So we’re at the end of the year, which means end-of-the-year recaps are aplenty right now. Now, it’s time to add my personal list of top sneakers from 2011 into the mix! I only have nine selections, as I could not decide on a solid #10. Besides, this collection of nine sneakers cannot be messed with whatsoever.
(Sidenote: For those of you who do not know, Dylan and I have one overarching rule for out sneaker purchases: If one of us gets a pair, the other will not. You’ll see why this matters as the list goes on.)
(Sidenote 2: Shouts to Sean Munro, Angel Gonzalez (aka Vagrant Sneaker), Jordan Brand, and Clyde Edwards (aka SneakerboxClyde) for some of these photos!)
9. Air Jordan III Retro “White Cement”
Air Jordan III Retro "White Cement"
In my eyes, this year belonged to Jordan Brand. No question. People will point to different things from the year to show that, but for me, it was the major return of the original Air Jordan III colorways that set Jordan Brand so high. That all started with the release of the “White Cement” Air Jordan III Retro. I cannot say that this is my favorite colorway on the III, but with such an amazing silhouette, how could anyone go wrong with a simple white colorway complimented with red and black accents, along with the elephant print? The answer: never. Throw in the iconic status that the “White Cement” colorway achieved with Michael Jordan’s dunk from the free-throw line, and you have a winner in my book.
8. Air Jordan 1 Retro “Banned”
Air Jordan 1 Retro "Banned"
Before I say anything else, let me say one thing: execution is key. As someone who gets very enthusiastic about certain things, I am one to seek out what I consider the best-looking version of a sneaker design if I am interested in buying that particular design. I love how Jordan Brand went so left-field for the release of the “Banned” Air Jordan 1 Retro (releasing them through Nike Outlets instead of regular Jordan Brand accounts). I love the whole “Banned” concept, with the details inside the shoe, the Nike Air, and one crazy box. I just hate that Jordan Brand made the shoe with tumbled leather. The 2001 version, with the sleek full-grain leather, is one spectacle for sure. The “Banned” 1s? Still very nice, but the shoe does not compare to its predecessor. Nonetheless, this shoe will make for a great consolation prize if I ever give up on finding a size 11.5 pair of 2001 “Bred” 1s.
7. Air Jordan III Retro “Black Cement”
Air Jordan III Retro "Black Cement"
Yes, the same thing applies here, but not in terms of creative execution. In terms of material selection, Jordan Brand stuck to their previous formulas for this re-release of the “Black Cement” III. However, quality also plays a major part in the look of a shoe. With the 2011 “Black Cement” Air Jordan III Retro, that is where Jordan Brand failed big time. I was not a major fan of the cheapened, plasticky leather that Jordan Brand made the 2011 run of Air Jordan III Retros with, and the shine of that leather showed most on this black-based colorway. This ruined the smooth look of the “Black Cement” III colorway for me. But then again, the “Black Cement” Air Jordan III is still one of my favorite shoes of all-time, with its simple (black base), yet eye-grabbing (hits of red, elephant print) design. To not acknowledge and applaud Jordan Brand for bringing back such an awesome sneaker would be flat-out wrong.
6. Nike MAG 2011
Nike MAG 2011
Like Dylan, I have never seen Back to the Future II, or even any Back to the Future movie. However, I learned about the legend that is the Air Mag soon after I started collecting sneakers. It was the shoe that had escaped the grasp of sneaker lovers all around the world for over two decades, and a design that had resonated with me as well. When the news of a Nike MAG 2011 release broke, I was surprised like never before. Because I was away on a school retreat, I did not see any of the teasers that led up to the big news, but instead, the big headline. I was completely taken aback. It all just felt so magical: the official videos created by Nike, the way the MAG 2011 was released, and even the shoe itself. The mix of a futuristic high-top shape (with the infamous strap), light blue speckles, multi-colored LED lights, and the giant “Nike MAG” on the back all drew me in. Had the price tag on a pair been lower than what everyone paid for their pairs, you could have counted on me obtaining a pair somehow. Alas, that dream will be as much of a fantasy to me as the thought of Air Mags dropping was to everyone not too long ago.
5. Ronnie Fieg x Asics GT-II “Ultramarine”
Ronnie Fieg x Asics GT-II "Ultramarine"
Before 2011, I knew of Ronnie Fieg’s work, thanks to Dylan’s enthusiasm over his “The Cove” Asics Gel Lyte III colorway. Alas, out of his released material, there was no sneaker that I really felt like I needed to have. The “Coves” were nice, but with Dylan taking dibs on those, I had no interest in trying to find them anywhere. Then, the first pictures of the “Ultramarine” GT-II dropped, and I was instantly sold on the colorway. The mix of that lush Ultramarine shade with the Turquoise definitely called my name. However, at that point, I did not really see how such a simple model would fit into my collection. So, I passed on the “Ultramarines” and did not look back for a while. Then, I saw people wearing the shoe when I went to David Z for the “Mint Leaf” Gel Lyte III release, and regret was born deep within me. As time passed, it grew, until eventually, I started sifting through the most obscure places to find a pair. I finally came across a pair in my size on a car magazine’s online forum, bought it from the owner, and have not looked back since. The colorway is purely stunning, especially with the contrast of nubuck tiger stripes on a predominately pigskin upper. Plus, the simplicity of the GT-II silhouette brings the colors on the shoe out like no other silhouette can. All in all, a great shoe with an absolutely killer colorway. Simple as that.
4. Air Jordan V Retro “Tokyo23″
Air Jordan V Retro "Tokyo23"
When it comes to sneakers, some people have self-made standards that they abide by. In some cases, these are brand barriers, model barriers, and/or color barriers. One thing that I stood by at the beginning of 2011 (and for that matter, my entire time as a sneakerhead) was that I would never wear yellow sneakers. Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of bold and bright sneakers, but to me, mainly-yellow shoes were always tacky and unwearable. In order to change this, a sneaker would have to be very appealing to me. When I saw the first leaked images of this Air Jordan V colorway, I was sold. The crazy features of the Air Jordan V really complimented the Varsity Maize shade well. Black speckles on the yellow “shark’s teeth.” 3M tongue. Grey lace panels. Translucent netting and outsole. Pair all of this with a complimentary helping of black, and it just works. Point blank. The attitude that this shoe commanded was nothing I had seen out of any yellow sneaker before. Hearing that the shoe would be a Tokyo-exclusive only made me want it more. At some point, I came to accept the upsetting truth that getting a pair of “Tokyo23″ Vs would require a boatload of cash – one more boatload than I had. To this day, I will not wear a yellow sneaker unless it is as complete of a colorway as the “Tokyo23″ colorway on this Air Jordan V.
3. Nike Air Foamposite One “Royal”
Nike Air Foamposite One "Royal"
This Foamposite craze is getting more and more tiring by the second. After seeing all of the Foamposite colorways for 2012, my respect for Nike went down a whole deal. While the Foamposite shoes themselves are entering the mainstream, the overall importance of everything behind the line, as well as its “cult” status with sneakerheads, is quickly fading away. The 2009 “Eggplant” and 2010 “Copper” Air Foamposite One colorways were instant classics when they came out, but all of 2011′s new Foamposite colorways have soured the reputation of the line. Thankfully, one shoe still stands today as a symbol of Foamposite past, no matter when it releases: the “Royal” Air Foamposite One. The fact that Nike dropped the “Royal” Foams this year made my outlook on Foamposites from 2011 much sweeter. When the “Royals” dropped, I made sure to secure my pair quickly. Not only do I love the shoe because of what the colorway stands for. In fact, I probably love the “Royal” Foamposite One more for the colorway itself. Can any fan of blue deny how awesome the Dark Neon Royal shade looks on a shiny Foamposite upper paired with a translucent sole? Please…don’t even try.
2. Air Jordan III Retro “True Blue”
Air Jordan III Retro "True Blue"
As I have previously stated, Jordan fans mainly go crazy for colorways that MJ wore in his Chicago Bulls days. Shoes like the “Bred” 1s, “Black Cement” IIIs, “Black/Infrared” VIs, and “Concord” XIs have extremely large fanbases. But when I look at my list of top Jordans, all I see at the top are non-Bulls colorways: “Aqua” VIIIs, “Grape” Vs, and at the tip-top, “True Blue” IIIs. Why, do you ask? Well, it’s the defiant shape of the III. It’s the pairing of red accents and True Blue details. It’s the use of elephant print by the True Blue lace holes in addition to having it by the toe cap and heel. It’s also how all of this looks on a smooth white leather base. A substantial majority of sneakerheads put “Black Cement” IIIs and “White Cement” IIIs over “True Blue” IIIs, but I will stand by my position of “True Blues” over both forever. And ever. And ever. And ever. And ever. So, why is the shoe number two? Well, literally a month or two before the first rumors of a 2011 re-release leaked out, I put my money where my mouth was and bought a 2009 pair. With the care that I put into my “True Blue” IIIs, I didn’t see the need to buy another pair. And so, I passed. This release did not impact me like a number one sneaker should. Regardless, a spot up this high on my list for the “True Blue” Air Jordan III Retro is well deserved.
1. Ronnie Fieg x Asics Gel Lyte III “Mint Leaf”
Ronnie Fieg x Asics Gel Lyte III "Mint Leaf"
Tell me whatever you want. Tell me about Nike’s legendary advertisement for the Air Jordan 1 after it was banned by the NBA. Tell me about the campaign by Back to the Future fans that incited the Nike MAG 2011 release. Heck, send a barrage of pictures of Michael Jordan in the air with his knees bent, “White Cement” IIIs on, and ball in hand as he makes the free-throw line dunk attempt. I don’t care. As it stands today, the “Mint Leaf” Gel Lyte III is my hands-down favorite sneaker of 2011. Back when the shoe released, Dylan and I both liked it, but Dylan conceded the chance of getting a pair to me, as my 11.5 was sure to be gone after his 10.5 would. I failed at the David Z flagship store, but ran to Apple SoHo immediately after to try for a pair online. Still no luck. After the release, I knew what the “Mint Leaf” Gel Lyte III looked like in person, and knew that they were cool. Just cool. When it came down to actually finding a pair, I was successful, but became hesitant. I was not entirely sure if I wanted to spend $250 on a sneaker that had a similar base color as several other shoes of mine, and not much more than that color. So, I let Dylan nab a pair. Boy, was that a wrong decision. I was happy for him when he found a pair for a reasonable price, but when I saw the “Mint Leafs” up close and personal for the first time, I felt cheated. The shoe looked nothing short of magnificent in person. Surprisingly, this all-Mint shoe’s key feature for me was contrast. The entire upper of the sneaker is covered in the Mint shade, but not all with the same material. While the nubuck portrays the Mint in a subdued way, the mesh makes it extremely vibrant, providing for a beautiful contrast. It’s almost as if the two shades presented are complimentary, but not the same. Then, the light grey on the tiger stripes and midsole makes the Mint pop even more. All of this contributed to my liking of the “Mint Leaf” Gel Lyte III, and to my jealousy of Dylan’s pair. This jealousy lived with me for a long four months, after which I grew so adamant about getting a pair that I actually looked around for a size 11.5. Nothing to be found. I was afraid that my chances were long lost. Then, this past Sneaker Con came. While at the event, I saw a size 12 pair of “Mint Leafs” for sale. After trying them on, I knew it was over. I had to pay a little more than I would have had I taken a pair back in July, but it was all worth it. I did not care that I was breaking the twin rule. If I could successfully, I would have annoyed Dylan to the point that he’d have to sell his pair. Now, there will be no more of that. Perhaps the excitement of finally getting a pair is spilling out in this ranking, but as I said before, I simply do not care. “Mint Leaf” Gel Lyte IIIs over everything else 2011 had to offer. No question for me.