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The Significance Of The Air Jordan Retro 11 'Breds'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The year was 1996. The player, Michael Jordan, is in his first full season since returning from an early retirement. His team, the Chicago Bulls, are up against the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA finals.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARV ALBERT: There is Jordan, kicking it out - Pippen.

(CHEERING)

CORNISH: The shoes on his feet were the Air Jordan Retro 11, better known as the Breds.

MICHAEL SYKES: Aesthetically, the shoe is black and red, hence the nickname Bred.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That's Michael Sykes, staff writer for USA Today, who covers sports and sneaker culture.

SYKES: It's the first foray into patent leather for Jordans. So the toe block is really just almost exclusively patent leather.

SHAPIRO: He explains how Michael Jordan's shoes have a very special place in pop culture. For people who collect sneakers, the retro Jordans are among the most prized footwear you can own. And now, some 23 years later, this very shoe is back on the market for the first time since its 1996 debut.

SYKES: So it's basically the greatest shoe worn by the greatest player in the greatest season that he ever had.

CORNISH: Every facet, from the stitching down to the shoe box, will mirror the 1996 shoe.

SYKES: For a lot of people, it is the nostalgic purpose of having this shoe that they saw Jordan wear. They saw it in the movie "Space Jam." They remember it from when they were a kid.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SPACE JAM")

MICHAEL JORDAN: (As himself) But I haven't played basketball a long time. My timing's all off.

BILLY WEST: (As Bugs Bunny) We'll fix your timing. Look at our facility.

SHAPIRO: Sykes says the shoes are so popular that people have gone to all kinds of lengths to get a pair, including theft.

SYKES: There was a story maybe in like 2011 or 2012 where some dude literally rammed his car into a Foot Locker just so he could steal these shoes. It was crazy.

CORNISH: Part of the reason Jordan's shoes have this type of mania surrounding them has to do with strategic drop dates and limited supply. For years, Jordan was criticized for not changing how the shoes were sold and not addressing the crime that surrounded them.

SYKES: This is actually the thing that I would say is kind of the blemish on Jordan's career, even in basketball and sneakers as far as his legacy goes. He really hasn't had a response to any of this.

CORNISH: According to Sykes, Nike, the company that made the shoes, didn't bend to the criticism. Their position was...

SYKES: We want people to be safe. And we don't encourage violence. But we need this exclusivity factor to continue to drive up our prices and also our notoriety.

SHAPIRO: And they still have that notoriety. The average price for the 2019 Breds is almost $300.

(SOUNDBITE OF PARCELS' "COMEDOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.