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The Complete History Of The Nike Air Jordan (1985-Present)

Michael Akinyemi
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We take a look at the complete history of the Nike Air Jordan from its origins in the mid 1980s to modern day hypebeasts and sneaker collectors.

How well do you know your Nike Air Jordans? Do you remember your first pair? The sensation you had as you laced them up for the first time and felt ‘like Mike’ himself. It’s a feeling that many can relate to. And for a respectable reason. The Nike x Jordan collaboration and the history of the Nike Air Jordan has revolutionised the game, on and off the court. Over time, the legacy of Michael Jordan has been integrated into his sneakers. The brand designed annual releases which represent the achievements made in Michael’s flourishing career. Not to mention, the advances in sports technology.

Michael Jordan Air Jordan History 1 1985

Above: Michael Jordan wearing a pair of Air Jordan 1’s from 1985.

The latest Netflix series to take the world by storm is no other than ‘The Last Dance’ and the story of Michael Jordan. This has struck a wave of nostalgia and appreciation surrounding everything MJ. And you don’t have to be a collector or a hoop enthusiast to appreciate the sneakers. The sneaker collaboration is amongst the most hyped of sneaker brands today. A powerhouse truly deserving of it’s status.

Nike Air Jordan 1 1985

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan 1 from 1985.

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The year is 1985. The NBA require basketball sneakers to be white and the go-to brand at the time was Converse. Michael Jordan has partnered with Nike and the Jordan Brand is born with the launch of the first ‘Nike Air Jordan’. It sounds catchy right; the name was coined together due to Jordan’s stunning in-air hang time.

The AJI was as innovative as it gets. A high-performance shoe with styling way ahead of its time. It was an instant hit and a long-lasting icon still to this day. The AJI was released in a black/red (Bred) colourway as a tribute to Chicago and everybody loved it. Everybody except the NBA commissioner David Stern. Who later outlawed the sneaker from the NBA for not being white (51 percent rule). Michael wore them nonetheless, with Nike picking up his $5000 fine per game! Nike relished the misfortune and released commercials promoting the ‘BANNED’ shoe as a product which gives athletes an ‘unfair advantage’. Sales were boomin’ and for Nike x Jordan, this was just the beginning.

The AJI has grown in vast popularity over the previous 4 years, with many colourways blessing the pavement. Some say the recent hype was due to the retro release of the Bred’s in 2016. Others say the hype of the AJI never left.

Nike Air Jordan 2

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan II from 1986.

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The popularity of the AJ1 only fuelled the need for a successor and in 1986, Nike launched the AJII. The first of the franchise to not incorporate the notorious Nike Swoosh in it’s design. The ‘86-87 season commenced the dominant reign of Michael Jordan in the NBA. Michael topped 3,000 points in a single season. A record not reached since Wilt Chamberlain.

Air Jordan 3

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan III from 1988.

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Like the first Air Jordan, this sneaker was another slam dunk! The AJIII was the first sneaker to incorporate elephant print into it’s design. Now, a signature touch from Jordan Brand and designer, Tinker Hatfield. This sneaker also premiered the first ‘Jumpman’ logo, embroidered into the tongue-tab. As for MJ, his on-court displays have catapulted him into the history books. Claiming his first MVP award, Defensive Player of the Year and yet another Slam Dunk trophy.

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan IV from 1989.

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1989, the 4’s. Arguably the most forward-thinking sneaker so far (and a personal favourite). Once again, Tinker Hatfield has delivered another sneaker which showcases the Jumpman logo on the tongue-tab. A feature soon becoming a global trademark. Paying homage to the city of Chicago, the sneaker is released in the notorious ‘Bred’ colourway (you gotta’ love the Bred’s). The shoe has a mesh structure on each side to enhance air flow and Nike’s new air bubble to defy gravity. Which for MJ, is common practice.

In the NBA, Jordan was thriving and has now become the world’s biggest sports superstar. Larry Bird, a man considered to be amongst the best of all time said this, “I would never have called him the greatest player I’d ever seen if I didn’t mean it,” Bird told The Boston Globe. “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

Nike Air Jordan 5 1989

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan V from 1990.

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A year later and Jordan releases another all-time grail. Tinker Hatfield decides to enlarge on the mesh structure pioneered from the 4s. The new element is the lace-lock system for improved fit and durability. And if you are a fan of the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ (a US sitcom growing very popular at the time), then I am sure you would have noticed Will Smith’s love for the AJV. The rising star boosted hype for Jordan’s latest release and the brand has since payed homage to this by releasing specific ‘Bel-Air’ colourways.

Nike Air Jordan 6

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan VI from 1991.

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The AJVI is a unique silhouette and Tinker Hatfield decides to add pull holes on the tongue-tab for ease of fit. Another innovative move by the honourable designer. Keeping true to fan favourites, the model still offers lace locks, mesh cages and clear soles. 1991, Michael Jordan wins his first NBA Championship with a prolific victory over Magic Johnson and the LA Lakers. MJ has won the ultimate prize, but he was hungry for more. Alongside Jordan’s first ring, the baller claimed yet another MVP Award, another NBA All-Star placing and is awarded the Finals MVP.

Nike Air Jordan 7

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan VII from 1992.

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The AJVII is all about comfort. Tinker Hatfield has installed a new neoprene sock liner. The sneakers were released with the number 23 embroidered. An Olympic colourway was also released, and this incorporated the number 9, for his participation towards gold in the ’92 Barcelona games. Coming off the back of a legendary season, the pressure was on. But we are talking about MJ here and the Chicago Bulls of the 90’s. The ‘Dream Team’, arguably the most dominant team to ever touch the court. In 1992, Jordan won his second NBA Championship wearing no other than the AJVII.

Nike Air Jordan 8

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan VIII from 1993.

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His ‘Airness’ retruns in ’93 with the debut of the AJVIII, featuring a new leather crossover design to secure comfort and stability when balling. This concept was something never seen before on a basketball sneaker and radiates the vision of the designer, Tinker Hatfield. This era is special for Bulls fans. Jordan leads his team to third consecutive NBA Championship victory. The dream team defeated the Phoenix Suns and MJ secured the MVP award once again.

Nike Air Jordan 9

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan XI from 1994.

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1 man, 9 years in the NBA, 3 years on top. Michael Jordan is an adored global superstar, and this was the theme for his AJXI. The brand continued to elevate the craftsmanship of Tinker Hatfield and they decided to make a classic concept sneaker with high quality materials. The delight is in the detail, the AJXI features symbols and languages from cultures all around the world. The victory celebrations are short lived for Michael as he decides to retire from the NBA and pursue his childhood dream of playing in the Major Baseball League (MLB).

Nike Air Jordan 10

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan X from 1995.

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The AJX was built to showcase MJ’s achievements prior to his retirement. Tinker Hatfield and team decided to engrave memorable moments from his career, into the sole of the sneaker. The upper of the shoe is wrapped with full grain leather and the laces are secured with lace loops which make up the design of the sneaker. Jordan returns from a stint playing baseball and shocks the world once again by announcing his return to the NBA. In dramatic fashion, the king of the court issued a 2-word press release, “I’m Back”.

Nike Air Jordan 11

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan XI from 1996.

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The 11. Another grail to add to the Jordan hall of fame. Once again, Tinker Hatfield has introduced another innovative feature which has swept the industry by storm. The AJXI boasts a sleek silhouette with a patent leather base. The design and shape was inspired by a convertible for better performance and aerodynamics. Since the very first release, the AJXI has arguably been the most hyped sneaker from Jordan Brand, up until the recent surge of AJI’s. In true MJ fashion, Jordan leads the team to its 4th NBA Championship, whilst winning MVP, All-Star MVP and Finals MVP. Cementing his place as the greatest of all time.

Nike Air Jordan 12

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan XII from 1996.

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The following year brought the release of the AJXII. A sneaker known to be the most durable of all Jordan’s. Colour contrasting at its finest, the shoe takes inspiration from the Japanese Nisshoki shoe and the Rising Sun flag. The shoe also utilizes Nike’s Zoom Air Technology for lightweight cushioning. Michael wore the AJXII during the victory of Utah Jazz, where he scored 38 points whilst ill with food poisoning. This game was later referred to as ‘the ill game’ and Jordan scores a 3 pointer in the final seconds. Questions surrounding Michael’s humanity is questioned all the more. And yes, you must know what comes next. The Bulls win another NBA Championship. 5th Ring for Jordan.

Nike Air Jordan 13

Above: The history of Nike Air Jordan with the Air Jordan XIII from 1998.

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The AJXIII is another sneaker with a very recognisable shape. Tinker Hatfield introduced a new sole structure and adds a shimmering plate on the rear upper, showcasing the number 23. ‘Black Cat’ is another nickname used for Michael and the brand pays homage to this with the AJXIII as it draws inspiration from Black Panther. The brand has since released ‘Black Cat’ colourways in many different Air Jordan silhouettes, the most recent being the AJIV in March.

The Last Dance. The ‘97-98 season marks the end of a highly decorated career for Jordan. His ‘Airness’ is triumphant one last time as the Chicago Bulls win their 6th NBA Championship. Another three-peat for MJ and the dream team dynasty. Michael Jordan steps away from basketball once again, but his brand and legacy will live on eternally.

Since his retirement the brand has continued to release annual sneakers which sell out. The brand resumes to deliver innovative products and in recent years we have been blessed to witness revolutionary collaborations with Jordan, such as Virgil Abloh’s ‘Off-White’ and Travis Scott.

To wear Jordan, you wear the history and the triumph of Jordan. You showcase the craftsmanship and unique aesthetics revolutionised by Tinker Hatfield. The Jordan journey has been prolific, and yet we all know (as always), there is more to come from Michael.

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