For more than 30 years, Nike’s Air Jordan basketball shoes have been the central attraction in the market they created.
There’s no succinct way to sum up the game-changing synthesis of Nike’s design capabilities and Michael Jordan’s star-power that exploded in 1984 with reverberations felt ever since. Hell, this year, they’re releasing an Air Jordan golf shoe, which is basically the classic 1985 Chicago colorway with golf spikes.
I’ll open up the old shoe closet and dust off the boxes, breaking down the best and worst of Air Jordan decade by decade. First up, the I through X.
10. Air Jordan VIII – “Strap In” – 1993
Definitely the worst incarnation of the popular shoe from the first generation. Ugly midsole and weird straps are topped off by a carpet-inspired (yes, carpet-inspired) Jumpman logo. All kinds of bad.
9. Air Jordan IX – “Perfect Harmony” – 1994
Michael wore a cleated version of this shoe when he made his brief sojourn into minor league baseball. Unfortunately, the clunkers look better as a baseball cleat, and these look more like something from off the shelf at K-Mart than an Air Jordan. Fun fact: LeBron James wore a white/green/gold version of this shoe during his senior year in high school.
8. Air Jordan X – “The Legacy Continues” – 1995
Michael Jordan returned to the NBA in 1995 wearing the “Chicago” colorway of the Air Jordan X. This shoe basically takes the few good elements of the IX and builds on them. Reportedly, MJ didn’t like the initial toe cap, thus contributing to an even cleaner design. The outsole listed Jordan’s achievements on alternating stripes, which is just ?
7. Air Jordan V – “The Fighter” – 1990
Reportedly inspired by a World War II plane, the Air Jordan V featured a welcome dose of asymmetry. The shoe’s translucent outsole and tongue material were additional Tinker Hatfield innovations.
6. Air Jordan IV – “Taking Flight” – 1989
The Air Jordan IV, which featured prominently in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, endures as a casual shoe. Carrying over many elements of the Air Jordan III, the IV introduced nubuck and mesh to the sneaker world. The lockdown lacing and plastic sections belied the more casual elements of the sneaker. Awesome fusion of styles from Tinker Hatfield, here.
5. Air Jordan VI – “Promised Land” – 1991
Sported by Jerry Seinfeld on his eponymous T.V. show, the Air Jordan VI featured a Tinker Hatfield-designed abstract upper that was supposed to suggest the number 23. Also noteworthy: the boots Michael Keaton wore in 1992’s Batman Return were also designed by Hatfield, and were modeled after the Jordan VI.
4. Air Jordan VII – “Pure Gold” – 1992
1992’s Air Jordan VII graced MJ’s feet during his second championship and the Olympics in Barcelona. Another Tinker Hatfield design, the VII’s were inspired by African tribal designs and the Nike Huarache line. The most colorful Jordan at the time, the VII still had an all-black feel. And who can forget the “Hare Jordan” ads?
3. Air Jordan II – “Italian Stallion” – 1987
The Italian-made Jordan II was the brainchild of legendary Nike designer Bruce Kilgore. Faux lizard print and a relatively minimal exterior, devoid of excessive swooshery. A clean look, and one of the finest in the history of the vaunted shoe.
2. Air Jordan III – “Gotta Be the Shoes” – 1988
The birth of the Jumpman logo. MJ wore the III when he won the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest. Tinker Hatfield created a mid-level basketball shoe and introduced the Visible Air Unit. Advertising for the III saw the introduction of Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon, another classic. Another shoe that still looks fresh nearly 30 years later.
1. Air Jordan I – “Notorious” – 1984-85
The least technologically advanced Jordan is the best looking. The gold standard, really, and as sick looking toward as it was at launch more than 30 years ago. The most riffed on and reissued J, the Air Jordan I, a brief forerunner to this model was famously banned by the NBA during MJ’s opening season for the shoes “non-regulation” colors. Nike took care of the fines, and the 1 took off. The rest is history.