Michael Jordan did not want to take that flight to Beaverton.
In 1984, Nike wasn’t the world-beating shoe dynasty they would become. They were still mired in their upstart years and known primarily for their innovations in the world of track and field and their affiliation with tennis firebrand John McEnroe. Converse was the official sneaker of the NBA, worn proudly (as well as advertised) by league linchpins Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The incumbent sneaker company did not want to put a rookie player—highly touted as he was—before the two best players in the league for much of the past decade. Jordan admired and favored the Adidas brand, but they couldn’t justify giving him his own shoe. According to the documentary/cultural tentpole The Last Dance, Jordan did what he could to avoid taking the meeting with Nike, deeply reluctant to even field their offer.
Just as it would for many of us, it took some assertive (some would even say forceful) encouragement from Jordan’s mother to make the trip to Oregon happen. Nike was rumored to have offered $250,000 for the exclusive rights to a Michael Jordan sneaker line. At the time, it was the richest shoe deal in professional basketball by a margin of about $150,000.
According to NBA folklore, the black and red colorway of the original Air Jordan 1s was considered a violation of the league’s uniform standards, and then-commissioner David Stern—who apparently had never met a dress code he didn’t like—authorized a fine of $5000 every time Jordan wore them on the court. Nike happily paid the fine and concurrently shot their infamous “Banned in the NBA” marketing campaign, turning their new venture into the sort of forbidden fruit fashion-obsessed kids from the streets and beyond salivate over. In its first year, the Air Jordan 1 netted $126 million for Nike (adjusting for inflation, nearly $324 million today), annihilating their expectations to sell $3 million worth of shoes in four years.
You know how the rest of the story goes: Air Jordan has produced 36 signature designs [editor’s note: the 36th, while without a public on-sale date, made its debut during Tuesday’s Celtics/Nets game], many in multiple colorways, single-handedly invented sneaker culture, and exists in a very short argument as the most iconic shoe line of all-time. The only shoes that come close were named after another basketball player, Chuck Taylor, who is much better known for his sneakers than his in-game stats.
When the Dior x Air Jordan collaboration was announced, the shoe retailed for $2200. Only 8500 pairs were made and over five million people signed up to be on the waitlist. The shoe currently goes from anywhere between $7000 and a cool five figures on the resale market. The Young Bucks have drawn money like no other full-time tag team since the heyday of the Rock ‘n Roll Express, so it’s only appropriate for to fully embrace their newfound status as full-fledged heels—which was hard-earned after months of wishy-washy hand-wringing—but stuntin’ with their pairs (plural) of the immensely coveted designer sneakers.
— Young Bucks® (@youngbucks) April 15, 2021
The Kicks Heard ‘Round the World
After their close friend Kenny Omega won the AEW World Championship by crook in December and cemented a heel turn he had spent the previous number of weeks flirting with, the Young Bucks were wishy-washy about their character alignment for over three months. They would commit subtly heelish actions one week, the next they would defend the honor of a babyface under the gun of an unfair advantage. Nick and Matt Jackson would become AEW Tag Team Champions but found themselves in a period of inertia anyway, navigating tension with Don Callis and being replaced in favor of their old Bullet Club running buddies Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson.
It seemed like it was meant for the Bucks to be conflicted between upholding the virtues of pro wrestling competitors (or being “good guys”) and doing right by their friends (or being “good brothers”). Instead, they came across as a team treading water. Underachievement is a powerful motivator, because after Callis read Matt, the Bucks’ elder sibling, the riot act regarding his situation, the Bucks turned on Jon Moxley after teaming with him in a trios match and reuniting with their longtime friend.
The Jackson Brothers planting their feet into the cheekbones of Mox weren’t the kicks heard ‘round the world. Those would come the following week.
We’re untouchable. Follow that. pic.twitter.com/94YPpnwYjo
— Young Bucks® (@youngbucks) April 15, 2021
In a title defense against PAC and Rey Fenix, the Young Bucks entered the ring with a new attitude as well as a new look. Gone was their trademark fringe, in its stead were beaded headbands and the two pairs of Dior Jordan 1s which sent the intersection of Sneakerhead and Wrestling Twitter into a frenzy. After a big move early in the match, Nick Jackson found the camera at ringside, looked dead into it, and pointed directly at the Dior typeface on his bottom-right sole. As if to say, “How can the Young Bucks flip like that? It’s gotta be the shoes!” By all accounts, the Young Bucks are as rich as any wrestler working today—and if you take a look at their merchandise statements over the past five or so years, they have been for a while—so showing off their extremely rare sneakers served as a generational update of Ric Flair taking off his alligator loafers and showing them to the TBS cameras.
The next week, amidst the Bucks bragging about being the best tag team in the world while wearing hilariously garish outfits, Mox and his confidante Eddie Kingston rammed a beefed-up Chevy Silverado into the Elite’s tastefully furnished trailer; Kingston repeatedly shouted, “Where your sneakers at?” It’s safe to say Kingston didn’t bother to join the waitlist.
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Criticism of the Young Bucks’ style over the years sounds a lot like the initial criticism of hip-hop music. Here is a team sampling taunts and tropes of the past, turning up the volume, and putting the best parts on loop and turning it into something a lot faster-paced than the wrestling of yesteryear. Something that hits a lot harder at the point of impact, something more sensational than the gritty realism beloved by wrestling purists. Kingston himself is actually a product of hip-hop culture; the attitude, the aggression, the way he has found a home in danger. He and Mox clashing with the Bucks feels immensely like the meeting between innovation and spirit.
As we’re living in modern times, our choices—especially those of people in the public eye—are under aggressive scrutiny. In a matter of days after the Young Bucks flossed their Dior 1s on primetime television, a report surfaced calling the authenticity of the sneakers into question. A wrestling fan with a very discerning eye for sneakers posted the reasons why they believed the Bucks were wearing counterfeit Jordans with the same vigor as the episode of Atlanta where Earn was investigated by his classmates for potentially wearing a fake FUBU jersey. “Yes, I know they’re millionaires and can afford real ones,” the Twitter user explained. “But they got duped.” Fakes. Phonies. Canal Street Specials. Each pair is individually numbered; Matt and Nick should check the ankle lining.
After a successful title defense against the Varsity Blondes, Mox and Kingston ran up on the Bucks in the ring and proceeded to deliver the beatdown the Jackson brothers duly deserved. While the Jackson Brothers lay unconscious, Kingston—proud son of Yonkers, NY and part of a generation who has seen many a neighbor, brother, friend get jacked for their sneakers in the neighborhood—snagged both pairs of Dior 1s to close the episode of Dynamite. In making the Young Bucks walk home from school barefoot (he even took their socks), Kingston emblematized an archetype rarely seen in pro wrestling; he brought the art form straight to the hood. Did he just come up on a potential goldmine, or did he put all that effort into grabbing a pair of fakes? Is either pair his size or was he planning to sell them? Even putting up a listing for “Ring Worn and Possibly Fake Air Jordan Dior 1s” would net him a pretty penny.
Alas, Kingston does not have a Depop account.