Michael Jordan and his signature line of Nike sneakers changed both the world of basketball and sneaker culture forever. Considering how popular the Air Jordan line was (and remains to this day), you would be forgiven for thinking Jordan only ever laced up his own sneakers. But in the 1994/95 Playoffs — after Jordan had returned from his first retirement — the GOAT wore a pair of Nike Air Flights, Penny Hardaway’s first signature sneaker.
It was the first and only time that Jordan wore another player’s signature sneakers on the court. Surprisingly, the reason for the change in footwear was relatively simple. The Tinker Hatfield-designed Nike Air Jordan 11 debuted during the ’95 Playoffs, which the iconic designer had worked on even though Jordan was playing Minor League Baseball during the beginning of the 1994/95 season. It was the Air Jordan 11 that Jordan wore in games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against Penny Hardaway’s Orlando Magic. Because the colorway didn’t match his teammates’ black shoes in the first two games of the series, Jordan was fined $5,000 by the league. (Something he'd been used to following the 1985 controversy surrounding the black/red Air Ship and Air Jordan 1.)
In game 3, therefore, MJ opted to wear Hardaway’s Nike Air Flight — albeit with Penny’s signature “1 Cent” graphic taken off the heel of the shoe. An all-black version of the Air Jordan 11 was likely not yet available to Jordan and instead of wearing one of his older signature models, he decided to wear his opponent’s first signature sneaker.
Hardaway was seen as the next big star of the NBA and “Penny” had (unsurprisingly) expressed his admiration for Jordan, even going so far as to ask Nike for a PE version of the Nike Air Jordan 9 the previous year. As a rising star in the league, Hardaway was likely on Jordan’s radar and the matchup between the two in the NBA Playoffs was the perfect opportunity to wear the Nike Air Flights — the ultimate seal of approval.
“He’s Michael Jordan. He was the man. He didn’t ask me for them. He just told Nike to give them to him,” Hardaway said to The Undefeated. “We all know that Michael Jordan is one of the fiercest competitors ever. He’s not gonna wear just anybody’s shoe. For him to do that for me, it was the ultimate level of respect.”
The respect went both ways, as Hardaway admitted he fell in love with the Air Jordan 11 and asked Nike to send him pairs of the sneaker, which he wore to games throughout the entire series. “I was in awe of how great the shoe looked. The patent leather on there was unreal. It was futuristic, you know? That shoe was phenomenal,” said Hardaway.
The Nike Air Jordan 11 went on to drop at retail in November 1995 and Michael Jordan would go on to win his fourth NBA championship while wearing them in the 1995/96 season. Penny Hardaway’s line of signature sneakers — which includes the ever-popular Nike Air Foamposite 1 — went on to become hugely sought-after as well.
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