Tales of Michael Jordan are interwoven into sports history so deeply that he’s universally recognized as an unchallengeable GOAT (ie. Muhammad Ali & Michael Phelps) – that’s nothing new. But it’s important to remember because within the ‘Story of Michael Jordan’ there are so many chapters of greatness that we lose a little context. The human brain remembers a lot but doesn’t do a great at organizing those memories. Our brains save information like Michael Jordan stats and accolades kinda like Wikipedia – it’s all there, but housed within a loose framework… incomplete (in most cases). Lets take the “I’m Back” era of Jordan’s career as an example; countless, all-time, moments unfolded but in retrospect they get shuffled together and mixed up (unless you’re a real Jordan Junkie, if so, then just sit back and enjoy this trip down memory lane).
With that said, an extremely important Michael Jordan event transpired exactly 23 years ago today… On May 20, 1996 the Black Cat took home his 4th NBA MVP Award. In a vacuum the ’96 MVP Award surely impresses, but sooo much more happened during the 1995-96 season… You probably know highlights. You surely know the footwork. But did you know that MJ’s ’96 season was one of the most impressive campaigns in league history? Lets dive in!
Man, where do we start? ‘Stats’ sorta rhyme with ‘start’! You can’t win MVP without solid statistics and MJ filled the stat sheet proper:
Michael Jordan 1995-96 Regular Season:
- 30.4 points
- 6.6 rebounds
- 4.3 assists
- 2.20 steals per game
Remember, kids, we talkin’ ’90’s hoops, not 2019 ‘shoot a 3 as fast as you can’ NBA basketball. Putting up 30 points during the hand checking, no-harm-no-foul, era truly spoke to how prolific Jordan was on the offensive end. Yeah he shot 3’s, but Mike made a living in the mid-range, at the rim, and in isolation.
Numbers translated into hardware for Jordan in ’96, he took home All-Star Game MVP, lead the league in scoring, and made First Team All-NBA too.
The Bulls squad MJ lead will forever be viewed as the best team to ever step foot on the NBA hardwood. Their historic regular season record of 72-10 stood for twenty years before the 2016 Warriors broke it with a 73-9 record of their own. For most, the key difference between the two power houses is the postseason; MJ’s Bulls won it all during their prolific campaign, while Steph Curry’s Warriors lost in the Finals.
Vengeance motivated Jordan to push beyond his own greatness throughout 1996’s regular season and playoffs. The year prior Shaq’s Orlando Magic defeated a recently un-retired MJ in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, and many (justifiably so) viewed Shaq as the league’s (then) superstar. O’neal brought exuberance and youthful charisma into the MJ-less NBA when he was drafted in 1992; so there was a power struggle at the top between MJ & Shaq (and Hakeem)) for whole ruled the NBA kingdom.
..Jordan didn’t like struggles, so in the ’96 Eastern Conference Finals he showed Shaq, the Magic and the league that he was top dog. While averaging 29.5 PPG Jordan and the Bulls swept the Magic, avenging their 1995 series loss. Weeks later Chicago defeated the Seattle Supersonics to win their fourth ring in six years with MJ winning Finals MVP. That’s a MVP trifecta, people.
So now our favorite part of Michael Jordan’s 1996 season… the Air Jordan 11. I love the 11, you love the 11, your grandma loves the 11, everyone loves the Air Jordan 11. Deigned by Tinker Hatfield, the 11 boasted Cordura mesh, carbon fiber and patent leather (a first for basketball footwear) for a look that works, to this day, on and off the court. In recent years Jordan Brand has brought back the 11’s original patent leather hight; you might’ve noticed in the pictures throughout this story, but for over a decade the 11 featured a low cut mudguard).
Along with the Air Jordan 1, the 11 stands as one of the most recognizable shoes in footwear history – it’s truly a sneaker that’ll never go out of style. Every OG colorway of the 11 got some court time: the Space Jams were rocked during the Orlando series, the Breds served as MJ’s Playoff weapon of choice, the Columbias shined during the ’96 All-Star Game, and the Concords brought the heat nightly throughout the regular season.
Next time you throw on a pair of Air Jordan 11s be sure to remember the history behind the shoes; they’re one of the most important pieces in the story of basketball and the tale of Michael Jordan.