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Is MJ’s Air Jordan 3 Wizards PE Ready for a Comeback?

Calling back to Mike’s short stint in DC, leaked line sheets from Jumpman reveal a retro rarity once reserved only for the GOAT — the Jordan 3 Wizards player exclusive.

Recently, the sneaker world has found itself rocked by news of an array of Air Jordan shoes set to come back to the market. While old favorites associated with Michael Jordan hit shelves every weekend in 2022, this batch of products turned heads because it’s slated for Summer 2023.

Led by the likes of the Air Jordan 11 “Columbia” — a fan favorite hailing from 1996 — as well as the return of the Air Jordan 4 “Thunder” — a lifestyle launch seen last in 2012 and first in 2006 — a colorway corresponding only to the closet of MJ himself raised the most eyebrows.

Yes, after two decades in the vault, the infamous Air Jordan 3 Wizards PE is poised to release to the public as the weather warms next year.

In recent years, prized player exclusives from Jordan Brand’s past have become the general releases of today’s talk, ranging from styles previously associated with the likes of Quentin Richardson, Mike Bibby, and Derek Anderson.

However, for Mike’s sportswear subsidary to bring back a colorway corresponding not just to the GOAT himself, but also his time in Washington resides as truly rarified air.

Homeland Hero

On Oct. 1, 2001, the world needed some good news. Only weeks prior, the Twin Towers had been attacked in New York City, a tragedy that claimed thousands of lives and left an entire nation distraught.

Michael Jordan at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 30, 2001 as a member of the Washington Wizards (AFP PHOTO/Matt CAMPBELL)

Having taken on the roles of Washington Wizards co-owner and President of Basketball Operations in January of 2000, Michael Jordan already had ties to the nation’s capital — and an itch to return to the game he loved. Moving from front office to frontcourt, Mike announced he had traded titles, coming back to basketball as a guard-forward in a blue uniform.

Keep in mind that this all transpired just weeks before the 2001-02 NBA campaign began and only days after the Sep. 11 attacks.

As an extra act of kindness, he’d be donating that season’s salary to victims of the terrorist acts.

Michael Jordan announces his return to the NBA with the Washington Wizards in October 2021. (LUKE FRAZZA/AFP via Getty Images)

Much like Mike’s 1984-85 rookie season and his stint back from retirement in Chicago in ’95, he suddenly needed new shoes with next to no notice. While Jordan Brand had continued to keep the Air Jordan line alive past his playing days in Chicago, the company wasn’t producing pairs tied to Washington’s blue, black, and bronze color scheme.

On Oct. 11, just 10 days after announcing his return, MJ arrived in Auburn Hills, Michigan to play one of his oldest foes, the Detroit Pistons, in a new uniform and new sneakers. Rocking the recently released Air Jordan 16+ “Ginger” — a court crossover built for basketball but inspired by the topical Timberland trend — MJ worked off the rust while Jordan Brand began producing pairs.

Nine days later on Oct. 20, 2001, Michael made his home debut in front of a sellout crowd in Washington, DC. Pulling out a pair of brand-new Air Jordan 3s, a famed favorite first seen in 1988, Mike put on a vintage performance, pouring in 41 points in 33 minutes of action.

“At 40 years old, he was giving people 50 and 51,” Gentry Humphrey, former VP of Jordan Brand, told Boardroom in 2021. “He was still able to keep people on the edge of their seats.”

In DC and around the country, fans were astounded. Not only was Mike back on court — he was lighting it up. Despite winning only 19 games the year prior, Wizards tickets sold out for all of Washington’s home games and across the league for that special chance to see MJ lace ’em up again.

And while Jordan’s return was a breath of fresh air for hoop heads and a timely distraction for a nation in distress, it was also riveting for fans focused on footwear.

Notably, MJ used his last season in Chicago to rotate signature styles from his new namesake company while also wear-testing new Jumpman models and even breaking out old favorites. Just days into his DC duties, he was already doing the same.

Instantly, sneakerheads had something new and exciting to talk about.

Michael Jordan drives against New Jersey Nets forward Richard Jefferson during a preseason game on Oct. 20, 2001 in Washington, DC. (AFP via Getty Images)

For those in the know working retail or scavenging NikeTalk, it appeared that Mike’s 41-point performance in a Tinker Hatfield classic was product marketing for the brand’s Fall/Winter collection.

From afar, the kicks on court looked just the “True Blue” Air Jordan 3 style set to arrive at retail that November.

However, time revealed copper hits on the eyelets and Jumpman logo, proving they were effectively one-offs made specifically for MJ’s comeback.

Over the course of the preseason, MJ kept his ’88 homage in rotation before breaking out the all-new Air Jordan 17 for the season opener in Madison Square Garden.

The charitable comeback to the court would start as a feel-good story for fans around the world; however, it would ultimately end in dissapointment. Depsite putting up strong stats and impressive durability at an older age, injuries still plagued the star while team turmoil kept the club out of the playoffs for each season of his return.

While Mike made it a point to add energy to models old and new from the Air Jordan lineage, the two-year stint in DC is almost unmentioned where modern sneaker storytelling exists.

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Turn the Page

For those keeping track at home, Jordan Brand has rarely released retro renditions tied to Mike’s time with the Wizards.

Years ago in 2016, the Air Jordan 17+ “Copper” colorway came back to retail in reissued form. In 2018, the brand brought back both home and away colors of the Air Jordan 18 in retro form.

Moreover, this gap in history alludes apparel just the same. Notably, Mike’s time spent in DC remains unmentioned even by Mitchell & Ness, the company responsible for releasing throwback Michael Jordan jerseys. Despite selling countless Chicago styles worn by MJ as well as Washington tanks adorned by John Wall and Caron Butler, there’s not a No. 23 top from 2001 to 2003 to be found on the modern market.

Michael Jordan during a Wizards preseason game against the Detroit Pistons, Oct. 18, 2001 (Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

With the news of the Air Jordan 3 Wizards player exclusive placed on Summer 2023 line sheets, this narrative could change.

Said to launch with Jumpman branding on the heel and arriving in full-family sizing, the story of Mike’s return to roundball in Washington is not as storied as his six rings in Chicago but still notable. These days, ’00s nostalgia is slowing catching up to that of the ’90s as far as fashion and footwear are concerned, often occupying a place of irony as much as exaltation.

Though it’s en vogue to joke about Mike’s run in DC, there are plenty of history and highlights that tell a different tale. From putting up 40-balls in his 40s to chase-down blocks on Ron Mercer, the time in Washington provides new narratives and an unexplored color story. In an era that sees Jordan Brand bring in over $5 billion a year, they’re quite literally playing with house money when it comes to experimenting with early-aughts angles.

As added momentum, the Washington Wizards are also set to return their throwback home uniforms once worn by the GOAT during that most charitable of comebacks.

Just like Mike returning to basketball brought joy to the faces of fans in 2001, the idea that shoes once reserved only for his famous feet now exist with abundant access is also an unexpected dream.

And perhaps this previews more MJ moments from DC to be celebrated with a retro rebirth.

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