One of the objectives on the latest game shoe was to bring Air Jordan back down to Earth. Of course, the line will always be tied to the airborne heroics of its namesake, but Jordan Brand wanted the Air Jordan 39 to solve for a style of basketball played more on the floor.

“We’ve been heavy on Flight, and that’s something that’s been specific to MJ,” says Shaw. “But I mean, you see the game today, there’s not a lot of crazy high flyers. It’s all on the ground.”

The design team zeroed in on Jordan’s cross-step, a move that successive generations of hoopers learned from him.

“It’s a move that [Jordan] just did fluidly almost every time down the court,” says Greenspan, “and we felt it was a good platform to just have a discussion with him about performance.”

It ended up being a long discussion. The designers presented Jordan with old game footage, circa 1991, of him playing in a pair of Air Jordan 6s. On the spot, he gave a dissertation on the cross-step, recounting how his shoe felt on his foot, how his toenails would break under extreme circumstances, and what the physical movement demanded of him.

“This is what drove the conversation and ended up driving all of the internals of the shoe,” says Greenspan. “Cushioning setup, traction, the lower silhouette—everything about this kind of move, which is fundamentally just about changing directions.”

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