alumni basketball game. It was in this game that we got to see MJ stunt his first pair of Air Jordan II’s, essentially the White/Varsity Red/Black colorway instead featuring a Carolina (or Columbia) back tab.

UNC Pro Alumni Game AJ II 1

UNC Pro Alumni Game AJ II 2

UNC Pro Alumni Game AJ II 3

After a year of playing in Chicago and finding his preference of the Air Jordan II low to its high counterpart, Jordan was asked to play in another such game, the Collegiate Legends Classic held on June 28, 1987 in Pauley Pavilion. The game featured legends of the college and pro hardwood from UCLA and North Carolina. Jordan had just enjoyed his most successful offensive season in the league and for the most part BECAME the Michael Jordan we’d come to expect for the remainder of his career. Outfitted with MacGregor/Sand Knit uniforms (with no last names, nor logos), and a nationally televised broadcast, the phenomena that was becoming “Air Jordan” brought his A Game along with the second pair of Air Jordan II PE’s (in my eyes, perhaps one of the nicest looking PE’s ever).

Michael Jordan II 1

Michael Jordan II 2

Jordan led the Carolina Alumni in scoring (of course) and to a win against the Wizard of Westwood.

We’d think that the first Air Jordan PE would have been some Chicago Bull White/Red/Black colorway, and really, it probably should have been, but it’s really something to look back and see it was developed out of necessity for his Alma Mater in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Words by Todd Krevanchi (@krvanch)


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