B’s Desk :: XI – ’96 to ’13

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in B's Desk | One Comment

Well it has been a minute since I have done a B’s Desk. This time I think I bring a good one to you, a comparison piece so to speak, the Air Jordan XI Low 1996 to the current retro low. However I don’t have the 2014 retro, so I used the Black/White retro from summer 2011. And before we get to far, yes I do regret not getting the Concord low and slightly, just ever so slightly regret not getting the Green Snakeskin version as well.

Now on to the breakdown.

The main reason, I wanted to do this comparison is because I feel the original XI is often time over looked or even forgot about. I think that is because the XI Mid is such an iconic shoe that whenever anyone gets an opportunity to own a pair of shoes that looks like the iconic silhouette they jump on it. So because of this the original XI low is often passed over.

Which to me is a disappointment because it was one of the first shoes to really excite me as a youth. I was in the fifth grade when the XI dropped and like everyone else in the world I wanted the shoe so badly. I had many fine memories of that shoe from a far because my family just couldn’t afford on that amount of dinero for youth footwear. One of my best friends had a pair of the Concord’s for our fifth grade basketball team, we were the Cardinals and it was our first traveling team. He was probably the best fifth grader in our town so he served the shoes well. Then I remember a player from a local high school rival, the Dekalb Barons, had the first huge basketball player from the North East Indiana that I could remember. His name was Luke Recker and he won Mr. Basketball that year in Indiana, it is a pretty illustrious award since there is only one in the whole state. He was playing our high school team, the Angola Hornets on our home turf. I remember everyone was hyped to see him, the gym was seriously standing room only. I was on the half court baseline for the start of the game. He received the opening tip and took off on a breakaway where he threw up a nasty reverse dunk. It was amazing. Plus he was wearing the Concord XI.

My next instance of love from afar was in roughly Sarasota, Florida or Port Charlotte, Florida. I don’t really remember. My grandparents had a house down there on the Gulf of Mexico and I spent two weeks there with them in June after I finished the fifth grade. I watched the Bulls and specifically Michael Jordan when his fourth NBA Championship from their house. I was so amped. I was lighting off fireworks and shit like it was the new millennium. The next day we went to the local mall so I could get the championship shirt and hat, the one with the caricatures on it. I seriously must have drew that shirt a hundred times. While we were at the store, a Champs I believe, I saw the XI Low for the first time in both colorways. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I didn’t fully understand why it was so different from the Mid but I found it very exciting. Especially because it had Elephant Print on it from the Air Jordan III. Which up to that point in my life was my favorite Air Jordan ever, primarily because I drew the image of Michael dunking from the free throw line over and over and over up to that point.

Because the XI Low was so unique and so different it was the first shoe I really researched out and tried to understand why it was different. I thought it was great that it had a Concord Jumpman on the tongue and sole unit because it was such a unique way to tie back to the mid colorway. I also loved the deconstructed approach to the upper. It was dope to see it be taken down to a minimal presence and add all that breathability to it. It throughly inspired me.

I didn’t get a pair of them until I was a sophomore in high school. My grand father controlled my savings account and I can remember the day I sat him down at the kitchen table to explain to him why I would need at least $300 to buy a pair of shoes. At the time they were going for around $240-$280 for brand new pairs on eBay but I needed enough to make sure I won the auction, so I asked for $300. I don’t remember the exact price of the auction total but I know it was less then $300. But none the less this was my first grail.

That’s enough of memory lane though, now on to the real breakdown.

Air Jordan XI Low OG

As I brought the original and the 2013 retro together the first thing that came to my mind is how far the Jordan Brand had came since 1996. It is an obvious thing to think but what really triggered the thought was the box that the original came in compared to the 2013 low. The original box is beautiful and iconic but it was just a typical branded Nike box. Instead of it being wrapped in paper it is wrapped in a black plastic, which was phenomenal but you just didn’t get the feeling that the shoe was considered to be such a premium product as it now is. And maybe rightfully so.

One thing that I thought was really impressive was the shape of the shoes. They were incredibly consistent to each other, which is quite impressive since one was made in a completely different country and factory nearly twenty years ago. They honestly looked like they could have been created at the same time.

The main thing about the original low that catches my eye as a designer is how much of a tolerance was allowed between each parallel and vertical stitch on the upper. It is really a sign of the times. Back in 1996 there really wasn’t a digital stitch machine with the capability to do perfect parallel lines and still be affordable, so these lines were likely sown on machine by hand. So with that in mind these are honestly pretty damn straight. Another thing that really caught my eye on the upper of was the thickness of the elephant print. It is seriously about five millimeters thick, which is incredibly thick to me. But I guess elephants are exactly the lightest of animals so it makes sense that their print is that thick. 

My favorite part of the OG XI low is the tongue. I love how it was designed to incorporate the leather but still be wide open with mesh windows. It makes the shoe feel so free widen I wear them. In fact the upper in general is a great balance of structure with ventilation. It feels so light, it literally feels like all the weight is in the sole unit. Which is shocking to me to say this but it makes the shoe feel bottom heavy because so much has been removed from the upper.

All in all this shoe is pretty fucking spectacular if I must say.

Check out the photos below and continue reading to see the break down of the 2013 XI retro low.

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Air Jordan XI Retro Low Current

Like I noted earlier the difference in these shoes start right away simply from the presentation of the box. What has grown common to most Jordan consumers really was a far off thought back in 1996.

Once you get into the shoe it really is a low version of the upper. Meaning the pattern is just modified to fit the low. Which is cool but at the same time it lacks the presence that the OG low does and that is simply because the iconic upper is so noticeable. Which brings to me to the strongest element of this shoe: color blocking.

The color blocking can be played two ways but is always split into thirds. 2/3’s dark with 1/3 light or 2/3 light with 1/3 dark. The low you are looking at is the latter of the two. This blocking creates a very bold and dramatic look that just speaks to this shoe. If the shoe was broken up any other way I really don’t think the XI would be as successful.

The materials on this shoe are amazing. We all know the patent leather and its inspiration and all the great attributes it has for performance but what isn’t discussed much is the use of Cordura Nylon. The material is commonly used in camping goods and specifically military and tactical pieces. It is nearly over forty years old and is highly respected in many industries outside of footwear. This material is highly adaptable to the foot by stretching and retracting with the foots movement. And it is incredibly light-weight. The use of this material is one of the best things about the Air Jordan line and specifically Tinker Hatfield and his creative process.

Tinker has always been inspired by the material innovation. He knows how far it can take his designs, as it goes hand in hand with the beautiful lines he is sketching. Take for instance the Air Jordan III with the elephant print, the IV with the molded lace “wings”, the V with the reflective tongue, the VII with the Hurache inspired inner bootie, in this instance the XI with the patent leather and the Cordura Nylon and now most recently with the XX9 and its Performance Woven upper. Material innovation is what makes both of these two shoes great. And takes them from being ordinary products to highly tactile and tuned footwear.

Now all is not perfect for me on this XI though, huh gasp!!! How could he?

The shoe is amazing but the one area I have always hated is the logo placement in the heel. It needs to be either the “23” or the Jumpman. Not both. One or the other as one looks forced into there. My preference would be remove the Jumpman and roll with the 23 but hey that is just me.

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Air Jordan XI Low OG vs. Air Jordan XI Retro Low Current

Now to see the two side by side really shows the difference in the two. They look like far off cousins and not from the same linage. All honestly the OG XI low in my eyes looks more performance ready then the current retro XI low. The main thing that separates the two outside of material usage, is how the lacing is structured. The OG XI low abandoned the gillie system used on the mid while the current XI low maintains that system. That is the only advantage that shoe has over the OG from a fit stand point. One thing that really makes the OG significant from a lacing standpoint is the use of a thinner round lace. It may sound crazy but just making the lace thinner it really allows for you to synch the shoe down closer to the foot.

The other difference that caught me off guard was the collar height. I didn’t realize how unique the collar line was on the OG. The heel starts out very low but then arches up pretty high by the time you get to the top eyelet. It is almost at a mid height where it stops at. I didn’t really catch that until I put the two next to each other because that height really makes the current XI low look and feel very low on your foot. Which I think makes for a better causal fit and feel while the OG really allows you to be able to cut on court and still have support.

When you compare the two sole units, clearly the OG is solid yellow at this point, you will notice the difference in shank plates. The OG was solid Carbon Fiber that had a multicolor weave. Mine is a Black/Concord weave that looks pretty ill. The current retro is not Carbon Fiber, it is a Carbon Graphite shank plate. Which is still good but it is not Carbon Fiber.

All in all both these shoes are amazing. They both more then live up to the Air Jordan lineage and most importantly they pushed the Air Jordan line further in its use of material and pattern innovation. And from my side they both still inspire and excite the hell out of me every time I see them and interact with them. Only one shoe excites me more from a nostalgic standpoint and I will finally get my chance to own it this fall but that is another conversation for another article.

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Conclusion

After really examining these shoes I can’t help but wish the current game shoe came with a low. It was something that was so unique and pivotal to the Air Jordan line, especially when you look at both of these lows. One gives you that instant casual and classic silhouette that never goes out of style while the other takes the shoe in a whole new direction and becomes a statement for where that particular game shoe can go. It really shows that all avenues of the game shoe has been explored and we have been given the best examples possible of what performance can be for that shoe. In a way I am happy we have had a break from the lows in recent models because at some point they became a formula, especially Air Jordan’s XV-XX2. But now it is time to bring it back bring it to a new level in the way the XI did.

1 Comment

  1. Rob Gernon
    September 12, 2014

    Nice read. The black and red XI Low OGs were my first pair of Jordans. I was 16 and a Junior in high school, but my mom wouldn’t let me buy any Jays before then because kids were getting beat up for them. Plus I lived just south of Chicago and we had season tix so you can imagine how obsessed I was with MJ! Special place in my heart for these.

    Reply

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