Style + Substance: 30 Years of Air

Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks - Jordan's Final MSG Appearance

One of the most devastating disparagements you can lay at the feet of any artist, businessman, athlete, etc.—is that they have style but no substance. Such an affront could never be tossed at Michael Jeffery Jordan.

His style was iconic—the baldhead, baggie shorts, wagging tongue and of course the mega popular shoes. If you ever for a second thought his legacy was built on hype or marketing—all you would have to do is turn over one of his countless basketball cards to see that his substance, the stuff he was made of, allowed him to be more than a passing fad. No basketball player can challenge the scoring sprees, the game winners and the championship banners he hung from the rafters. That dominance on the court made American kids snatch up everything from his signature Air Jordan shoe to his endorsed Hanes underwear. If Jordan slung it, the kids craved it. They had to have it. They felt required to be a part of the legacy and the legend. His burning desire to win, and to win with swagger, made him a force on the hardwood and in the fickle world of fashion for over three decades now.

MJ was a superhero. He was a real life comic book champion come to life. His costume was not only attainable, but also chic. If you wore Batman’s cape and cowl to school everyday you would probably get looks of pity. However, if you wore the gear of the starting shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls you would get stares of adulation. The red and black Bulls jackets, caps and #23 jerseys made you feel closer to greatness.

Jordan was at the height of his powers in the 90s. His skill set and popularity was boundless during the decade. He won NBA title after title, an Olympic Gold Medal and even pulled off a comeback. His on court dominance bled into the fashion world. The 90s fashion scene was very laid back and chilled—low maintenance but styled. Sports clothing easily fit into this trend. Team logos were on jackets, shirts and hats. The youth of the day had no difficulty mixing in the laid back athletic wear with their baggie jeans and gym shoes. MJ was able to take his image and persona and sell kicks with it, but he also made his organization a fashion must in the decade. The Jordan symbol and Bulls logo were everywhere during the era. Jordan was often labeled as selfish and someone who dominated too much of the limelight—often at the expense of his teammates. But, his on court solo theatrics allowed his team and its paraphernalia to become a wardrobe necessity.

The impact of Mike on fashion was not limited to any skin color or zip code. Air Jordan sneakers could be worn by Jerry Seinfeld on his hit sitcom or Method Man in a Wu-Tang video and it never seemed odd or misplaced in either world. He was larger than any stereotype or cliché’. He was broader than any style or look. The Jordan brand was a more refined and non–edible version of McDonald’s. Whether you see the fast food staple in the inner city or a posh upscale neighborhood it always seems innate and expected—Jordan sneakers were no different.

Suns v Bulls Jordan

Jordan’s third and final retirement was over 10 years ago. His relevancy and popularity has naturally diminished since then. To say it has diminished does not mean in the slightest that it has vanquished, far from it.

An argument could be made that no current NBA player is more beloved that Jordan is today—despite not playing currently. Not Kobe. Not LeBron. Not anyone. Fans who had the privilege of watching him play are loyal to him and still maintain he was an unmatched marvel. Kids who never saw his 63 point playoff record performance, Double Nickel game in the Garden, Flu Game verse Utah in the Finals or his Last Shot live, still idolize him. The youth of today still lineup for his retro Air Jordan shoes and sport clothing adorned with his Jumpman logo. Could any other basketball player or any other pro athlete still capture the imagination of countless fans over a decade after stepping away from their sport? The fact that kids and adults still relate to Jordan is a true testament to his brilliance.

Vintage clothing has become greatly sought after as of late. Old school snap back hats, Starter jackets and other relics from the 1990’s are once again in vogue. The Bulls related flashback clothing is possibly the most popular of the garb. Jordan’s popularity is deeply rooted in the past and the present. While his garments from the past are catching fire, his current line of gear is still firmly visible. Jordan Brand is arguably more recognizable than any other sports wear line. It’s rare, if not unheard of for an athlete, musician or actor to sell their past and present equally as well. It would be like the musician Prince receiving as much love for his new music as he does for his old iconic hits—it’s hard for most people to even name a Prince song that was not produced more than 20 years ago.

People can argue whether or not Jordan is the greatest player of all time. You can argue if much of his god like statue was earned with marketing and saturation. But, no one can argue his importance to the culture. He has achieved a stature in our cautiousness that advertising alone cannot buy. His dominance on the court may have ended long ago but in the world of popular culture there seems to be no end in sight for his reign.

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