Carmelo Anthony, who announced his retirement from the NBA this morning, leaves a striking legacy: all-time bucket getter. Undisputed hat god. Ahead-of-his-time poster. And, easily overlooked but no less crucial: real-deal sneaker innovator.
Fresh off becoming the third pick in the loaded 2003 NBA Draft, a 19-year-old Anthony inked an unprecedented six-year footwear deal with Jordan Brand. Up to that point, while guys like Ray Allen and Michael Finley had been sponsored by Michael Jordan’s burgeoning Nike sub-label, none had received their own signature shoe—instead hitting the court in player-exclusive variations of existing Air Jordan models. This made a certain amount of sense: there can only really be one signature Jordan model, right? Indeed, that pattern continued for Anthony’s first season in Denver, with the Jumpman initially gracing him with icy spins on the Air Jordan 12 and Air Jordan 2.
But in 2004, with Anthony’s star power confirmed after a sensational rookie campaign, Jordan awarded him with its first-ever non-MJ signature sneaker: the Jordan Melo 1.5. (That somewhat confusing name contains a nod to the shoe’s liberal use of elements from the first two Air Jordans.) With its crisp, swooping lines and drool-worthy colorways—sneakerheads always go buck-wild for Jordans in Carolina Blue, close enough to the Nuggets’ colors at the time—the 1.5 felt like a worthy declaration of intent for one of the league’s hottest young superstars.
The shoe found an audience straight out the gates. I was 14 at the time, and very clearly recall the chokehold the 1.5s had on kids my age. We loved the bulbous, space-age design, and the inclusion of the OG Air Jordan “Wings” logo. They were, for a short period, a bigger flex on the high-school hardwood than the Iversons, T-Macs, VC Shox, and And 1s that were then ubiquitous—and they looked killer with the gigantic jeans and velour track pants everyone was wearing off the court, too.
As Melo’s career continued, so did his Jordan signatures, with varying degrees of success—the high point of his later shoes is probably the Tinker Hatfield-designed Jordan Melo M10, circa 2014. But the love and nostalgia for the 1.5s has persisted, especially amongst millennials like me, enough so that Jordan Brand eventually saw fit to reissue the model with modern performance upgrades in 2018. Anthony began wearing them again after leaving the Knicks, and Jordan put out a few sick colorways that referenced his wily veteran years, like the blacked-out “Hoodie Melo” version.
The unspoken truth about Jordan Brand is that the mystique of its namesake has a way of outshining any other player who wears it. Legends like Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook received signature Jordans in the early 2010s; Luka Doncic and Zion Williamson play in their own Js today. But none of their shoes have quite managed to pierce the popular hoops consciousness. For a brief moment, though, the Jordan Melo 1.5 was able to buck that trend and emerge from MJ’s long shadow to carve its own vital sneaker legacy. Like the player who inspired them, the 1.5s will be remembered warmly and widely for a long time to come.