holy grail kick game

Every Collection Has One Holy Grail

Words Peter Sim Illustration Sherwynnn Williams

If you’re heavy into sneakers, there’s a good chance you remember the first pair that got you into the game. Most times, that particular shoe evolves into a “holy grail”—an ever-elusive sneaker or set of sneakers that you’re determined to add to your collection no matter what.  Finding your “grail” back in the day may have required an extensive search.

Today, footwear brands have capitalized on that demand by re-releasing models and colorways from the past so people can re-live the moments that originally made them fans without the finder’s stress. However, more often than not, the re-release simply isn’t the same because of substantive differences in the materials, shape, or details. For me, the Black/Infrared version of the Air Jordan VI fits all of the above. It’s not only the first shoe that really got me into sneakers, but I also consider it a “holy grail” because I have yet to own a pair that captures the essence of the original and won’t crumble over time.

I became a fan of Michael Jordan around the time of the Pistons-Bulls era and the release of MJ’s Playground on VHS, but I didn’t really obsess over his shoes until I watched him play in the Black/Infrared VIs during the 1991 NBA All-Star Game.  It was a great-looking shoe on TV, and I was floored after seeing them in person for the first time. There was a kid at my elementary school, Samuel, who was a grade or two above me, and he wore them to school one day fresh out of the box. The shoe looked like a radioactive black widow with its all-black durabuck upper, puffed ankle, and eye-searing infrared accents. Then Samuel showed me the tongue cutouts, lacelock, and reflective accents, and it was one of the first times I remember geeking out otaku-style over the details of a pair of sneakers. Some of my other friends eventually got them, and when I saw how my friends went out of their way to keep them in pristine condition, it was confirmation to me how special the shoes were. I had to have them.

My parents took me to the mall to get them, but when they saw the $125 price tag, they refused to buy them for me on principle. Like many parents who didn’t understand kids’ obsession with Jordans, they flatly disapproved of MJ for his expensive, violence-inducing shoes. After that rejection, the shoe kept popping up everywhere in my life. I remember there was a big-ass Nike ad at the mall that had a photo of Jordan dunking with the Black/Infrared VIs on that literally taunted me every time I went back.  The shoes would come up in conversations with my friends all the time.  I even saw Will Smith rocking them on an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
I wanted them even more! Surprisingly, the shoes were still available at my local store up until the summer. But once the NBA Playoffs hit and MJ hit his dougie on the switch-handed move against the Lakers on the way to his first championship, the Black/Infrared VI was solidified in sneaker history and long gone before I even had a chance.

Since 1991, the Black/Infrared colorway has only resurfaced twice — once in 2000, and again in 2010. A lot of Jordan fans consider the 2000s to be the closest version to the original, but I never had a shot at them because I was out of town for the summer and wasn’t able to lay any groundwork for them at my local spot in Houston. As expected, they instantly sold out, and within a few months or so, they were already out of reach on the resale market.  10 years later, Jordan Brand dropped the “Infrared Pack,” which was a 2-pair box set where you had to buy the White/Infrared VIs along with the black ones. The white ones weren’t bad, but the black retro was underwhelming with an all-suede upper. Of course, I still bought them, and yes, I realize I kind of got hustled into buying two pairs. At that point, I just wanted a pair. There are rumors swirling online that they may return in 2014, but until something surfaces, I guess I’ll have to settle for the 2010s. I only hope that the next incarnation will be the real “holy grail.” With the 23rd anniversary of the shoe right around the corner, maybe 2014 could very well be my year.

This article appears in Mass Appeal Issue 54. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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