Air Jordan 11 History & Timeline: Everything You Need to Know About the Air Jordan 11

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If there were a Mount Rushmore for Air Jordan sneakers, the Air Jordan 11 would be a shoo-in for one of the four spots.

Having made its debut in 1995, the Tinker Hatfield-designed sneaker is the most popular among the models Michael Jordan wore for his six NBA titles. Its rivals in acclaim all come from earlier in his career, as the Air Jordan 1 and Air Jordan 3 are the only shoes that might be put ahead of the Air Jordan 11 in a consensus. Hatfield, who designed 15 Air Jordans in total, even counts the AJ11 as his favorite of them all.

Patent leather, a material that had never before been used for a basketball sneaker, is just the first of the Air Jordan 11′s striking design features. The shoe was also bolstered by its appearance in “Space Jam,” and Nike waiting four years to release the colorway nicknamed for the movie made it one of the most sought-after drops in the history of the line.

Even as the Air Jordan 11 nears its 30th anniversary, it’s still finding room for firsts. This week will bring the first-ever Air Jordan 11 Low “Space Jam,” which is a sneaker you’ll likely be seeing a lot of on-feet this summer.

Ahead of that release, Footwear News is taking a look back at the history of the Air Jordan 11. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about the iconic sneaker.

Air Jordan 11 Concord OG
Air Jordan 11 Concord OG

Design and Technology

Like every sneaker in the line before it since the Air Jordan 3, the Air Jordan 11 was created by the legendary Nike designer Tinker Hatfield. It boasts two major firsts not just for Air Jordans but for all basketball sneakers, as it was the such shoe to make use of patent leather and a carbon fiber plate.

The choice to use patent leather, which typically appears on more formal shoes such as Oxfords, came because Jordan had requested a shiny shoe. Hatfield actually developed the shoe while Jordan had retired from basketball and was playing baseball. Nike even wanted to stop the Air Jordan line without its star in the sport — the Air Jordan 9 and Air Jordan 10 both released during Jordan’s retirement — but Hatfield’s insistence on pushing on would prove fortuitous, especially when he returned to the NBA in 1995.

A patent leather mudguard wraps around the lower part of the upper, while the majority of the remaining surface area is made up of ballistic nylon with webbing overlays forming the eyelets. The heel then features leather hosting an embroidered Jumpman logo on the lateral side and giving way to a mustache with “23” branding distinct to the silhouette.

After Jordan had made his request for shiny basketball shoes years earlier, Hatfield finally figured out how to fulfill it after coming across a pair of Japanese baseball cleats utilizing patent leather. The glossy leather also had the benefit of being stiff, which would help provide support in the upper. Pairing patent leather with a cloth top was inspired by convertible cars, with the idea being that the glossy leather represented the car body and the nylon being like the retractable top.

Air Jordan 11 Prototypes
Prototypes of the Air Jordan 11

Hatfield was also driven to innovate in part in order to justify the Air Jordan 11’s existence without Jordan on the court (as far as anyone knew at the time). A full-length carbon fiber plate, visible beneath the translucent outsole and through a cut-out at midfoot, was applied in the midsole to prevent it from flexing too much, a problem especially for larger athletes, and it helped provide its wearer a bit more speed. The plate works in conjunction with full-length Air cushioning, which counters with its bounce and comfort.

When Jordan was first presented with the Air Jordan 11, he laughed and told Hatfield people would be wearing the shoes with tuxedos. That comment would become prescient when Boyz II Men wore the sneaker in the white and black “Concord” colorway at the 1995 American Music Awards along with white tuxedos. Jordan called Hatfield and said Nike must have paid them to do this, but Hatfield assured him the decision was made entirely on their own, according to an interview from Sole Collector.

To this day, the Air Jordan 11 is still treated as a “formal” shoe by sneakerheads and has made countless appearances in weddings for the Jordan-obsessed. Jordan Brand also played into the idea of AJ11s for special occasions with a “Cap and Gown” colorway dropping in 2018 as a nod to those wore the model for their graduation ceremonies.

Michael Jordan Wears Air Jordan 11 Space Jam
Basketball: NBA Playoffs: Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan (23) during game vs Orlando Magic. Game 4. Chicago, IL 5/14/1995 CREDIT: John Biever (Photo by John Biever /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

An Early Debut

When Jordan returned to the NBA late in the 1994-1995 season, he did so in the Air Jordan 10. But when it came time for the Eastern Conference Finals, a series the Chicago Bulls would lose to the Orlando Magic, he decided to take to the court in the Air Jordan 11 despite his shoes still being prototypes and not having had permission to do so. In fact, he was explicitly told not to wear the sneakers in a game because Nike wasn’t yet ready to promote them.

Despite not having a proper commercial rollout ready at the time, the on-court debut generated a great deal of excitement. The pair he wore was in fact the edition later to be known as the “Space Jams,” as the movie would later take precedence for nicknaming purposes. Jordan was later fined for wearing the “Concord” colorway, as it didn’t conform to uniform regulations, a punishment that mirrored the marketing gift that was the ban of his sneakers leading up to the Air Jordan 1. (It wasn’t the Air Jordan 1 that was banned but rather the lookalike Air Ship.)

Michael Jordan Wears Air Jordan 11 Playoffs
UNITED STATES – JUNE 05: Basketball: finals, Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan (23) and Dennis Rodman (91) during game vs Seattle SuperSonics, Chicago, IL 6/5/1996 (Photo by Manny Millan/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Original Colorways

The Air Jordan 11 wouldn’t hit stores until late in 1995, as “Concord” served as the launch colorway in November. A more white-dominant “Columbia” pair with Carolina Blue branding would follow in February 1996, and the black and red “Playoff” or “Bred” edition touched down in April and would be worn by Jordan as he won the first championship of his second three-peat.

During the regular season, the “Columbia” edition is the only pair of 11s wore on the court during the regular season, a consistency quite unusual in his career of bountiful sneakers. The lineup of only three colorways for the Air Jordan 11’s original run was also more limited than usual, but it did have a low-top counterpart during the time with almost an entirely different design.

Air Jordan 11 IE Low Cobalt
Air Jordan 11 IE Low Cobalt

Air Jordan 11 IE Low

Not to be confused with the Air Jordan 11 Low, which didn’t release until 2001 and is essentially the same shoe with a lower profile, the Air Jordan 11 Low IE (short for “international edition) released in 1996 with a radically different design.

Two colorways released for the lower-cut AJ11 featuring the same sole unit but a reshaped upper with more dynamic overlays and a material switch to mesh and leather. Jordan wore a patent leather version of the Air Jordan 11 IE Low during the ‘96 playoffs that would inspire the black and red colorway that would later release sans gloss. An additional version from that year borrowed the grey elephant print signature to the Air Jordan 3 for its overlays as part of an otherwise white treatment.

Air Jordan 11 Space Jam 2016
Air Jordan 11 Space Jam 2016

“Space Jam” 

In “Space Jam,” which hit theaters in November 1996, Jordan wore a colorway of the Air Jordan 11 made only for him. The player-exclusive edition featured an all-black upper with a white midsole and colorless translucent outsole. Branding would then appear in a purplish-blue.

Just as fans lusted after the shoes Jordan wore on court, so too did they the kicks he wore on film. Sneakerheads clamored for the edition they’d nickname the “Space Jams,” but they had to wait until December 2000 for Jordan Brand, then its own brand since 1997, to finally give them a chance to purchase.

In a story that’s long circulated among sneakerheads and on the internet, one collector traded a used Honda Civic for one of the few original pairs made for the film. Much later on, in 2021, another original pair from the movie sold for $176,000 at auction.

The version released in 2000 differed from those in the film because of its use of outright blue branding. This color choice was then replicated again for the shoe’s retro release in 2009. It wouldn’t be until the 2016 retro that the original color was finally replicated, although that shoe also differs from the first because it featured “45’ branding on the heel instead of “23,” as well as a blue-tinted translucent outsole in order to combat yellowing with age.

To this day, there have still only been three Air Jordan 11 “Space Jam” releases, making it one of the most collectible of non-collaborative Air Jordans.

Air Jordan 11 Colorways
The Air Jordan 11 “Gratitude from 2023 (left) and the Air Jordan 11 “Cool Grey” from 2021 (right).

Other Retros and New Colorways

Just two months prior to the launch of the “Space Jams,” the Air Jordan 11 got its first retro release through the return of the “Concord” colorway. The “Columbia” edition would also reappear a year later, but 2001 would be more significant for the introduction of the “Cool Grey” edition. (This was also the year the Air Jordan 11 Low was introduced.)

Jordan himself would play in the Air Jordan 11 “Cool Grey” during his second return to the NBA with the Washington Wizards years later, adding to the lore of a shoe that was already initially popular despite him not having worn them on the court yet.

Five years later would come another new Air Jordan 11 colorway that would become one of the model’s most popular. Appearing with the same white and black color-blocking as the “Concord,” the new edition added a gold-tone metal Jumpman and matched the color with the “23” heel mark.

The sneaker was only available to purchase as part of the “Defining Moments Pack” including an Air Jordan 6, the model worn by Jordan for his first NBA title, in a complementary, more black-dominant scheme. Thus the only way to buy one shoe was to buy both, the first such time Jordan Brand packaged two sneakers together, which came with a price of $295. That is until the 2023 holiday season, when the Air Jordan 11 was released on its own for the first time as the “Gratitude” edition and with a new tinted outsole.

About the Author:

Ian Servantes is a Senior Trending News Editor for Footwear News specializing in sneaker coverage. He’s previously reported on streetwear and sneakers at Input and Highsnobiety after beginning his career on the pop culture beat. He subscribes to the idea that “ball is life” and doesn’t fuss over his kicks getting dirty.

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