April 16, 2003 marks a very important date in sneaker history.
Exactly 15 years ago today, Michael Jordan played in his final NBA game as a member of the Washington Wizards against the 76ers at the First Union Center in Philadelphia. The game was merely a formality for the 76ers whose 107-87 victory allowed them to clinch home court advantage as the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
For the sneaker community and Jordan fans worldwide, however, this particular game symbolized something much greater and profound than the end of the NBA’s regular season but rather the conclusion of the final chapter in the storied career of the greatest sport icon and hero in the game of basketball.
Jordan’s performance in his final NBA game was respectable: 15 points on 6/15 field goals, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 28 minutes of playing time. Each time Jordan attempted a field goal or free throw, flashbulbs lit up the arena like fireflies in the sky as spectators tried to capture their favorite artist at work on his canvas one last time.
Jordan walked away from the game at the 1:44 mark of the 4th quarter after making the final point of his legendary career on a free throw. Out of respect, 76ers Coach Larry Brown – a fellow Tar Heel – instructed 76ers guard Eric Snow to intentionally foul Jordan in order to allow for a proper farewell tribute and send-off. On behalf of the always gracious Philadelphia fans in attendance, Jordan received an extended ovation during the Wizards’ player introductions as well as a three-minute standing ovation at the end of the game which also included an ovation from his teammates, 76ers players, and officials as well.
In typical Jordan fashion, while walking off the court, Jordan obtained the game ball in order to commemorate the moment. For his final game, Jordan wore the Air Jordan 18 in the white/blue colorway, the final “OG” model worn by Michael during his playing career.
The Air Jordan 18 was a truly advanced, eloquent and masterful sneaker in terms of its design and construction. Regarded at the time as the ultimate ride in high-performance basketball footwear, the Air Jordan 18, much like its predecessors in the Air Jordan line – pushed the envelope of sneaker design and technology.
First, the Air Jordan 18 featured a one-piece leather or suede upper. A difficult design challenge, the upper was made of the finest materials including either suede (black) or leather (white), a design cue inspired by Italian race cars. Functional air vents were incorporated on both the medial and lateral aspects of the sneaker to maximize ventilation and breathability. A newly-designed Comfort Control Plate with carbon fiber was introduced which added comfort, stability, and support. Additionally, hidden polyurethane was used for support in addition to what is perhaps the most avant-garde and forward-thinking aspect of the Air Jordan 18: the use of double-stacked Zoom Air cushioning.
Finally, in order to provide excellent traction on court, the outsole used race tire-inspired solid rubber with sticky “crystal” rubber areas placed at strategic spots on the outsole. Also of note is the sneaker’s provenance which included a unique Jordan 18 sliding box with “18” logo and driver’s manual for instructions regarding care and maintenance.
Two other colorways also released: a white/red colorway which Jordan wore on Hardwood Classics nights as well as a black/sport royal colorway. As an aside, prior to the 2003 NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta, Jordan opted to wear the black colorway during a pre-game photo shoot with Yao Ming and Steve Francis.
While not regarded as one of the more iconic, memorable silhouettes in Air Jordan history, the Air Jordan 18 nonetheless served as a transcendental and pioneering model vis-à-vis its advanced technology and innovative design and remains as trendsetting as the man himself who wore them on that one fine day 15 years ago.
The Air Jordan 18: the perfect blend of art and science.