Gear Check: Jordan Air Jordan XXXI

The initial reaction to the Air Jordan XXXI was “Wow, Jordan Brand has re-found its touch!” It has an old-school bred color way with a new school appearance (photographs are based on the “Fine Print” colorway). In my opinion, after the AJ16, Jordan Brand started to lose its swagger among sneaker heads. People just weren’t drawn to newer Jordans as retros dominated the Jordan landscape. That all changed in Chicago when Jordan Brand unveiled the Jordan XXX. This design took on a new look with various PEs throughout the season; for example, Russell Westbrook’s 2016 All-Star PEs.

Fast forward to now. Jordan Brand has unleashed the Air Jordan XXXI, which pays homage to the original “Banned” Air Jordan 1, the black and red debut release of his signature shoe. Black and red shoes are now staid, but in 1985, it was a stark contrast to the world of predominantly white sneakers. It represented being a rebel, individuality, and defiance, something that the younger generation of any time period can relate to.

As the story goes, the black and red color way of the Air Jordan 1 was banned by the NBA because it violated the League’s uniform policy at the time (shoes needed to be predominantly white). When Nike was warned that Jordan was going to be fined $5,000 per game every time he wore the sneakers in an NBA game. Jordan continued to wear the shoe, controversy followed, and shoe sales picked up while Nike picked up the tab from Jordan’s NBA fines, resulting in a viral-for-1985 marketing buzz and a subsequent commercial based around that story.

Jordan even went on Late Night with David Letterman to plug the Air Jordan 1.

Many people have questioned whether or not the banned sneakers were the Jordan 1 or a different pair. Some have claimed that the Nike Air Ship, the precursor to Jordan’s sneakers, were the banned sneakers since they have a resemblance to the Air Jordan 1. Some things are just better left untold. These two sneakers, the Air Jordan 1 and the Nike Air Ship, were two important sneakers in the history of Nike and Jordan Brand. These two mythical banned sneakers have brought us to the present day banned Air Jordan XXXI.

If it wasn’t apparent, the XXXI pays direct homage to the original Air Jordan 1 beyond the color scheme. The XXXI is essentially an Air Jordan 1 kitted out with today’s Nike tech: Flyweave replaces the leather construction, a full-length Zoom Air unit replaces the internal Air unit in the midsole, the toe of the shoe uses fly weave, the fly weave transitions to leather as it moves up to the ankle part of the sneaker, and this is the first Air Jordan since the 1 to have a Swoosh. Leather was used on the rear ankle collar—the Flyweave transitions quite intricately into the soft synthetic leather—for nostalgic reasons. The appearance of the classic Air Jordan “Wings” logo is another nod to the original, on the medial ankle area.

We were recently afforded a chance to test out the Air Jordan XXXI at Terminal 23, which is in the shadow of Madison Square Garden.

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Traction

The outsole of the XXXI is comprised of a wavy x pattern resembling herringbone on the bottom of the shoe that provides good court grip. So if you find yourself on the wrong end of a crossover, the traction of the Air Jordan XXX1 should help you maintain whatever dignity you have left. As with most translucent soles, it’ll attract more dirt compared to a solid outsole, but that is the price you pay for icy soles.

Speaking of the icy soles, the word “Banned” is featured on the bottom of the sneaker through the see-through outsole (on the photographs of the “Fine Print” release, it features Michael Jordan’s signature) which doesn’t have any bearing on traction.

The one concern that might pose a problem is that the treads on the outsole are pretty shallow, which might pose some problems after a few wears, especially if used outdoors. We didn’t experience any issues, but it’s something worth noting.


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Cushioning

The XXXI features a full-length Zoom Air unit with Jordan’s FlightSpeed, which is supposed to harness the Zoom for a more explosive first step. The raised footbed does give the feeling of the shoe shifting energy from back to front when planting. While running the low-profile setup is very responsive, giving you a sensation of the shoe “pushing you forward” on every step. The XXXI handled landings well for a smaller player. A bigger player, however, might find it lacking in that area.

The raised Zoom on the outsole gives a sensation of being unstable, especially when just standing, but going full speed, it’s not perceptible.


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Fit

As soon as your foot goes into the XXXI, they feel very secure. Behind the leather collar is a neoprene wrap (it’s not a full internal bootie) that works with the lacing system on the top two holes to cinch the it to the foot. This was likely done for comfort and reinforcement as the leather upper on the ankle (done to harken back to original Air Jordan 1) alone would not be enough. Inside the neoprene insert are padded ankle inserts that contour with the ankle.

Those with wide feet should like the fit. There is ample space in the forefoot. Even those with narrow feet should be OK as the Flyweave upper should meld with the foot with time. Until then, it will require some lace tightening on the Dynamic Flywire that sits underneath the Flyweave upper. You might feel a little room, but the foot is very secure, thanks to the internal ankle collar which does a good job of keeping the foot locked in.

The Jordan XXX1 has the best fit when wearing thinner socks (think poly-blend moisture-wicking types) since the shoe fits very true to size.


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Support and Stability

Again, we have to point out the two things—the raised Zoom on the outsole and the wide fit on the forefoot—that might throw off a wearer. The latter does make the shoe feel cavernous if you have narrow feet. It’s addressed by pulling the laces tight, making the Dynamic Flywire do its job of cradling the foot, but it will leave some material pinching. It’s not noticeable and hopefully improved as the Flyweave breaks in and molds to foot (many knit-construction shoes tend to stretch before they start to take on the foot shape of the wearer). The wobbly outsole from the raised Zoom won’t go away, but it’s only when standing that you feel it. We don’t think it’s a concern, but just important to note.


Conclusion

Pros: modern, yet retro aesthetic, foot containment, one-piece upper design, low-profile feel

Cons: inconsistent fit on the forefoot, lacking impact absorption

Best for: The basketball player with wide feet who places more emphasis on explosive speed rather than power.

Price: $185

Weight: 15.4 oz. (size 9.5)

The Air Jordan signature series has officially come full circle with the XXXI. Regardless of how you felt about the line, the Air Jordan has always been about pushing boundaries, be it design or technology. The last few shoes have sort of plateaued on both fronts and now the XXXI is openly taking inspiration from its own heritage. Which is not to say it’s a bad thing; the Air Jordan 1 is one of most iconic models of all time. As a performance shoe, the XXXI is on par with the last few models (XX8 through XXX) as a top tier basketball shoe on the court. It’s not the perfect shoe, but on the right wearer, it can be.