The original Air Jordan sneakers were released just before I turned five years old. I was just nine when "Do The Right Thing" launched the Jordan 4s into the spotlight. And I'd just hit middle school when MJ and Bugs Bunny forever made the Jordan 7s the "Hare Jordans".
I didn't have any of those sneakers. Being at the age where I was growing, and my shoe size was frequently changing, it didn't make much sense for my parents to spend upwards of $100 on shoes I'd probably only be able to wear for, at most, six months. By the time I'd entered high school, I hadn't worn a pair of Nikes in about eight years, and had never had the Jumpman grace my feet.
That continued until late into my junior year. By that point I'd finally stopped growing, which meant my parents were a little less reluctant to spend more than $20 on sneakers for me -- that limited budget meant going through most of middle and high school wearing off-brand sneakers, including the Hakeem Olajuwon Spaldings from Walmart. They still weren't enamored with the idea of spending over $100 on them, which meant Jordans were still out of the question. Or so I thought.
It took a bit of serendipity for me to finally end up with a pair of Air Jordans. I'd been working at Marshalls for almost a year, when I started looking around for other jobs. One day I decided to apply at The Sports Authority; I figured my retail experience and my love of sports would make for a natural fit. My mother drove me over there, I dropped off my application, and then I decided to look around the store a little bit.
By this point in the year there had been multiple colorways of the Jordan 12 released, and on the court Michael was wearing the black and red numbers that would become synonymous with the flu game. Those, along with the black and white "Playoffs" edition, were the ones everyone wanted. The early colorways were ending up on clearance racks... which is exactly where I spotted mine.
They didn't have a box, and I was fairly certain they'd been a customer return, but there they were in all their glory: a pair of red and white Air Jordan 12s, with a price tag of just $80. That was still way more than my mother was accustomed to paying for my sneakers, but I had to have them. Getting a pair of Jordans for less than retail price was a steal, and I used the old "but you're saving SO much that it'd be crazy NOT to buy them" Jedi mind trick to help my case.
I never got the job at Sports Authority, but the sneakers I got that day meant so much more to me than a forgettable retail job would have.
Prior to getting the 12s, I'd usually have two pairs of sneakers at a time, so I could rotate through them. That ended that day. I wore those shoes every single day for nearly a year. I heard all sorts of snarky comments, especially since the red of my hair nearly matched the red of the sneakers, but it didn't matter. I wore them with jeans, slacks, shorts, in the snow, in the rain... I finally had a pair of Jordans, and I didn't want to take them off.
That pair of Jordans is long gone. My parents threw them out when I was in college, understandably so, since they were pretty much destroyed by that point. My senior year, I added a pair of white/black 13s to alternate with, but when I got my white/red 14s my freshman year of college, the 12s pretty much went away.
With Jordan's retirement in 1998, my love affair with Air Jordans briefly went away. Between 1998 and 2008, the only pair of true "Air Jordans" I bought was the XXIs (which I should mention I loved, and also beat the crap out of). It wasn't until the Jordan 60+ came out in 2009 that my love for Jordans was rekindled. I tracked down a pair of Concord 11s through the secondary market shortly after getting the 60+s, then came the 7s, the 14s, the 10s... but it wasn't until last week that I finally replaced those 12s.
I missed out on the white/red retro in 2009, which would've been the ideal replacement for my originals, but the Playoff 12s are probably more coveted, and definitely go better with more clothing (that red on the originals is REALLY bright). I slipped on the 12s today, for the first time in close to 14 years, and it was just like wearing them for the first time. Seeing that "TWO 3" down the tongue, the metallic eyelets at the top, the Jumpman tag on the back, it all brought back so many memories.
I now have more than two dozen pairs of sneakers that I rotate through regularly. I don't get attached to sneakers quite the way I used to, which has its positives, since I don't beat them up quite as badly as I used to. But when I opened the box with the 12s in it -- the first time I'd gotten to do so, since my original 12s didn't come with a box -- it brought a smile to my face. You never forget your first pair.