As he reflects on his first championship with the Boston Celtics, Hall of Fame sharpshooter Ray Allen pauses for a second -- "What was the shoe I was wearing?"
The largely forgotten Team Jordan shoe -- dubbed the "TGIM," short for "The Game Is Mine" -- has long been an afterthought among sneakerheads, casual fans and, apparently, Allen himself. The other shoe Allen wore when winning a title is far more unmistakable.
"As this shoe comes to me, it's like, 'Wow, a boot?'" Allen said at last month's Nike "Art of a Champion" event.
That "boot" was on Allen's feet when he made his iconic game-tying 3-pointer with five seconds left in regulation in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals, a series the Miami Heat would go on to win in seven games.
To celebrate the shot, Jordan Brand is re-releasing the Air Jordan XX8 this weekend in a new colorway, as part of a collection spotlighting the greatest moments in Nike, Converse and Jordan Brand's collective NBA history.
The Air Jordan XX8 was unlike anything before it. A neoprene shroud rose eight inches tall on the ankle, sculpted carbon-fiber wedges offered support, the "Flight Plate cushioning system provided responsive comfort and a bonded zipper pulled the whole thing together.
"It was unique," Allen said. "At the time, you started wondering, 'How different will sneakers be as the years go by?'"
Designer Tinker Hatfield was back for the first time in five years to craft the brand's annual flagship model and wanted to take a risk with the look. The shrouded silhouette was the starting point for a design that was instantly polarizing.
"I don't really think of these things as basketball shoes," Hatfield said at the time. "I think of these as objects of art and design that just happen to be used in the game of basketball."
Designed for stealth attacks
Back when he started working on what would become the Jordan XX8, Hatfield sat down to watch an Arnold Schwarzenegger '90s action movie on a whim well after its release. Little did he know a specific scene from "True Lies" would become the inspiration for his next Air Jordan design.
"He storms this beach, and he's got a commando suit on," Hatfield said. "And after he kills a few people, he unzips it and steps out of his commando suit, and is wearing a tuxedo."
The insight quickly hit him: The sneaker could take on the look of a performance cloak meant for missions, with the interior boasting the tailored beauty and craftsmanship Hatfield always strived for.
"It was something that you'd see in battle. Michael talks about it all the time," he said. "Playing sports, you're out there and you're going to go do battle with somebody."
Hatfield and his co-designer, Mark Smith, next reached out to Jordan for his input, asking him in an email to define the concept of stealth. In true MJ fashion, he offered up an unfiltered take.
"Stealth is like Black Cat," Jordan wrote back in a text message. "You never hear it coming, but it's deadly as hell. You don't f--- with stealth. My game is like that. When you see it, it's too f------ late."
Soon after Jordan's colorful feedback, the defiant aesthetic was born, sketched by Hatfield in a matter of minutes on an iPad. It's a first impression that still sticks with Allen.
"Very outside the box," he said. "We always say people don't know what they want until we show them. That was certainly the case."
By the time the shoe was ready to launch in 2013, the Air Jordan XX8 was worn by a revamped list of headliners, from emerging All-Star Russell Westbrook to one of the brand's very first original endorsers in Allen.
Though Jordan Brand signature models have been released for the likes of Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade over the years, Allen always took great pride in donning the latest team model or Air Jordan instead, rather than fighting for his own signature edition.
"It never really mattered to me," said Allen. "I always believed that Michael Jordan made the shoe."
With his Air Jordan XX8 exclusives in tow to close out his first season in Miami, the 2013 Finals still presented an unmistakable challenge that Allen wouldn't dare overlook.
"We had an extreme fear playing against San Antonio," he admits. "It seemed like every time they came out, we didn't know who was going to shoot the ball. The way Pop ran his offense, it was so many different things that could happen."
Game 6 served as a microcosm of the series to that point, with the Spurs taking an early lead, the Heat fighting back in the third and fourth quarters, then floundering late to give San Antonio a five-point lead with 28.2 seconds left.
"They were so good at maximizing our mistakes," Allen said.
Still, the Heat had one last hope.
Following a 3-pointer from LeBron James with just 20 seconds left, the Heat found themselves still down three during the closing sequence, with their title hopes on the line. A similar play freed James along the left wing for another 3-pointer, but his shot careened off the back rim and found its way into Chris Bosh's hands.
Allen had already begun to measure out his steps to save Miami's season.
"In that moment, in the last minute of the game, there were so many moving parts," he said. "You need luck when you win."
In two seconds, he calmly retreated all the way from the paint's restricted circle along the baseline -- six purposeful steps back -- before planting his size 14 Air Jordans just behind the 3-point arc. Bosh expertly pinpointed a pass directly to Allen. The smooth shot looked exactly like any other of his league record 2,973 threes, from his balance before the catch, to the elevation on his jump, and the height on his release.
"As that ball bounced, I went back to where I know I belong and what I do well," said Allen. "The rest is history."
Ray Allen's clutch three for Heat in Game 6
On June 18, 2013, Ray Allen knocks down a corner 3-pointer to send the Heat to overtime against the Spurs in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. In OT, Chris Bosh blocks Danny Green's last-second shot attempt to send the series to a seventh game.
It was his only made 3-pointer of the game, and a shot that ranks at the very top of his career.
"Probably the most nerve-racking," said Allen. "You're so heavily scrutinized and under such criticism during that time of the year. Everything that doesn't go in your favor, you feel like the weight of the world is crashing down on you."
Remixing an icon
During the 2013 playoffs, Allen had a batch of black Air Jordan XX8s accented with Heat red and yellow, but for Game 6 of the Finals, he switched to a white pair with red, gold and black accents.
"It felt super-exclusive," he said. "Nobody could get them."
This year's retro edition shifts back from the Game 6 white colorway to the more frequently worn black, with gold accents like several of the other shoes in the "Art of a Champion" collection.
On the underside of the shroud are a "9" and a "5," highlighting the 95 points that the Heat finished with in regulation of Game 6 after Allen's 3-pointer. Sixteen tally marks can be found along the insole, symbolizing the wins through four rounds required to earn a league championship.
Even in retirement, Allen appreciates being incorporated into the brand's biggest campaigns, soaking in the glory from the 2013 Finals yet again.
Five years later, he still has the pair of Air Jordan XX8s from Game 6 archived in his massive personal storage space, where he houses hundreds of exclusive sneakers from each stop throughout his storied 18-year career.
"I'm just thankful that I was able to do what I did in those moments to come through down the stretch," he said. "Otherwise, they'd be having different conversations, and you don't want to be the guy that had to move out of the neighborhood because you cost your city a championship."