So, this is where it all started. It was the year 1984 and Michael Jordan’s career was about to take off, having just snagged a national title with the University of North Carolina and also won Olympic Gold with the national team. When the NBA Draft came around, MJ was not only 3rd selected by the Chicago Bulls, he was also signed by Nike in what was a lucrative deal at the time. In addition to millions of dollars, the player also got a shoe made in his honor. Modeled off previous Nike basketball shoes, the Air Jordan I came with Nike’s well-known air unit, a redesigned logo and clean lines that set it apart from the rest. Needless to say, not many people felt he deserved it due to his rookie status.
Not too long after, however, the basketball legend went on to prove his doubters wrong, doing so in his own pair of kicks. He also broke a few rules when he took the court in his first pair of AJs. Colored sneakers were not allowed in the NBA at the time, but the Air Jordan I was red and black, violating the rule before he even came onto the court. MJ was fined $5,000 for every game he played in that season but Nike gladly footed the bill because the shoe was a smash hit and helped MJ to a swell season.
Air Jordan II - 1985
Emulating the success of the Air Jordan 1 was a hard act to follow but shoe designer, Bruce Kilgore, managed to pull off another masterpiece. He went for simpler lines than the AJ I and included a number of upgrades that later served MJ well while he recovered from a broken foot. The shoe featured a high-top cut with ankle support, full length air unit, faux lizard skin upper and a molded heel counter made of plastic, all of which provided enhanced comfort and stability. There was something else different about the Air Jordan II Retro sneaker, the Swoosh was not prominent on the upper.
In addition to the multitude of changes that set it apart, the Air Jordan II became special for one of MJ’s firsts; he won his first ever slam dunk title while decked out in a pair.
Air Jordan III - 1988
Possibly one of the most popular shoe in the line, the Air Jordan III marked another milestone in the sneaker industry. In addition to introducing the Jumpman logo, the shoe also introduced revolutionary materials and design elements which caused quite a stir in the footwear industry when it came out in 1988.
Quite a lot of thought went into the AJ III, which was designed by Tinker Hatfield. To begin with, newer advanced materials, such as luxurious tumbled leather, sculpted polyurethane and faux elephant skin, helped to give the sneaker a distinct look and feel. It was also the first in the line to have a visible air unit and the first mid-cut sneaker to be recognized as a basketball shoe. Michael Jordan’s career went to another level while wearing these shoes. He won season MVP, his second successive Slam Dunk title, and the league scoring title. His success and consequently, the success of the Air Jordan III, was further amplified by Nike partnering with Spike Lee for a TV commercial.
Air Jordan IV - 1989
The fourth instalment of Air Jordan Retro sneakers in 1989 continued some of the design elements of its predecessor but was upgraded with little detail changes and the addition of nubuck. It was the first time the material was being used on a sneaker, adding to the revolutionary reputation of the line. Mesh was added to its upper for the first time, in addition to multiple plastic attachments that helped make the AJ IV more breathable and lighter than those that came before. Also, the now famous Jumpman logo had the word “Flight” added below it which may have been in reference to the Wings logo that adorned the first two AJs.
Once again, MJ was unstoppable on the courts in his technologically-advanced shoe that was as stylish as it was durable. The player won the league scoring title again and placed an exclamation mark on the season when he scored “The Shot”, which was a hanging jump shot over Craig Elho to win the first round of the playoffs for the Bulls.
Air Jordan V - 1990
In an attempt to outdo himself, Tinker Hatfield took a different approach to designing the Air Jordan V. He carried over some of the standout elements from the AJ III and IV such as the visible air unit in the heel, sculpted midsole and breathable mesh but added translucent rubber to the mix. The shoe also featured an asymmetrical collar and reinforced heel that provided superior ankle support, a higher cut and a new pattern that took its design from a World War II fighter plane. If that was not enough, the Air Jordan V Retro Sneakers introduced a new colorway to basketball footwear in the form of grape purple/ emerald.
Other features that set the Air Jordan V apart from its predecessors include a raised tongue, reflective 3M material on some colorways, the words “Air Jordan” stitched onto the interior of the tongue, and lace locks for additional lockdown protection. MJ’s greatness continued to flourish while he wore the AJ V as he appeared in his sixth consecutive All Star Game, won another league scoring title, and made the All-NBA first team.
Air Jordan VI - 1991
Another much-loved shoe in the AJ line, the Air Jordan VI came with a number of modifications that set it apart from its predecessors while maintaining some of the basics. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the sneaker being created was that it helped Michael Jordan win his first NBA title and Championship ring with the Bulls in 1991. He also continued to rack up a number of titles and awards, which made him the most influential player at the time. However, the shoe also gained further fame when it graced the feet of Jerry Seinfeld in his hit TV series and was later custom-built in the form of a boot for Michael Keaton’s Batman in 1992’s Batman Returns.
Several bells and whistles helped the AJ VI become one of the most visually-appealing sneakers at the time. They included a clean toe cap, lace locks, molded plastic heel tabs and a rubber tongue built with creative loops for the fingers. Additionally, the shoes used different materials on different colorways, with the most popular being leather and the eye-catching infrared/black colorway sporting suede.
Air Jordan VII - 1992
With Michael Jordan becoming his own brand, it was only natural that the Air Jordan VII of 1992 finally dropped Nike branding marks. The prominent swoosh was notably absent but that only gave space for Jordan’s famous #23 and the continued use of the Jumpman logo. It borrowed a number of design elements from the AJ VI, such as the upper and toe cap, but came with its own identity that was inspired by Nike’s Huarache basketball shoe series and the tribal culture of West Africa. The shoe was even lighter than previous designs with a thinner leather upper, but had hard plastic parts and an inner sock liner, which helped to comfortably wrap the shoe around the feet.
The Air Jordan VII also saw changes in marketing, pulling away from MJ’s collaborations with Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon character to being seen with Bugs Bunny. On the courts, Jordan was now in full stride to becoming a hard court legend. In addition to winning his second Championship ring with the Bulls, Jordan also led the USA “Dream Team” to Olympic Gold at the 1992 Barcelona games. He also won his sixth consecutive scoring title, was named MVP, and made the All-star team once more, among other accolades, all while wearing the Air Jordan VII Retro Sneaker.
Air Jordan VIII - 1993
The Air Jordan VIII presented another pivotal period in His ‘Airness’ rich legacy with the Chicago Bulls. Not only did the sneakers provide another distinct design from the brain of Tinker Hatfield, they were built for high performance and saw MJ pulling off another brilliant season by leading the team to a third victory. It drew a lot of attention both on and off the courts and is remembered for being the first ‘three-peat’ AJ. It could well have been the last in the line of AJs as well since MJ left basketball the following year.
Regarded by sneaker fans as one of the most visually-stunning in the line, the original AJ VIII was available in three colorways, the black and white variations of the Bulls colors and the beloved Aqua version. Jordan helped to build hype around the sneaker by wearing the colors at different points in the season, with the Aqua being donned only once when he played in the NBA All-Star game. Other design elements that stand out on the sneaker include its unique lockdown strap, ‘bunny ears’ side straps and the super-imposed Jumpman symbol on the tongue which had now fully replaced the Nike Swoosh.
Air Jordan IX - 1994
While the world waited excitedly for the release of the Air Jordan IX in the latter part of 1993, Michael Jordan dropped an unexpected bomb when he announced that he was leaving the game of basketball. Perhaps symbolically, Tinker Hatfield’s inspiration for the shoe was the baseball cleats Jordan wore when he decided to venture into minor league baseball, a childhood dream. They also had inscriptions of languages from around the world to pay homage to Jordan’s global status as a sporting icon. Nonetheless, the AJ IX was never worn on the court by the player they were named after, but by other NBA stars who had been inspired by the great.
The Air Jordan IX was another masterpiece addition to the line as far as design went. Its outer minimalistic features belied the technology that was packed beneath its insoles and within its unique upper construction. A classic high-top, it featured Nike’s signature Air technology in the heel and forefoot, the Jumpman logo on the lower heel, form fitting inner bootie, and single pull lace system. In honor of MJ, the shoe was chosen to adorn the player’s likeness, which stands outsides the Bulls’ home turf in Chicago.
Air Jordan X - 1994-1995
With His ‘Airness’ seemingly retired from the hard court for good, the Air Jordan X was built by Tinker Hatfield as a commemorative sneaker featuring a number of his achievements in previous years. However, the sneakers would turn out to be the comeback shoe for Michael Jordan as he made a glorious return to the game on the backend of the 94-95 NBA season. Although he lost his beloved number 23, he was still lethal on the courts in the AJ X.
The Air Jordan X was another well-built classic, with premium leather uppers, an advanced lacing system, full-length air cushioned sole and Huarache inner sleeve which had become the new standard for AJs. After a minor adjustment to the model, which saw the removal of the toe strap on subsequent releases of the very first Air Jordan X (a feature which MJ hated by the way), Michael Jordan announced that he was back and went on to pick up from right where he had left off.
Air Jordan XI - 1995
In the argument for most iconic Air Jordan sneaker, the Air Jordan XI, also known by sneaker lovers as the ‘Concord’, is one that will always come up for mention. The two main reasons for this are: just like the first AJ, it caused court controversy and got Michael Jordan fined; secondly, it revolutionized the way people wore and viewed sneakers. To be more specific, Jordan was fined $5,000 for two games for wearing all-white samples of the sneaker, which featured patent leather for the first time, before they were launched. That didn’t matter much, though, because when the shoes were eventually released to the public, the hype had built up to such a fever pitch that they sold out in no time.
As history will recall, the Air Jordan XI helped MJ and his team to a record-breaking season, ending with another hold on the NBA title. As it relates to design, the shoe’s main calling card was the patent leather on the upper which provides a better fit and a classy edge to the shoe. As a result, the sneaker redefined how people wore sneakers, ending up on the feet of patrons at unlikely events such as weddings and award ceremonies.
Air Jordan XII - 1996
The first Air Jordan to feature Nike’s Zoom Air technology, the XII is also considered by many to be the most durable of the AJ line. It went back to an all-leather upper construction and, like many of its predecessors, had several symbols embedded into its architecture and quirky design elements that only true sneaker heads would understand or know about. They included a rising sun pattern, reminiscent of the Japanese, design inspiration from an old women’s shoe line, and the phrase ‘Two 3’ on the shoe’s tongue, which represents Michael Jordan’s player number.
Sleek, stylish and comfortable, the Air Jordan XII was a major hit on the courts, with not only MJ wearing them but his team mates as well. In fact, Scottie Pippen is said to have abandoned his very own signature sneaker for a pair of AJ XII during the 96-97 season. Outside the courts, the shoe was well loved by fans as well; so much so that when they were ‘retroed’ in 2003 and sold online, the Nike website crashed due to the level of increased traffic.
Air Jordan XIII - 1997