The Air Jordan 35 Made Michael Jordan Smile

Yang-Yi Goh
·3 mins read

It was only officially unveiled today, but the Air Jordan 35 has already shown up in some big games. Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker have each laced up the Space Age kicks during the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals, and the NBA’s reigning sneaker overlord PJ Tucker gave the newest Js some run during the Rockets’ second-round matchup with the Lakers. Next season, those players will have plenty of elite company: rocket-powered Brink’s truck Zion Williamson and walking bucket Luka Doncic are among the Jordan Brand signees slated to play in the 35. Fine-tuning a performance basketball sneaker to fit the disparate needs of superstars across all five positions is no simple thing. But as far as the shoe’s lead designer Tate Kuerbis is concerned, there’s still only one player whose opinion matters above all others.

“For me and the team, this truly is still Michael Jordan’s shoe,” Kuerbis tells me over Zoom from his basement in Portland, where he’s been cooped up the last few months working on the next two Air Jordan models remotely. “You have to design the shoe in a way that’s going to work for our modern day athletes, but when MJ sees it—when he puts that size 13 on his foot—he has to smile and say, ‘Yeah, this is the game shoe.’”

<cite class="credit">Courtesy of Nike</cite>
Courtesy of Nike

Of course, as anyone who binged The Last Dance can imagine, it’s not always easy to elicit that smile from the most ruthless competitor to ever hit the hardwood. “You don’t want to see MJ angry or pissed off,” Kuerbis laughs. “I’m thankful that he’s still in a place where he’ll push you and challenge you to go back to the drawing board.” When Kuerbis—the mind behind the 18 (the last-ever Js that Mike wore in a game), 19, and then every model from the 31 on—was working on the Air Jordan 33, it took upwards of 10 in-person visits with His Airness before the shoe’s laceless design fit his feet properly. “I was sweating every single time. The last time, he literally said, ‘If you don't get this right, the next time we're just going to have to blow it up and change it.’”

Thankfully, things went a little more smoothly this time around. Doubling down on the previous model’s Eclipse Plate technology, the 35 features an even more prominent version of the see-through tech. Here, in the midfoot, it significantly reduces the shoe’s weight and allows for a more explosive bounce off the Zoom Air cushioning in the forefoot and heel. If reading that sentence gave you a headache, here’s all you need to know: these shoes are lightweight, powerful, and perform like a dream on the court. And, perhaps more importantly, they look cool as hell, too.

<cite class="credit">Courtesy of Nike</cite>
Courtesy of Nike

“We all know that Js have to look good off the court,” Kuerbis admits. “You don’t want to have a shoe that just performs, but nobody actually wants to wear it. Blending the art and the science is part of the magic of an Air Jordan.” By that metric, perhaps more than most Jordans of recent vintage, the 35 is a runaway success. There’s a definite sci-fi feel to the silhouette—Kuerbis referred to a NASA image of a black hole while sketching the oversized Eclipse Plate—but it’s also anchored in the classics, with a few subtle winks to the Air Jordan 5 on the tongue and at the heel. It’s all tied together by swaths of rich suede and leather, bringing an upscale aura back to the line following the 34’s mesh-heavy construction. Maybe the best compliment we can pay it is that the 35, which drops worldwide on October 17, simply looks and feels like an Air Jordan—even by the man himself’s soaringly high standards.

Originally Appeared on GQ