Mars Blackmon asked Michael Jordan that question in the late 80s-early 90s, trying to figure out how he made being great look so easy. At the time, it was a great marketing campaign by Nike to make people believe that if they purchased a pair of Air Jordans, they could also "FLY" from the free throw line. The shoes were also very stylish and ahead of its time, so no matter what people were satisfied with their Air Jordans.
The great designer Tinker Hatfield, designed the 3s - 15s and each shoe in their own right can be considered the greatest sneaker ever made thanks to Tinker's incredible design and Jordan's mystifying ability. To go along with Tinker innovative designs, Jordan put together a story for each shoe, that would eventually change the dynamics of the shoe game. You have the Grape 5s, Olympic 7s, the 10s with all of Jordan Accolades on the bottom, the Space Jam 11s, Flu Game 12s, and the famous Last Shot 14s. Jordan created a legacy in these shoes and it helped make the shoes more desirable than ever.
Now even 16 years after Jordan's last championship, his shoes are still a hot commodity, maybe even hotter than ever.
Saturdays marked the day of another Jordan release and if you have an interest in the sneaker game, you know its another crazy Saturday. Unfortunately, this also marks another violent Saturday at the malls. Anytime a retro shoe is set to drop and it has catchy nickname like the "Space Jams" or the "Taxis", the hypebeast go crazy for them. It's never shocking hearing about a fight that happened at the mall over some shoes. People camp out, waiting in line just to make a purchase, and at some stores it ends up in violence.
Why are people fighting over shoes? I couldn't really tell you. The only explanation I have is that they are rare - well they are marketed to be very rare, so consumers and fans don't want to be the ones without, still no excuse to fight over a $180 shoe. It's still a problem that needs to be answered but it always leads to another question, "Is it the Shoes?"
I'm sure Jordan himself would tell you what he did on the court was thanks to his god given talents and hardwork. In fact, coming out of Carolina, Jordan wanted an Adidas shoe contract, which was the king of the shoe game back then, but Nike was more consistent at luring Jordan to be the next Nike star, who didn't have many at the time.
Before Nike, it was Adidas, they had every kid and adult in the world rocking the 3 stripes. Run DMC played a major part in the Adiddas movement because they were notorious for rocking the Adidas Shell heads, and with Hip-Hop being the greatest marketing tool, they had everyone else rocking shell toe Adidas with the matching Adidas sweatsuit. Even before Adidas, you had Converse, which were known as the universal tennis shoe, made famous by Julius Erving, AKA Dr. J, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird.
Before Jordan, Nike was a secondary player in the sneaker brand wars. When the Jordan 1s hit the scene they were actually banned by David Stern and the NBA because they didn't have enough white in them, which made them even more popular in the streets and among teenagers.
The Jordan 3s are what change the game though.
Before the 3s, it's hard to think of a shoe that had elephant print on them. The 3s were way ahead of its time, along with Michael Jordan. These were the same shoes he wore when he won his 2nd dunk contest in 1988 Dunk Contest, defeating defeating Dominique Wilkins, the same dunk contest that began the name and campaign "Air Jordan".
Jordan made it easy for Nike to market not only his shoes but the brand itself. Jordan was doing things in the NBA nobody had ever seen; he was definitely the most compelling athlete at that time. And while his game was so much different from the rest of the NBA, so were his shoes thanks to Tinker Hatfield.
Tinker would use different types of objects and themes to inspire and make his design after. In 1990, the 5s were inspired by the WW2 Mustang fighter plane but it's more to them then the shark teeth on the sole. They had a reflective tongue, lace locks, and a clear gum bottom sole. Nobody had seen shoes designed like that before. The 5s are another shoe that springboarded "Air Jordans" and Nike to the next level because of Will Smith.
Will was the hot young entertainer at the time with new show called "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and you could always catch him with a pair of 5s on with no laces in the 1st seasons.
The 6s were the shoes Jordan wore winning his first championship, but still they are underrated as one of the better Jordan shoes. They still have some special significance to them, being the last Jordan shoe to have "Nike Air" on them before switching to Air Jordan.
By this time in 1992, Jordan was a worldwide star. During the 1992 Olympics he showcased one of the best shoes ever in my opinion, the Olympic 7s, which are classics because they were the only original Jordan with an Olympic theme. The 7s also had the "Bordeaux" edition, which he wore during Micheal Jackson SLAM video (RIP to the great Mike Jack). Jordan made it easy for Nike because everybody loved him all over the world and with Tinker Hatfield constructing the designs, it was a definite win-win for Nike.
I love sneakers just as much as the next man but I'm not going to pay $400 for a pair because they're "rare" but back to the question, "is it the shoes?" and I say no.
Its Nike's Marketing. Nike used Mike's unbelievable skills to their advantage, knowing that people were fascinated with everything he did on the court. Watching Jordan was like watching a mystical character out of a book about the gods and Nike marketed Mike as a bigger than life character with slogans like, "Is It the Shoes?" and "Air Jordan". And as Jordan became greater and that "mystical character", winning championship after championship, so did his shoes.
And after he retired his legend only grew larger, which made his shoes aka "His Story" so much more valuable. I think Nike has made more money from releasing Retros than they did when Mike was actually playing. Each year, each Month, they release an old pair of Jordans in a new colorway or the same style, but this time they only release a small amount, creating a very high demand with a very low supply. Some stores may only have 20 pairs of whatever Retros are out that week. This is one of the reason for the violence and chaos around shoe releases but its not the only reason.
People have been killing each other over shoes for years now, ever since the late 80s. In America, you're looked down upon if you don't have nice things, so some people will use drastic measures to look like "THE AMERICAN DREAM" . The violence and chaos is more glorified now because of the internet and massive amount of technology around us. I realized years ago that these shoes are just that, shoes. They won't make me fly, I won't be able to play like MJ in them, and they won't pay my taxes. Of course they look wonderful on my feet but that's all they can do for me. Jordan was great because he worked harder than anyone else and REFUSED to lose, his shoes just made him look good doing it.