Air Jordan History
The man himself may have stepped away from the game, but his legacy very much lives on. Of course, his name will be found in the record books years from now. It will, undoubtedly, hang from the rafters until such a time as basketball is no longer played. It is written in diamonds on championship rings that may one day sit behind glass at some museum, and it is recorded at the basketball hall of fame in Springfield.
The name of Michael Jordan also perseveres on leather and lace in the form of the Air Jordan basketball shoe, the footwear phenomenon that has become nothing short of a dynasty since the release of the AJ1 in 1985. Read on below to learn a little of the background to some of the most important kicks in history.
Air Jordan I
The original. The classic. The One.
From the distinctive colourway to the "Wings" logo to the oversized swoosh, every minute facet of this shoe is as recognizable as the skinny kid from North Carolina that gave his name to it. The release of this kick marked the first step for what is now one of the most recognizable brands in America, a movement that revolutionized the design, marketing and perception of sporting footwear.
Although initially popular, the real turning-point for the AJ1 came when David Stern and his boys decided to outlaw it, claiming that the overabundance of black and red violated uniform policy. Nike, of course, turned this to their advantage when they shot the famous "Banned" advert. The league’s decision to fine Jordan several thousand dollars (which Nike paid) for each game in which he wore them added further fuel to the publicity fire, causing sales to skyrocket.
Twenty years after the world first made its acquaintance, it’s clear that this shoe is among the most important ever made. As one of the few sneakers to enjoy truly iconic status, the AJ1 remains as identifiable a part of basketball history and culture as short shorts, long socks or the Afro.
- The original version of the shoe came with both a red and a black set of laces, allowing shoe-owners to coordinate their kicks and their outfit.
- With twenty-three variants, this shoe is available in more colourways than any other Jordan.
Air Jordan II
A departure from its predecessor but no less innovative, the AJ2 turned a corner in terms of style, relegating the "Wings" logo to the tongue and relying on subtle accents rather than the in-your-face design of the first Jordan for its look. This is the shoe perhaps most often featured in the highlight reels as it was Mike’s ride for the ’86-’87 season in which he averaged 37.1 points per game and won the slam dunk competition during All-Star weekend. Although it inspired less controversy than its forerunner, sales were similar, and by the time it was released there was already speculation concerning the third installment in the series.
- The AJ2 was produced in Italy and was the only Jordan of which a black version was not made available, despite initial plans.
Air Jordan III
Many years ago, man made fire. Some time later, the wheel was invented. Then, in 1988, sneaker freaks the world over discovered air.
The Jordan III was the first to incorporate Nike’s now-famous "Air" technology, featuring a visible unit in the sole beneath the elephant pattern panel which became this shoe’s trademark. The AJ3 also marked the inaugural appearance of the "Jumpman" logo, which has appeared on every subsequent Jordan. Considered by some to be the greatest of the entire line, these kicks established the dominance of the Air Jordan franchise that continues to this day.
- The AJ3 was the first to be designed by the legendary Tinker Hatfield, who worked on every model up until the XV and returning for the XX.
- The advertising campaign for the AJ3 spawned the highly successful "Mars Blackmon" television spots featuring Spike Lee.
Air Jordan IV
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Tinker Hatfield took the above to heart in designing the AJ4, deciding to build on the success of the previous model rather than starting from scratch. These kicks featured an improved ventilation system along with spider web-style lace loops, also differing from the AJ3 in the multicoloured curves which flow from the sole.
- A scene in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing focuses on the IV as one of the movie’s characters cleans his Jordans with a toothbrush when a bicycle scuffs them.
Air Jordan V
The first Jordan to have its sole made of clear rubber, the V stayed relatively clean and simple, mixing a panelled upper with an alternate-colour trim to make a Jordan many consider one of the best-looking of the range off-court. The addition of a silver tongue gave the shoe a space-age feel, which was augmented by the glow-in-the-dark outsole, with the high-ankle padding soothing many an aggravated tendon.
- Some claim that the shark tooth detail on the midsole suggests that the inspiration for the AJ5 was a WWII Mustang fighter plane.
Air Jordan VI
The major addition to this edition was the rubber tongue with grab holes to aid the wearer when pulling the shoe on in a hurry. This version also cleverly incorporated a "23" into the design, a feature barely noticeable in the black/black colourway.
- A mistake in the design of the retro version of the VI meant that the colours of the midsole on the black/black/red colourway were reversed. Although manufacturers quickly corrected this, some dud pairs were released and can now fetch upwards of several hundred dollars.
Air Jordan VII
Again, Hatfield chose to stick to a winning formula with the VII, although it differed from its ancestors in that it incorporated Huarache technology to provide a more comfortable ride for the wearer. Also noteworthy were the three absences on this shoe: the Nike logo, the visible air unit and the translucent soles that yellowed irreversibly with age.
- The special Olympic model of this shoe is the only Air Jordan to feature the number nine in place of the twenty-three which has adorned every other version before and since.
Air Jordan VIII
Perhaps the most complex Jordan in terms of aesthetic design, the VIII was an eclectic mix of leather, velcro and striking colour accents. Although many praised the shoe for its padding, others complained that it was "clumpy" and, with its lack of decent ventilation, caused the feet to overheat.
- Due to a tongue graphic which closely resembled the "Peace" sign and the psychedelic colour scheme, many referred to the VII as the "Flower Power" Air Jordan.
Air Jordan IX
Due to his retirement, this was the first in the line not to be seen on Mike’s feet. Moving from the fussy design of the VIII to a modest simplicity, this model was the cleanest since the III, marking a significant step in the evolution of the Air Jordan. Although ostensibly plain, words in a number of languages can be found on the sole of the shoe, from the German "anmutig" (graceful) to "uhuru", Swahili for "independence".
- A modified version of this shoe was created for Michael’s use on the baseball diamond.
Air Jordan X
The "zebra" Jordan is perhaps the quietest of the entire range and, almost without doubt, the most hated-on. While Nike was busy re-releasing a whole host of older Jordans, the man himself decided to make his famed return to the court, prompting a mad scramble from the design team to produce a high-quality shoe in a short amount of time. The result was a sneaker that combined elements of a number of the previous Jordans, but with the stripes to differentiate itself from any other kicks on the market.
- As this was the shoe wrapped around Mike’s feet when he made his first return to the court, certain samples bear a stitched "45" on the tongue.
Air Jordan XI
The "Space Jams", as they are known, hold a special place in many a sneaker freak’s heart, including my own. The answer to the question "What’s the big deal about the XI?" is a mere two words: patent leather. As one of the first athletic shoes to feature the material, these kicks made advances with their construction and, as a work of understated beauty, in design.
- Echoing the fiasco with the first Jordan, the league fined Mike $5000 a game for rocking the colourway pictured above in the 1995 playoffs while the rest of the team wore all-black kicks.
Air Jordan XII
As the first shoe released by the new Jordan Brand, the XII is notable in that it bears no Nike logo. From the "QUALITY INSPIRED BY THE GREATEST PLAYER EVER" inscribed on the heel to the Jumpman logo creeping up the toecap, the XII is an all-round class act, and will forever be remembered as Michael’s kicks for the legendary "thirty-eight with the ‘flu" game.
- The pattern on the leather was inspired by a Japanese military flag which depicts the sunset.
Air Jordan XIII
Although already known for his design pedigree, this kick cemented Tinker Hatfield’s reputation as a sneaker visionary. With the dimples, pod system on the sole and hologram on the ankle, he took the industry to another place, ultimately ushering in a new era in shoe history.
- The XIII is inspired by the panther, with the midsole accents representing paws and the dimples as whiskers.
Air Jordan XIV
Borrowing heavily from the Ferrari 550 M, the XIV was the last Air Jordan that M.J. would wear prior to his second retirement. Low-profile, lightweight and lithe, this shoe is a true masterpiece, and a personal favourite of many due to its comfort as much as its appearance.
- Fourteen Jumpman logos can be found on every pair.
Air Jordan XV
Commonly known as "The Spaceship", this shoe signaled an interesting diversion by the design team, which created an Air Jordan partly inspired by Prada and partly by Michael himself, whose own tongue formed the basis for that on the shoe. Juxtaposing a woven pattern with a ribbed panel, the XV split public opinion as much as any sneaker ever to bear the Jumpman logo.
- This shoe is based on the X-15 aircraft designed by NASA in the 1950s.
Air Jordan XVI
A new millennium, a new designer and a new concept: the shroud. Smith took the torch from Tinker and ran with it, creating a sneaker that had the sharp look of a dress shoe with the gaiter on, but the functionality expected of such a high-end product when stripped naked. With the bold toecap and eye-catching lines on both the midsole and the main body of the shoe, the XVI was, when released, one of the most stunning sneakers seen in a long time.
- The XVI was the first in the line since the III not to be designed by the legendary Tinker Hatfield.
Air Jordan XVII
Again, the design team decided to offer the option to conceal the laces with a removable cover, although few other details were carried over from the XVI. With a square, chunky design, the XVII is said to be one of the most durable of the range, although some complained of excessive rigidity. For the original price tag of $200, the purchaser also received a metal box and a CD ROM, at least partially justifying the astronomical cost.
- Much of the detail on the XVII is drawn from the styling of an Aston Martin car.
Air Jordan XVIII
Although the appearance of the XVIII is about as uncomplicated as can be, the mechanisms at work within this plain-yet-gorgeous shoe are anything but simple. Boasting perhaps the best traction ever found on an Air Jordan, the XVIII also includes double-stacked Zoom Air cushioning and a fancy little device known as a "Carbon Comfort Control Plate" beneath the heel. Packaged in a pull-out box containing a sweat towel (and a brush with the suede version), it’s no wonder that so many handed over $175 on the release date to be the first on their block to rock them.
- The design of the XVIII was inspired by the Lamborghini Murciélago.
Air Jordan XIX
As slick, sleek and smooth as the snake that lends it likeness to the XIX, this shoe had as violent an impact on the sneaker community as a bite from the aforementioned Black Mamba. Backing up his promise to "take a step further" with the shoe, Tate Kuerbis introduced us to the Tech Flex material that gives this Jordan its unique appearance. Although the world was never given the chance to see the XIX on Mike’s feet, the versatility, comfort and traction of this were enough to make it an instant classic.
- Although not as expensive as either the XVIII or the XVII, the XIX came with each shoe packed in its own net bag.
Air Jordan XX
Guess who’s back.
Although the XX didn’t signal Mike’s return to the hardwood, it was at the core of another comeback, namely that of Tinker Hatfield, designer extraordinaire and the mind behind Air Jordans III through XV. With his inimitable style and unparalleled talent, Hatfield brought something new to the table yet again, with the result being the first shoe to combine the feel and freedom of a low with the stability and support of a high. With enough laser engravings on the strap to keep you entertained for months, a floating ankle leash and a sole featuring the brand-new Independent Pod System, the XX is not so much evolutionary as revolutionary.
- Each of the twenty pods found on every pair depicts one of the shoes in the Air Jordan line.
Air Jordan XXI
Designer D’Wayne Edwards clearly had an eye on the VI while creating his first Jordan, with the cut and subtle “3” design both being borrowed from the fifteen-year-old sneaker. Far from simply being a rehash of old Jordans, however, the XXI broke new ground with its replaceable heel pillars, allowing the wearer to customise the cushioning by switching between the Zoom Air and Air-Sole pods.
- The lateral cooling vents took their design from the grille of the Bentley GT.
Released on Mike’s forty-fourth birthday, the clean lines and striking use of colour on the XXII made it a hit before it even hit the stores. Those who fell in love with its looks found themselves even more enamoured of the sneaker once they’d had a chance to hoop in it, with the inner booty, light ankle padding and top-notch traction making it comfortable and responsive on the court.
- The appearance of the F-22 Raptor Strike Fighter jet was used as the basis of the XXII’s design.
Air Jordan XXIII
So, what do we know about the XXIII? At this moment in time, only that Tinker Hatfield is back on board as the head designer, and that the picture above may or may not be a genuine shot of the working design.
- The detail on the upper is a replica of Mike’s signature.