This Shoe was Banned by the NBA

Here we are. The Banned 1s. Illegal to wear, on and off the court. Instant arrest. Minimum $5,000,000 bail.

If you couldn’t tell, that was hyperbole. You know who couldn’t tell? Ten-year-old me when I first heard about these shoes. Seriously—my camp friends scared me into thinking that these shoes were literally prohibited by law—sort of like my dad scared me into thinking that it was illegal to turn the overhead lights in the car at night time (if you know, you know).

Anyways, enough rambling. The banned 1s. Iconic. Probably the second most well-known Air Jordan colorway right behind the Chicagos. And what’s not to love? The color blocking on this pair is absolutely incredible; so simple yet so elegant. I’ve mentioned this before, but what draws me to these shoes time and time again is how Jordan Brand can make such stunning footwear with so few hues. You see the picture at the top; I don’t even need to describe them.

When you think of Air Jordan, you think of these.

The allure behind this pair is not simply just the look—their reputation precedes them. As mentioned in the title, the NBA forbid Jordan from wearing them on the court, citing a league rule that players must only wear shoes sporting colors that match that of their uniforms and their teammates’ shoes. According to legend, the NBA fined Jordan $5,000 per game every time he wore them on court, or $12,000 in today’s dollars, accounting for inflation.

Although I’d love to disregard all qualms I have with this story and buy into it entirely, after doing some digging I found a few inaccuracies with this telling. First, Jordan apparently never wore the 1s in question in a regular-season game—the actual shoe of controversy should really be the Nike Air Ship in the black and red colorway—a predecessor to the 1s. In fact, the only documentation of the star wearing the shoes in a league-sanctioned event when this story was circulating was during the 1985 NBA Slam Dunk competition.

It is also unclear whether the league actually fined Jordan thousands of dollars every time he wore the pair—the most concrete evidence of this notion is a letter from NBA Vice President Russ Granik to Nike Vice President Rob Strasser warning the sportswear company that Jordan was violating league regulations by wearing the sneakers. Aside from this threat, I could not find any damning proof that Jordan was fined $5k each game he wore them. In fact, it seems that this myth was propagated by Nike themselves to increase exposure—one such commercial from 1985 certainly lends itself to this assumption. Nike also banked off the illicit nature of the pair when they “retroed” it back in 2016, this time officially deeming it the “Banned” colorway.

Although the story may be riddled in falsehoods, I still love this pair for what it is—one of the most acclaimed sneakers in footwear history. I’m so glad its legacy still lives on today—it’s one hell of a shoe, and I hope people are still wearing it for decades to come (and that Nike retros it again so I can snag myself a pair).

Verdict: My attitude towards this pair is the exact same as my view on the Chicagos—ridiculously cool; ridiculously expensive, if you have the money and the passion, do yourself a favor. 10/10.

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