Nike’s Air Jordan is so much more than a range of sneakers. It’s actually a brand within a brand, and the entire range has gained a cult-like following in the world of basketball and hip-hop.
It’s kind of hard to believe that the first pair was released in 1984 in the very early stages of Michael Jordan’s career.
Nike obviously had a lot of foresight when it came to MJ, as they actually developed the shoes exclusively for this rising NBA star. Keep in mind that 1984 was his rookie year, but he took the league by total surprise.
The Air Jordan brand (or AJ for short) has the famous Jumpman logo, and it features on all the clothing and merchandise. What’s also surprising, is that the brand now sponsors many other professional basketball players, as well as MLB, NFL, and even NASCAR events.
And, of course, AJs are very common in hip-hop videos and album covers.
Here’s actually a fun drinking game. Tune into one of the hip hop music channels and drink a shot for every pair of Jordan’s and/or Air Max you see.
Anyway, let’s get back to the sneakers.
It all Started With A Legend In The Making
As I mentioned, Michael Jordan’s rookie year was 1984, and he immediately teamed up with Nike to create sneakers that were specifically designed for his style of gameplay.
That is to say, extremely fast footwork with moves and changes in direction that seemed to defy the laws of physics.
For about 6 months they were only ever featured on his feet and you couldn’t buy them in any stores. This was quite a clever marketing tactic, even though Nike will probably claim it was to perfect the design by testing them.
Everyone wanted to have the sneakers that MJ was wearing, but they were simply not available. Then, just before Christmas 1984, the AJ 1s hit the stores.
And it basically hasn’t stopped since then.
34 Years Of Air Jordan’s
Yes, you read that correct, it’s now been 34 years and 28 different sneaker designs later. Despite retiring several times, his NBA career did end in 2003. But that hasn’t put an end to the sneakers, and they are still considered to be the best basketball shoes you can buy.
While other players like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James have hit the scenes, none of them have had such a huge impact on basketball, fashion, and hip-hop at the same time.
The cult like following has resulted in many of the early shoes being released again as retros. Not only are the same shapes available, but there are plenty of new colourways from extreme camouflage to hot pink.
So, let’s take a trip down memory lane and see how many of these you remember.
Air Jordan I
The first Jordan’s have a nice little history to them that goes beyond being designed specifically for and by a player.
The original prototype that MJ was wearing was actually called the Nike Air Ship, and they were red and black with hardly any white on them. Because they completely broke with tradition, the NBA decided to “ban” them from games.
What that actually meant was a fine for any player that wore them, and apparently, Nike decided to foot the bill Jordan received.
There’s some indication that it was down to a rule that said that footwear had to be uniform within the team and it had to match the team colours. Others say that there was a bizarre rule that at least 51% of the shoe had to be white.
While there is still a lack of official information on the “ban,” one thing is for sure: Nike jumped on it as a marketing opportunity.
They were advertised as the sneakers the NBA didn’t want players to wear, hinting at them providing an unfair advantage to the player. You can imagine what that did for amateurs and kids.
Air Jordan II
One thing is obvious with the 2s, the colour changed and they were predominantly white. Maybe there is some truth to the story of the NBA fines, or maybe MJ just wanted something new.
They were released in 1986 and were also one of the first Nike sneakers not to have the swoosh logo on them.
The predominantly white design had just a small red band at the back, and the sides of the soles had a large black band.
What was also unique about them was that they were actually made in Italy, which was also a big part of the advertising campaigns.
The big downside of them was that they weren’t really suitable for outdoor courts as the white leather would easily get destroyed. But for indoor courts, they were absolutely amazing.
1986 was also the stage for MJ starting the path to continuous new records.
Air Jordan III
Tinker Hatfield of Air Max fame was involved in the AJ 3s and rumour has it that it was this completely novel design that convinced Jordan to stay with Nike. Imagine if he had left!?!
The most important first feature was that the Jumpman logo was prominently featured on the top of the tongue for the first time.
The second unique feature was the introduction of the Air window at the heel, very similar to what had been introduced just one year earlier with the Air Max 1s.
Apparently, these were Jordan’s favourite shoes during the 1988 season, and he wore them during the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest as well as many other high-profile games.
The colour was not that far removed from the 2s as they were predominantly white with a cement effect grey strip at the front and back. Some people actually refer to it as the elephant skin, which is actually quite descriptive.
Air Jordan IV
The 4s are quite likely the ones that introduced Jordan’s not only to the world stage but the hip-hop and street culture as well. The reason for this is that Spike Lee featured them in his movie Do The Right Thing.
It’s actually a very funny cult movie with an IMDB rating of 7.9; definitely worth checking out.
Just looking at them they were not all that different from the 3s, but the main aim was to release new shoes in a larger choice of colours on the worldwide market.
What made these sneakers famous is that they were worn by Jordan during the 1989 5th game against the Cleveland Cavs. With 3 seconds left on the clock, Jordan pulls off a series of moves that end up with a jump shot that seemed to last forever.
The Bulls won the series with that one shot, and the move is so cemented in basketball history (known as “The Shot”) that a 2012 retro version was released in the Cavs team colours. Not sure if it was done in honour or just to rub some fans faces in it again.
Air Jordan V
Released during the 89/90 season, Michael was well on his way to absolute peak gameplay. He was setting new personal and league records every season, and his aggressive offensive play was compared to that of a fighter pilot.
This is where Tinker Hatfield drew the inspiration from for the 5s, by looking at WWII fighter planes.
You’ll notice the jagged shark tooth shapes on the side of the soles which came from this inspiration.
The Jumpman logo on the top of the tongue also became a lot more prominent, and it was printed on a reflective backdrop.
There were a few early reports of problems with the grip of the soles when they gathered a lot of dust. This was really never fully resolved, which is possibly why the 6s came so soon after these were released.
Air Jordan VI
These were released in 1991, and they featured a few cool new design ideas. First of all, the sole was partially clear with patterns printed underneath. While generally, people spend most of their time on their feet where nobody can see the soles, that’s not the case with MJ.
By 1991, he was more prominently being referred to as Michael “Air” Jordan because of the amount of air time he was able to achieve while jumping.
There were even reports around that time that NASA had done tests on his air time and declared that he was actually flying. Of course, none of this ever made an official record, but it’s a cool story.
1991 was also the first year Jordan, and the Bulls won the NBA title, and he was immediately crowned MVP as well.
Pop culture also jumped on them with the 1991 movie White Men Can’t Jump making a very prominent appearance.
Retro Styles Available Today
Because of the cult following and a constant new interest in some of the first Jordan’s to appear, Nike has been releasing retros on a regular basis.
If you find some AJs you’d love to own, or you can remember wearing them as a kid, then check out any of the dedicated pages to see if they are currently available. Many of them can be ordered today and as long as they are not out of production, they’re actually quite reasonably priced.
Featured image by https://flowclark.com/