Year I : 84' - 85'

HISTORY

What Nike knew and Portland Didn’t 

In the infamous 1984 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers used the second pick of the draft to choose 7’1” Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. In a way, Portland-based Nike also got second pick that year: Jordan wanted to go with his high school brand-adidas-but as the story goes, his parents convinced him to at least sit down with Nike’s founder, Phil Knight. Nike proceeded to woo Jordan with his own shoe line and a $2.5 million contract over 5 years (unheard of for a rookie at the time.) Jordan’s first shoe, the original “Air Jordan,” was immediately banned by the NBA for its bold, nonwhite colorway. Nike happily paid the $5000/game fine, and a merchandising star was born.

Revolutionizing the Game

Unbeknownst to fans at the time, 1984 marked the beginning of a new era in the NBA. Two men stepped into roles that would change the league forever. While some fans may have had such expectations for the top two draft choices— star center Hakeem Olajawon and 7’1” Sam Bowie, it turned out to be the third overall pick, Michael Jordan, who revolutionized the game. He wasted no time getting started either, winning the Rookie of the Year Award, being voted to start in the All-Star game and averaging 28 high-flying points per game. (Sam Bowie, who had an injury-shortened career, was later named ESPN’s worst draft pick ever.)

Who else emerged that year to change the NBA forever? Current NBA commissioner David Stern began his tenure in 1984. His time as Commissioner has included unprecedented worldwide visibility and record TV revenue, as well as controversial moves like player lockouts and dress codes.

Break Dancing Breaks Out

The kids wanted their MTV in 1984, and while at the first-ever Video Music Awards, conventional pop and rock artists took all the category awards, Michael Jackson easily triumphed in the Viewer's Choice category with his short film for "Thriller," which featured street-dancing teen zombies. At this time, breakdancing and beatboxing were coming out from the underground of New York and busting into the mainstream, with Run DMC's critically acclaimed release of their eponymous debut album, which the Village Voice called "easily the canniest and most formally sustained rap album ever." On television as well, this relatively unknown subculture poured into living rooms across America, as PBS aired the documentary "Style Wars" the year before, and dance show Graffiti Rock premiered as a hip-hop answer to Soul Train. The short-lived, now-classic show featured a number of New York City breakdance crews, and was cancelled after only one episode. But although Graffiti Rock didn't take off, the music and style it showcased certainly did, and hip hop fashion showed up on runways across the world.

YEAR II : 86' - 87'

HISTORY

Elegant Flight to Italy

Everyone wondered how Nike would follow up its huge Air Jordan debut, but nobody foresaw the bold decisions they made. While the first Air Jordan was a glorified Nike Dunk, complete with the first AJ logo and canonized for its black colorway, the follow up was anything but. Inspired by a 19th century women’s Italian boot, the shoe was as elegant as a slow-motion Jordan dunk. It had faux leopard skin for style and a full length air sole for comfort. It was the first Nike made in Italy, the only Jordan not to include a black colorway in its original run, and perhaps most memorably, the first without a swoosh.  The Air Jordan 2 definitely set the tone for what would be a string of envelope-pushing designs by Nike.

Slam Dunk Season

The 1986-87 season was one for the records. In his elegant new Air Jordan 2’s, Michael Jordan established himself as the most fearsome player in the game. He became the 2nd player in NBA history to score over 3000 points in one season, averaging 37.1 points per game while winning his first of seven straight scoring titles. Not content to be just a scorer, he also became the first player with over 200 steals and 100 blocks in the same season. And for casual fans who didn’t track his numbers, there was his first Slam Dunk Championship, a display of beauty and grace that established him as the premier dunker in the game.

The NBA suffered two big losses in the 86-87 season. Dr. J’s incomparable career came to a close with his retirement, and Len Bias, the first round choice of the Boston Celtics, lost his life to a cocaine overdose before his career could start.

"My Adidas"

While Nike was buying street cred with every tongue-wagging dunk by their young star MJ, Adidas was having theirs handed to them on a silver platter. Serving up some Adidas-mania was none other than Run-DMC, the hottest hip hop group in the world. Their 1986 anthem, “My Adidas” told of their love for Adidas (always worn without laces as a fashion statement honoring the men and women in jail who weren’t allowed to wear laces).  The mega-hit immediately elevated adidas’ desirability in the fast-growing world of hip hop.  Run-DMC’s relationship with adidas was formalized when their manager, the savvy Russell Simmons, invited top adidas executives to a concert. When singer Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels asked fans to “wave their adidas in the air”, the executives witnessed 3,000 screaming fans holding their shell toes over their heads.  Adidas promptly sponsored Run-DMC with a $1.6 million dollar contract, and a long-term relationship was born between the group, the brand, the genre and the kicks.

YEAR III : 87' - 88'

HISTORy

Tinker Time

Tinker Hatfield began as an architect, and that influence shines through in his modern conception of shoe design. Undeniably the most celebrated sneaker designer in history, Tinker’s run of incredible shoes started in 1987 with the Air Max 1 (the first shoe with a visible air pocket) and the Jordan III (featuring the new Jumpman logo, visible air and elephant print.)

Like Jordan and Hatfield, Nike’s advertising team was also at the peak of their game. Each of these iconic shoes got a groundbreaking Nike ad. The Air Max 1 included the first TV ad featuring a Beatles song (Revolution), and the Jordan III kicked off the famous Spike Lee collaboration featuring his fast-talking Mars Blackmon character.

All the Hardware but One

Michael Jordan picked up right where he left off in 1987, showing unprecedented versatility and dominance. He became the first player in NBA history to win both the scoring title (35 points per game) and the Defensive Player of the Year honor (including a heady 3.16 steals per game).  These unparalleled contributions garnered him the league’s MVP  trophy. As if that weren’t enough, Chicago hosted the All-Star festivities and their hometown hero stole the show, bringing home both a breath-taking Slam Dunk win and the All-Star game MVP trophy.

The only hardware Jordan didn’t take home this season was the one he wanted most, the NBA Championship. The Bulls were inching closer, however, as they made it to the second round for the first time since 1981, before being knocked out by the Detroit Pistons. Part of their success was due to two great new rookies, Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen.

Crack 

With Andy Warhol's death, the art and fashion worlds reeled. Designers threw back to bright colors and pop art, while higher-end luminaries like Stephen Sprouse saw success by using Warhol prints in designs. Sprouse and others created the uptown/downtown mixture that became popular all over. Lighter rappers like DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince embodied this aesthetic, and they released their first album "Rock the House." The wide range of topics in rap grew to include themes of black nationalism and Afrocentricity, homages to both the militancy of the Black Panthers and the Watts Prophets of the 1960s. All kinds of rap were showcased on MTV's newest offering, Yo! MTV Raps. Crack cocaine usage was such a huge problem with rappers and in the black community at large, a series of PSAs was launched to create awareness. Graffiti artist Keith Haring seized on this as well, with a mural in Harlem the year before.

YEAR IV : 88' - 89'

HISTORY

Just Brush It 

In 1989, New York Knick center Patrick Ewing became the first basketball superstar to go beyond having a signature shoe line (with Adidas) to having his own brand, Ewing Athletics. Of course, Michael Jordan would go on to have both the more successful line of kicks and the more successful career (6 championships to Ewing’s none), but the success of Ewing’s shoes made a lasting case for a big man being able to sell shoes.

Ewing could have looked no further than the Knicks’ sideline that year to see what he needed to learn from Air Jordans. Knicks superfan Spike Lee loved the stylish Jordan IVs so much he featured them in his hit movie “Do the Right Thing”. Sneakerheads the world over went bananas when “Buggin Out” whipped out his toothbrush for an emergency clean after an oblivious biker rode over his precious Jordan IVs on the streets of Bed-Stuy.

An Epic Shot

Never mind the scoring title (32.5 points per game) or the career-highs of 8 assists and 8 rebounds per game. Never mind the
10,000th career point or the 10 triple-doubles over 11 games that helped push the Bulls into the playoffs. What Michael Jordan’s season
came down to was one epic shot, scored over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo to send the Bulls to just their third Eastern Conference championship
battle in team history. Afterwards Jordan reflected, “That is probably the biggest shot I’ve hit…mainly because I put my credibility on the
line.”  In the Eastern Conference Championship, the Bulls were defeated once again by their arch-rivals, the Detroit Pistons. Doubters began to say that this amazing young player could do it all--except win it all. Such talk fueled Jordan’s fire for years to come.

Get Straight

The hip hop world got a blast from the West Coast when NWA released "Straight Outta Compton," widely recognized as the debut of so-called "gansta rap." The album glorified violence and misogyny and had an answer from across the Atlantic in the form of British rapper Slick Rick's "The Great Adventures of Slick Rick," which satirized the chauvinist nature of the culture with narrative raps. But while hip hop was headed in the opposite direction, women gained noticeable ground professionally, and high-powered women appeared on the scene. Fashion and entertainment reflected the new-found power of women, with Donna Karen's popular designs for the upwardly mobile female and Oscar nominations for the cast of "Working Girl." However, as women gained ground, the art world suffered with the untimely death of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died of an overdose at age 27.

YEAR V : 89' - 90'

HISTORY

Going to Battle

Today’s sneaker aficionados are accustomed to their kicks telling a story. They can point to how a player’s signature shoe reflects their playing style, nickname, home area code and more. This wasn’t always the case. Nike designer Tinker Hatfield was at the cutting edge of imagining sneakers that inherently spoke to who Jordan was, and the Jordan V was part of this development. As Hatfield tells it, “[Jordan] would be floating around the edges of a game and come out of nowhere to attack….I thought I’d try to make it look a bit like a fighter plane.” And so the Jordan V was born, complete with shark teeth shapes in the midsole, inspired by the designs on World War II Mustang fighter jets. Other style and performance details included plastic lace-locks, a clear sole and an iridescent reflective tongue that flashed when caught on camera. With the Jordan V, MJ was definitely ready for battle. (Speaking of battles, sneakerheads today will fight anyone for that rare Jordan V colorway known as grape.)

"My Best Game Ever"

In 1989, assistant coach Phil Jackson was promoted to Head Coach of the Chicago Bulls. Fans now know him as the “Zen Guru” of the NBA (and winner of a record-setting 11 NBA titles), but in 1989 neither he nor his talented young team had won a title. In fact, in his first year as Head Coach the Bulls almost failed to make the playoffs.

Despite Jordan having another all-around great season (33.6 points/game, 6.9 rebounds/game, 6.3 assists/game and 2.77 steals/game), the Bulls were facing the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 28th in a must-win game to clinch a playoff berth. Called on once again to lead his team to the post-season, Jordan answered with a stunning, career-high 69 points in the overtime 117-113 win. He added a monstrous 18 rebounds in what he referred to afterwards as, “My best game ever, by far, especially because we won.”

Out and About

One of the street's most prolific artists, Keith Haring, died of AIDS in February. The artist and social activist got started painting New York subway walls and was mourned around the world. The first rap Grammy went to the Fresh Prince and DJ Jazzy Jeff, but hip hop got increasingly weirder as the year went on. Milli Vanilli were caught lip synching and Vanilla Ice released "Ice Ice Baby," which skyrocketed up the charts. The "reality TV" genre took off as COPS started arresting Americans all over. Spike Lee released "Do The Right Thing," an acclaimed film that showed the realities of the day-to-day lives of Brooklynites and was nominated for two Oscars. Two people disguised as Boston Police broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and walked off with 13 pieces of art. The incident is still considered the largest art heist in the history of the country.

YEAR VI : 90' - 91'

HISTORY

Rides Like a Porsche

The Jordan VIs might be best known as the shoes that knocked a monkey off of Michael Jordan’s back. Looking back on his Hall of Fame career and six championships, it’s hard to remember how the naysayers used to go after MJ, saying his flashy, high-scoring brand of basketball would never bring the Bulls a ring. Indeed, for an athlete as competitive as Jordan, the six years of falling short had been brutal.

The VIs didn’t fall short either.  Keeping the popular clear sole and lace locks from the Vs, the VIs added new technology and style. Designer Tinker Hatfield “borrowed” a rear pull tab from the spoiler on Jordan’s Porsche, added a convenient easy-pull rubber tongue, and introduced the first inner bootie in a Jordan.The sleek design belied its competitive nature, as Jordan rode it all the way to his first NBA Championship.

"Who’s open?!”

This season is known as “Jordan’s first championship,” a misnomer in many ways. Jordan had another fantastic season, but the championship was more a reflection of improved team play and trust. From Craig Hodges’ blistering shooting (19 straight 3-point shots to win the 3-point-competition) to Scottie Pippen’s game-changing defense on Magic Johnson in the Championship series, this was winning team basketball. 


The Bulls had many weapons, but when the Lakers were facing elimination in the Championship series, they decided their comeback was based on shutting down just one—Jordan.  Up 91-90 deep in the 4th quarter, it looked like their strategy was working. Bulls Head Coach Phil Jackson called a time out and famously yelled at his star, “Who’s open?!” until Jordan acknowledged that guard John Paxson was. “Find him!” growled Jackson. Paxson scored 10 points over the final 4 minutes, and the Bulls won their first championship 108-101.

Fresh

Following his win at the Grammy's and a disagreement about taxes with the IRS, Will Smith took it to the next level and debuted the popular sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" on NBC. Smith's trademark crazy, patterned costumes weren't even the wildest of the year. In the video for his hip-hop mega hit "U Can't Touch This," MC Hammer almost single handedly maintained the popularity of parachute pants. Hip-hop's women, too, began to dominate the fashion world, and rappers like Salt 'N' Pepa and Missy Elliot sparked a revolution of style.

Run DMC, long the kings of rap, release their fifth album to lukewarm reception. They took a break from recording after fans and began to see them as outdated, and although they continued to release music later, the trio only had a handful of hit singles until they broke up. The industry saw a serious shift when a landmark case between Irish singer/songwriter Gilbert O'Sullivan and rapper Biz Markie made it much more difficult for rappers to freely sample tracks.

YEAR VII : 91' - 92'

HISTORY

“Fab Five” Fashion

In May of 1991 Jordan led the Bulls to their first NBA Championship. That Fall, the “Fab Five” enrolled at the University of Michigan as the most vaunted recruiting class ever. They became the first all-freshman starting five to make the Final Four, but are better remembered for their Jordan-esque extra-long shorts and their trademark black socks and black Nikes.

In a marketing mix that foreshadowed upcoming tensions in modern college sports, Nike profited handsomely from the new rage, while the team and the University were punished heavily after a federal investigation found that some players had also tried to profit from the set up. Star Chris Webber and several lesser players were indicted for accepting money from a booster to attend Michigan, and all of the Fab Five’s victories were annulled.

The Show Stops

On November 7, 1991, Magic Johnson stunned the world by announcing, “Because of the HIV virus I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers today.”  Johnson, the first selection in the 1979 draft, was only 32, but he had already won 5 NBA Championships, 3 NBA Championship MVP awards, and 11 All-Star appearances. His announcement and ensuing HIV community education work was a giant turning point in HIV awareness in America, particularly in the African American community.

Despite his early retirement, Johnson was voted to be a starter in the 1992 All-Star game. His participation created another educational opportunity for players and fans, and he capitalized in a big way—winning the MVP Award with 25 points, 9 assists, and 5 rebounds. He went on to play on the 1992 Dream Team and was later named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players of All Time.

   Photo Credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/ NBAE /Getty Images

 Photo Credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Toxic Clash

After the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King are acquitted, Los Angeles exploded in race riots. A toxic clash of angry residents, agitators, police and the National Guard resulted in 53 deaths and tens of millions of dollars of property damage. The Soviet Union officially dissolved and the Cold War ended, but conflicts continued in the former Soviet republics and the threat of Communism didn't dissipate in the US. The Salvadoran Civil War ended, and the anti-Communist, US-backed government maintained control. Apartheid ended in South Africa, and the country is readmitted to the Olympics. The Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for president. Meanwhile, President George HW Bush got food poisoning in Japan and fainted at a state dinner. The video went viral before things went viral.

YEAR VIII : 92' - 93'

HISTORY

Mesmerizing

Dee Brown had already inflated his Reebok Pumps to win the 1991 Slam Dunk Championship. Dominique Wilkins had already rocked his Pumps in hundreds of human highlight films. High off their own success, Reebok signed their biggest act yet: 7-foot, 300+ pound Shaquille O’Neal, the NBA’s first draft pick in 1992. O’Neal would begin his oversized career by scoring 23.4 points per game on his way to winning Rookie of the Year honors and helping the Orlando Magic double their win total from the previous season.

With a pitchman this big, Reebok set aside the Pump and designed one of the most eye-popping sneakers ever. The Shaqnosis said worlds about its wearer—big, bold, and mesmerizing in his ability to get to the rim, seemingly whenever he wanted to. Complete with Reebok’s hexalite cushioning technology in both the forefront and the heel, the Shaqnosis complimented Shaq’s play in both performance and swag.

Three-peat!

Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls wanted a three-peat, but it wasn’t going to be easy. The Phoenix Suns had their eyes on the prize, dealing big in the off-season to add Charles Barkley to a stacked team. (He went on to win the MVP Award.) The Knicks went hard all year, beating out the Chicago Bulls for home court advantage in the Eastern Conference finals.

So what did MJ do? First he scored his 20,000th career point during the regular season. Then he tied Wilt Chamberlain with his 7th consecutive scoring title, averaging 32.6 points per game. Finally, after vanquishing Patrick Ewing’s Knicks once again, he averaged an NBA Finals record 41 points per game as the Bulls became the first NBA team in almost 30 years to win 3 Championships in a row. As Suns’ Head Coach Paul Westphal put it, "I don't even think Michael can stop Michael.''

 Photo Credit:  NBC Sports

Photo Credit: NBC Sports

Real World Wide Web

The Real World: New York premiers on MTV, ushering in a new era of television programming. Cast member Kevin Powell (later an activist and writer) told personal stories of police brutality in New York and allowed a new generation of American teenagers get a fresh understanding of racial tensions in America in an honest, up-front way. Sinead O'Connor ripped up a photo of the Pope on Saturday Night Live.

Bill Clinton was sworn in as the 42nd President. The World Wide Web, developed at CERN in Switzerland, saw a turning point when web browsers were invented. Suddenly, the world was connected like never before and communication changed forever. The recession that plagued the country began to turn around. Disneyland Paris opened its castle gates in flurry of protests. Immigration became a huge issue at home, while a war in Somalia that put American lives in danger was largely ignored.

MTV The Real World - series 1 in New York. With Eric, Julie, Andre, Norman, Becky, Heather, Kevin

YEAR IX : 93' - 94'

HISTORY

Grandmama’s Juice

Does your grandmama dunk? Not many do, but Larry Johnson’s dunking Grandmama act took the basketball world by storm. It didn’t hurt that “LJ” was beasting in the NBA to the tune of a then NBA-record $84 million contract and the first ever cover of SLAM Magazine. It also didn’t hurt that Grandmama was taking on all comers in some high tech Converse AeroJams. While your grandma might offer you orange juice, this Grandmama was hooking it up with React Juice, Converse’s new support technology. React Juice boasted an ability to adjust between your heel and ankle.to help you “make quicker cuts and stop on a dime.” Other distinctive elements of the AeroJam included a fading, splattered midsole with the Hornets colorway, a bold stabilization strap across the top and LJ’s number on both the front and back. While LJ might have been #2, Grandmama and her AeroJams were definitely #1.

Big Shoes to Fill

1993-1994 was not the year that NBA fans expected. Michael Jordan stunned the basketball world in the off-season, declaring his retirement after the tragic murder of his father. His absence left some big shoes to fill, and two big men stepped in to fill them. San Antonio Spurs’ center David Robinson won the scoring title (with 71 points in his final game), and Houston Rockets’ center Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon finished the season with an almost-Jordanian line of NBA MVP, Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and first team All-Star.

In an amazing seven game series over the New York Knicks, Olajuwon came up big while Knicks shooting guard John Starks came up short. First Olajuwon saved Game 6 by deflecting Starks’ otherwise game-winning trey, then he went off for  25 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 blocks as Houston won Game 7, 90-84. And Starks? A dismal 2-18 shooting night that haunts Knicks fans even to this day.

Critical Mass

Andre the Giant, pro wrestler, actor, and subject of street artist Shepard Fairey's iconic OBEY art, dies. The music landscape gets ever weirder, as Prince changes his name to simply a symbol that no one understands. Wu Tang Clan (consisting of rappers RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and the late Ol' Dirty Bastard) enters the hip hop scene with the release of their first album, "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)." The album was a critical success, and Rolling Stone noted this was for its underground, almost crude production. Touré wrote in his review, "This is hip-hop you won't find creeping up the Billboard charts, but you will hear booming out of Jeep stereos in all the right neighborhoods." On the other hand, Snoop Dogg made radio-friendly hits with softer tones, a noticeable difference between the evolution of East and West coast rap. To further mix it up, Dr. Dre released his classic album "The Chronic," adding fuel to the East/West fire.

YEAR X : 94' - 95'

HISTORY

Sir Charles in a Straight-Jacket

How do you protect the feet of a 6’6” 250-pound power forward once known as the Round Mound of Rebound? Nike had been working on it since they inked Charles Barkley in 1987, but the 1994 Air Max 2 CB was his first signature shoe. And what a shoe it was. Inspired by the need to protect his feet as he threw his body around, the shoe left behind the sleekness of Jordans for a sturdiness wrapped in straight-jacket-like support straps, reinforced lace-locks and a double “max air” cushion
underneath.

The design of the Air Max 2 CB reflected both Barkley’s aggressive style of play and bold personality. Barkley didn’t pull punches on or off the court and was vilified for insisting that he and other athletes should not be considered role models. As Tinker Hatfield summarized the success of the shoe, “The outlandishness of Charles’ persona and the beauty of the product married up.”

“I’m Back”

As the NBA season began, its most famous star was wearing #45 for baseball’s minor league Birmingham Barons. Determined to try a baseball career to honor his late father’s passion, Jordan worked hard in his role as the biggest name on the Double A circuit. Nevertheless, his .202 batting average went along with more errors (11) than homeruns (3).

Jordan changed course on March 18th, 1995, announcing his return with a simple two word fax stating “I’m back.” Even after missing a year and a half, it didn’t take His Airness long to return to top form. In his first trip back to Madison Square Garden, he reminded fans who he was with a 55 point outing. The Bulls made it back into the playoffs (losing to Orlando), but it wouldn’t be until the following year that Jordan would truly remind his opponents what his return meant for the league…

"Not Guilty"

OJ Simpson was arrested for the murder of his former wife and her partner. His subsequent trial was one of the most intensely-watched media events of the decade, and over half the American population tuned in to hear the "not guilty" verdict. Nelson Mandela becomes President of South Africa. Tutsi rebels begin slaughtering ethnic Hutus in Rwanda, leading to the deaths of over 500,000 people in an incredibly bloody genocide. A refugee crisis went unnoticed by most of the world for years. The US invades Haiti, looking to reinstate President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Yahoo is founded in California.

YEAR XI : 95' - 96'

HISTORY

Nike’s Trifecta

Just as super-spokesman MJ was capturing another awards trifecta—MVP of the regular season, Finals and All-Star Game—Nike was doing the same. MVP Sneaker? Clearly the Jordan XI with its prom-worthy patent leather toe, Cordura upper, “cool gray” colorway and carbon fiber spring plate.  MVP ad campaign? Undoubtedly the brilliant “Lil Penny” series, with the Orlando Magic’s Penny Hardaway having all he could handle with his feisty alter-ego, Lil Penny. Voiced by Chris Rock, Lil Penny crossed from ad campaign to pop-culture icon as he chatted it up with stars ranging from Spike Lee to Tyra Banks. MVP movie appearance? Jordan and his XIs saved the day in Space Jam, where his basketball skills rescued the Looney Tunes characters from capture by “Mister Swackhammer” and the alien “Nerdlucks.” Not only did the XIs look stunning, but the family-focused film launched a brilliant line of Nike Space Jam apparel.

What’s in a number?

Apparently, Michael Jordan did not come out of retirement to settle for a playoff loss. Perhaps to announce his full season return, MJ shed his #45 and went back to being #23. What’s in a number? Well, #23 went back to business to the tune of leading his team to an NBA-record 72 wins, while averaging 30.4 points per game, 6.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals.

Jordan did not let down in the post-season, leading the Bulls to a 15-3 record, including a sweep of Orlando in the Eastern Conference Championship to avenge the Bulls’ loss the previous year.  With a 4-2 series win over Seattle, the Bulls won their 4th NBA Championship of Jordan’s career, while Jordan became the only player to win the NBA Finals MVP Award at least four times. To top off his return to glory, Jordan was the 2nd player in NBA history to win MVP of the regular season, All-Star Game and Finals.

Landmarks

Bank-breaking rap superstar Jay-Z debuts his album "Reasonable Doubt," a record that brought a new kind of imagery to the genre. Instead of thug living and gagsta rap, Jay-Z popularized the concept of owning expensive cars and jewelry. Pitchfork magazine called it "one of hip-hop's landmark albums" and it's still on a significant number of best-of lists. Jerry Garcia dies. The first installment of the Pokemon series, Pokemon Green, is released in Japan. Queen Latifah wins the Grammy for Best Solo Rap Performance for "Unity." Hip-hop begins to spin in a socially conscious direction with the release of "The Score," the sophomore album from Fugees, which twisted the old stories of street culture and added inspirational and proud beats to the lyrics about the ghetto.

YEAR XII : 96' - 97'

HISTORY

No Question

When the Philadelphia 76ers drafted 6’0” guard Allen Iverson first in the deep draft of 1996, there were questions. Was he too small? Was he too troubled? Reebok decided to embrace the lightning quick guard, signing him to a 10 year, $50 million contract for his signature line. Tipping their hat to the doubters, they named his first shoe The Question. With its visible honeycomb-like Hexalite midsole cushioning and “pearlized” toe, it was clean and eye-catching. They couldn’t keep it on the shelves.

Of course, it helped that Iverson was silencing the haters with an incredible rookie year. He rocked the Questions when he famously crossed-up Michael Jordan, when he went off for 40+ points for 5 games in a row, and every time he rose over the bigs to throw down as the guard at the OTHER end of the alley-oop. The Rookie of the Year rocked the Question to record sales for Reebok and would go on to a historic NBA career.

“The Female MJ”

Everyone knows Michael Jordan,but few were as quick as Nike to identify “the female MJ.” Sheryl Swoopes first drew national attention when she scored an NCAA Championship-record 47 points in leading Texas Tech in a thriller over Ohio State.In 1996 Nike made Swoopes the first female team athlete ever to have a signature shoe, the Nike Air Swoopes.

The Air Swoopes marked not just a big step for Nike, but a big year for women’s basketball. In the summer of 1996, the US women’s basketball team pounded Brazil to capture Olympic gold in Atlanta. The team’s powerful collection of legends and new talent made it the female equivalent of the men’s Dream Team of 1992. The buzz from that team sparked the birth of the WNBA, with Sheryl Swoopes becoming the first player signed in its inaugural year. “The female MJ” went on to win 3 WNBA MVP awards, 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards and 4 WNBA Championships. Sound familiar?

 Photo Credit :  WNBA

Photo Credit : WNBA

Space Jam

The concept of "ghetto fabulous" fashion becomes trendy, as rappers emulate gangsters like Scarface more and more. Mainstream labels like Hilfiger begins experimenting with black models in runway shows, including a young Sean Combs, who makes his debut as Puff Daddy. The concept of "bling" also takes off, and diamonds become rappers' jewelry of choice, as opposed to plain gold. Women rappers like Lil Kim and Missy Elliot, instead of wearing baggy men's clothing, opt for a more glamorous look, redefining what it meant to be a female hip-hop star. Rap continues to evolve as the old guard dies off; 2Pac Shakur is killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas and Biggie Smalls is killed in a drive-by shooting in LA. "Space Jam," starring the Looney Tunes and MJ, is released. The film opened at number one in the box office and ultimately grossed over $230 million.


YEAR XIII : 97' - 98'

HISTORY

That’s “CEO Jordan” to You

Michael Jordan was never your average player, and Air Jordans were never your average signature shoes. In late 1997, Nike acknowledged this by announcing that Jordan Brand would become its own company, albeit one wholly owned by Nike. They launched the brand with that year’s signature XIII’s (still designed by Tinker Hatfield), as well as a strong selection of un-swooshed shoes, apparel and marketing.

To keep the brand relevant as Jordan went from player to icon, Jordan Brand signed a hand-picked collection of young talent, including Ray Allen, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and others. Indeed, Jordan Brand was transitioning much as the Chicago Bulls had--moving from a one-man show to a strong supporting team.  As Nike Basketball’s Gentry Humphrey’s put it, “When Michael signed in 1985, he was always under the impression that one day there would be an opportunity to take it even a little bit further than just a signature shoe.” In true Jordan style, he took the whole shoe game with him.

A Season for the Ages

Regular season MVP? Check. All-Star MVP? Check. 10th scoring title? Check. Finals MVP? Check. Ridiculous 33.5 points per game during the Finals? Check. Humiliation of Finals opponent? Check. (42 point victory in game 5.) Game winning shot to take the series? Check. Another historic 3-peat? Check.

The only thing the 1997-1998 season didn’t have for Jordan and his Bulls was a sequel. Just when it seemed like coach Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan had the wits, drive and team to win an unprecedented 4th consecutive championship, it all collapsed. Tensions with ownership drove Jackson out and a lockout caused a shortened season. Before it could even begin, Jordan walked away, announcing his second retirement.

"I Believe I Can Fly"

R Kelly wins three Grammys, including best R&B song, for "I Believe I Can Fly," which is featured on the Space Jam soundtrack. Ultimate lady rapper Lauryn Hill scores 11 Grammy nominations and goes home with 5 wins, including Album of the Year and Best New Artist. Dr. Dre's mentorship extends to a troubled kid from Detroit who goes by Eminem and who will soon become one of Rolling Stone's "Kings of Hip-Hop."