Perhaps to accentuate the innovation behind the latest version of the Air Jordan, the venue to introduce the shoe was in a nondescript hangar next to the Teterboro airport in New Jersey.
As Tinker Hatfield, Nike's VP of creative design, put it: "Jordan is a basketball brand that is like no other. We have a lot to live up to each time we put these out."
The shoe has a futuristic look and cutting-edge engineering, but the look was inspired from wingtip dancing shoes worn in the 1920s and 1930s, Hatfield said. But the process of creating a basketball shoe from that idea -- and a high performance shoe at that -- was no walk in the park.
"You don't want style to diminish performance," Hatfield said. "We hope that we find the right balance where it's the best that it can perform, and it still looks great."
"The aesthetics were hard," said Tom Luedecke, senior footwear designer for Jordan Brand.
Hatfield and Luedecke showed a series of sketches, dating back two years, to show the transformation of a plainly sketched, wing-tipped design, into the $223 -- that's right, $223! -- basketball sneaker that is in stores now.
This year's iteration of the Jordan (the 27th in the franchise) has added multiple insoles for adjustable cushioning. The 2012 shoe has two interchangeable sleeves, one low top for quickness and one high top for ankle support. Then there are three interchangeable sets of midsoles for player customization.
The green midsole is for players who want to "fly around" their opponent, providing lightweight and responsive cushioning. The blue midsole is for players who want to "fly over" their opponent, providing a blend of responsiveness and impact protection. The orange midsole is for players who want to "fly through" their opponent, providing lightweight cushioning and impact protection.
"Now you can make those personal choices when you have this pair of shoes," Hatfield said.
After the presentation, the media were invited to "wear test" the sneakers with personal trainer Idan Ravin (who has worked with Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant, among others). On an impressively assembled, full-size basketball court in another section of the hangar, Ravin worked us like we were trying out for the high school team all over again, with various drills to specifically showcase aspects of the shoes, such as the cushioning and quick response to different movements.
(Fun idea, but the media may not be the best source on whether the shoes actually work as designed. There's a reason we report on the NBA rather than play in it.)
As noted earlier, the shoes will cost a pretty penny. The Air Jordan 2012 Deluxe, featuring the two inner sleeves and three sets of midsoles will go for $223, while the Air Jordan 2012 Flight System, featuring one sleeve and one midsole, chosen by the customer, will go for $180.
It's a steep price to pay for a pair of basketball shoes, especially in a sluggish economy, but Nike has shown it knows its business.
Jordan wasn't on hand for the event but had a statement prepared: "As a basketball player, I always wanted a shoe that adapted with my game. On any given night I had to adjust my style of play for countless reasons and the Air Jordan 2012 meets those needs."
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