Air Jordan History - Jordan 1 - 14 (Part 1)
Everyone loves Jordan Brand and what it has become. While silhouettes like the 1s and 4s steal the hearts of most, the Jordan collection never stopped when Michael Jordan stopped playing professionally. Now at a whopping 35 models, let's take a look at each Jordan model to be released with Part 1 covering the Air Jordan 1 to 14.
Air Jordan 1
Modern sneaker culture had its roots in the air; that is, the original Air Jordan that released in 1985. Designed Peter Moore, Jordan Brand has honored this iconic silhouette numerous times since with releases of the Retro 1 and its known as the most popular Jordan 1 ever.
This Air Jordan was the only one in the series to feature the familiar Nike Swoosh logo. And predating the Jumpman logo, the OG shoe featured the Wings logo - a basketball with wings stretching from both sides and "Air Jordan" printed above the ball. Nike filed the Wings logo as a trademark on May 7, 1985.
Air Jordan 2
Nike faced a unique challenge following the unprecedented success of the original Air Jordan; how to follow it up. The popularity of the shoe's namesake, Michael Jordan, already had begun outgrowing his home country, and Nike went to Italy to produce the Air Jordan II.
While this nod to internationally renowned Italian style was the first - and to date, only - Air Jordan produced in that country, it wasn't the only first for the franchise. Bruce Kilgore, who also had designed the Air Force One, made the AJ II the first to not feature Nike's familiar Swoosh logo. "Nike" appeared across the top of the heel counter, and the Wings logo of the original Air Jordan was on the tongue.
The AJ II shared a silhouette with the Nike Air Python that released in 1987, including a faux lizard skin upper and swooping lines that resembled those of a sports car (which would factor prominently into the Jordan line in years to come). Known among sneaker collectors as the first "luxury" basketball shoe, the AJ II paved the way for the heat that would accompany the Air Jordan III.
Air Jordan 3
Released in 1988, the rollout of the AJ III included TV spots featuring actor/director Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon, from his 1986 film "She's Gotta Have It" sparking a series of catch phrases heard 'round the sneaker world.
Architect-turned-designer Tinker Hatfield took the lead on this, the first of more than two dozen Air Jordans he would go on to design. Hatfield sparked some style trends on the AJ III that have continued well into the 21st century. Most notably, he introduced elephant print overlays on the upper that have resurfaced periodically - in reissues of the AJ III as well as other Jordan models - ever since.
Prior to the Air Jordan III, basketball shoes were mostly just basketball shoes. Hatfield knew Jordan was into luxury and rolled that into the designs for Jordan's signature shoes. While the Air Jordan II featured luxurious elements reflected in its Italian construction, Hatfield took this concept to a new level, even involving Jordan in the search for the right leathers to use on the shoe.
Another first on the Air Jordan III; it was the first Jordan signature sneaker to feature the now-famous Jumpman logo. The now-ubiquitous image is a silhouette of Jordan dunking on a 1985 Nike poster. Finally, the shoe was the first Air Jordan to feature a visible Air-Sole unit under the heel. It retained Nike's "Air" embroidery on the heel, encapsulated Air in the forefoot, and a polyurethane midsole for cushioning.
Air Jordan 4
Following the success of the Air Jordan III, designer Tinker Hatfield delivered one of the more comfortable Air Jordans in the series, the Air Jordan IV.
The Jumpman logo made its second appearance on the tongue but with the word "Flight" added below it. Carrying over from the AJ III were the sculpted midsole and the visible Air unit and padded tongue and collar.
The sneaker world was introduced to nubuck with the upper of the Air Jordan IV. The Air Jordan IV featured mesh for the first time, increasing breathability. Multiple areas of the AJ IV featured plastic. A lean triangular plastic piece attached to the nubuck heel was connected to a hard plastic lace holder. The lace holder at the forefoot added lockdown. A plastic heel tab that read "Nike Air" was similar to that of the AJ III. Also on the upper, a plastic grid pattern that lay over the breathable mesh and behind the triangular piece.
Air Jordan 5
The Air Jordan V was a statement of Michael Jordan's aggressive nature on the court. Released in February 1990, the Air Jordan V featured a sharktooth design on the lateral (outer) midsole that designer Tinker Hatfield drew from a World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plane.
Hatfield also reflected the attitude of "aggression" both in the traction the shoe offered, and by molding foam into the upper. The AJ V also introduced the concept of "iced" outsoles of translucent rubber, as well as the inclusion of lace-lock toggles.
The designer carried over the visible Air-Sole unit from the AJ III and AJ IV, as well as the mesh from the AJ IV. An embroidered Jumpman logo graced a tongue that, in certain colourways, also featured 3M reflectivity on the outside. "Air Jordan" was stitched inside.
Air Jordan 6
The Air Jordan VI is a fixture in basketball history. Released in February 1991, Michael Jordan wore it to the Chicago Bulls' first championship just a few months later.
Most apparent on the AJ VI was the leather overlays, which upon careful inspection reveal a "2" and a "3" to honor MJ's uniform number. Carrying over from the AJ V were the sculpted midsole, Vis-Air heel cushioning, and translucent ("frosty") outsole. And while the original releases consisted of leather, the Black/Infrared colourway included rich suede.
But largely, the AJ VI included a clean toe cap, a rubber tongue with finger loops, lace locks, a molded heel tab, and an inner booty sleeve designed for comfort.
Years later, Ray Allen and Vin Baker would wear the White/Navy/Red colourway at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. But the shoe's popularity reached well beyond the hardwood, as comedian Jerry Seinfeld wore it on early episodes of his sitcom, "Seinfeld".
Air Jordan 7
Like Michael Jordan, Tinker Hatfield set out to repeat as a winner with a championship-caliber design on the Air Jordan VII.
Released in 1992, the Air Jordan 7 drew inspiration from West African tribal art, with bold lines on the midsole. It also incorporated Nike's Huarache technology - named for a Mexican style of sandal - as a neoprene inner booty to improve comfort and fit. This helped eliminate extra weight and made it one of the lightest basketball shoes at the time.
The visual paid homage to west African tribal art, featuring bold lines on the midsole. A USA colourway released later that year commemorated the "Dream Team," Team USA that went on to dominate international competition. This was white, trimmed in blue, red, and gold.
The AJ VII bid farewell to the visible Air-Sole, the translucent outsole, and the prominent Nike Air logo (except on the insole). The upper carried over the toecap from the VI.
Air Jordan 8
Released in 1993 and designed by the legend Tinker, this edition of MJ's signature footwear was the heaviest ever in the line, featured a splash of colour along the heel and on the midsole and outsole.
The brand returned to its padded collar from the Huarache style of the VII, and the inner booty sock returned as well. Also returning was Bugs Bunny in the shoe's marketing campaign.
One aesthetic twist was the carpeted circular Jumpman logo on the tongue; the only such appearance in the Jordan line. The shoe consisted of a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) support and a polycarbonate plate, along with anti-inversion crossing straps to lock down the foot. Extra padding added protection but also added weight.
Air Jordan 9
After leading Chicago to a third straight championship in 1993, the maestro walked off the stage. Michael Jordan shocked the basketball world by retiring that October. MJ signed with the Class AA minor-league Birmingham Barons the following February, and as he worked his way through the bus leagues, Nike prepared the Air Jordan IX to hit the hardwood without him.
The Air Jordan 9 became the first Air Jordan that the man himself would never wear in competition. Though, ironically, it's the Air Jordan 9 that's depicted on the statue of MJ outside the United Center in Chicago.
Nike built the AJ IX's upper with leather, nubuck, and mesh. The nubuck area wrapped around the toe and included reflective sparkles in three of the four original colourways. The inner booty sockliner carried over from the previous two Air Jordans. A one-pull lacing system debuted with the AJ IX. A polyurethane midsole sat atop the rubber outsole in a tooth-like design. The back of the shoe featured a molded plastic globe graphic with a Jumpman logo. The sole of the shoes featured words in different languages, symbolizing MJ's popularity expanding globally.
He retired from baseball on March 10, 1995, and returned to the hardwood on March 19.
Air Jordan 10
When Michael Jordan returned to the NBA on March 19, 1995, against the Indiana Pacers, he wore the "Chicago" colourway of the Air Jordan X.
Tinker Hatfield putting in the work once again, the AJ X's design was very simplistic. It featured clean lines, lightweight cushioning, and an outsole that commemorated his career to that point. The original "steel" version was designed with a stitched toe piece, which MJ didn't like. So all subsequent colourways of the AJ X had a clean toe cap.
The AJ X featured a padded collar, pull tab at the heel, and an elastic band lacing system. Nike built the midsole of the AJ X of Phylon lightweight foam. It was connected to a rubber outsole that listed Jordan's career achievements on alternating stripes.
Air Jordan 11
Thanks to great performance coupled with an innovative design, the Air Jordan 11 (particularly the Concord colourway) is one of the most-loved sneakers ever.
Tinker Hatfield watched video of Michael Jordan and noticed MJ's foot would roll off the foot bed on hard cuts. So Hatfield took that opportunity to blend substance with style, adding patent leather for the first time on a basketball shoe. Patent leather was stronger, and it fit MJ's reported desire to have a shoe that could be worn with a suit.
The upper consisted of a polymer-coated, thin nylon ballistic mesh material. The collar and tongue were padded for ankle comfort. The translucent - 'frosty' - outsole lay atop the shank plate for extra spring. The shoe also included a full-length Air-Sole unit.
MJ wore the Black/Varsity Royal/White version in the movie Space Jam. Jordan also wore the same "Air Jordan XI Space Jam" shoe in the playoffs.
Air Jordan 12
Tinker Hatfield drew from a very different area in designing the Air Jordan XII, taking inspiration from the Japanese flag.
The AJ XII was clean and simple. The rich leather upper was stitched to resemble a rising sun, while faux reptile leather comprised the toe and accent overlays. The AJ XII featured the slogan "TWO 3" down the tongue, metal lace loops with Jumpman logos, and a pull tab that ran up the entire heel that read, "QUALITY INSPIRED BY THE GREATEST PLAYER EVER."
This was the first Air Jordan to feature an ultra-responsive Zoom Air unit, as well as lateral and medial support panels designed to work together to create one of the most durable shoes in the signature series. The shoe also had a full-length carbon fiber shank like its predecessor.
Originally released in five colourways, the AJ XII's offerings included the Black/Red that MJ wore during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, a game that came to be known as "The Flu Game." Michael had fallen ill in the middle of the night prior to that game, and his appearance was questionable as he lay on a table in the locker room right up until game time. But he dragged himself up and onto the court. Not only did he play, he created a performance for the ages as he led all scorers with 38 points, including a big 3-pointer that put Chicago up for good with 25 seconds to play. The shoe he wore during that game is known among collectors as "Flu Game 12s."
Air Jordan 13
Released on Nov. 1, 1997, the Air Jordan 13 or XIII was loaded with both performance and design elements. Perhaps the most prominent feature was a hologram on the upper that resembled the eye of a panther, while the outsole featured a paw-like design. The Air Jordan 13 also featured Zoom Air in the heel and forefoot, and a Phylon lightweight-foam midsole. That and podular tooling made this possibly the most comfortable Air Jordan in the series.
A carbon fibre shank in the midfoot lent torsional rigidity, and an asymmetrical collar was designed to balance ankle support with flexibility needed for hard cuts. The AJ13 took inspiration from Jordan's nickname of 'Black Cat', referring to his quickness, power, and ferocity on the court - similar to that of a predatory cat.
Air Jordan 14
Tinker Hatfield teamed up with Mark Smith on the Air Jordan XIV. Introduced during the 1998 NBA Finals, it would be the last shoe Michael Jordan would wear as a Chicago Bull.
MJ hit the famous "Last Shot" in the Black/Red colourway of the AJ XIV, sinking the Utah Jazz for the second straight time in the finals. Seven years later, Jordan brand athletes rocked the Retro XIV when it began hitting retail shelves. One hot OG colourway, the Indiglos, have yet to be re-released.
Hatfield and Smith modeled the XIV after MJ's love for exotic sports cars, inspired specifically by a Ferrari. The AJ XIV featured a Ferrari-like shield featuring a Jumpman logo, just one of seven Jumpman logos on each shoe; a total of 14 per pair. The logo is visible on the side heel, outsole, insole, back heel, toe, and on the metal lace tips.
The shoe's asymmetrical collar was designed to blend ankle support with flexibility, while Hatfield and Smith worked breathable mesh vents into the outsole. They also included dual Zoom Air units into the outsole, and the low-profile heel and forefoot gave the AJ XIV a sleek silhouette as well as a comfortable ride.
Stay tuned for next week's instalment where we will look at Jordan 15 - 26.