‘Greatest of All Time’ is a pretty big accolade, but unless you’re a huge Kobe Bryant fan or have a crystal ball which has shown you how Lebron James’s career pans out, you’re likely to agree that Michael ‘Money’ Jordan is just that man when it comes to both basketball, and signature athletic footwear. On court few have come close to Jordan’s level of complete dominance, and in the world of kicks there isn’t another range which inspires the same range of classic affection, hype or collecting fever. It’s 30 years since the first Air Jordan was designed, so just in case you missed a couple of pairs on the way, here’s a quick visual recap of the first eleven episodes…
Where it all began. Jordan burst into the NBA in 1985, a maverick scoring machine, with equally mould-breaking shoes. Designed by Nike’s Bruce Kilgore and Peter Moore, the first Jordans were revolutionary for their time, sporting a Nike Air sole unit and a black and red colour scheme that broke the NBA’s uniform policy, leading them to be banned by the league. The rest is history!
Air Jordan II
For the second instalment, Nike went a more subtle, luxury route, making the shoes in Italy and removing the swoosh, leaving the Jordan ‘wings’ logo on the tongue to do the branding. Michael missed most of the 86-87 season with a broken foot, which didn’t help the Jordan II’s sales figures – it’s still one of the most overlooked in the line.
Air Jordan III
With Nike’s new design genius Tinker Hatfiled on board, the Jordan III shook things up – the ‘wings’ logo was replaced by the iconic jumpman, visible Air was introduced, and the now-familiar elephant print made it’s debut appearance. Jordan was ready to sign a shoe deal with Adidas, but the design of the III changed his mind and he stayed with the swoosh – we can see why.
Air Jordan IV
Mike was dominant on court in the 88-89 season averaging 32 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists, and the Jordan IV was as dominant off it. The Nike ‘Mars Blackmon’ commercials starring Spike Lee were in full effect, and the IV’s had a cameo role in Lee’s Do the Right Thing, making them the shoe to have off court too. Tinker’s design went higher, with new support webbing and straps, and of course the famous cement speckle on the midsole = Classic
Air Jordan V
Jordan debuted the V in Feb ’90 all-star game, and another classic was instantly born. Incorporating shark-tooth details from another aerial attacker, the WWII Mustang fighter plane, the V also featured a 3m tongue, and the debut of the translucent ‘icy’ sole sections. Whilst the IV was the first Jordan to get worldwide distribution, the V was the first to really hit in the UK, and as a result it’s always been a strong favourite with the veteran UK collectors.
Air Jordan VI
To follow up after the smash hit of the V, Tinker pulled out all the stops, evolving the design and taking some Porsche influence to produce the 1991 Jordan VI. The last Jordan to feature a visible air bubble, and Nike AIR logos, the Icy sole made a return, the rubber tongue with pull-holes, lace toggle and rear ‘spoiler’ are all distinctive features. Whilst on the streets the Infrared colourways jumped off shelves, On court, Jordan led the bulls to the promised land of their first NBA championship, scooping MVP honours in the process.
Air Jordan VII
For the 92-93 VII Tinker went away from visible air in the sole, and incorporated his Huarache technology instead for a seamless fit. The VII was the first Jordan to feature only the Jumpman logo on the outside, with the only Nike branding on the insole. In the NBA, MJ and the bulls won their second straight championship, cementing his legacy as one of the greats.
Air Jordan VIII
This chunky, cross-strapped Tinker design for 93-94 wasn’t one of Jordan’s favourites, as although it was well cushioned and supportive it was too warm and too heavy. It didn’t seem to slow him down though, as he once again dominated and led the Bulls to their third straight chip, while on screen Nike’s ad campaign saw Money team up with Bugs Bunny against Marvin the Martian!
Then it stopped. Or at least paused. At the peak of his abilities and achievement Jordan suddenly quit basketball to pursue his dream of playing baseball and never took to court in the IX, although it does adorn the feet of his Statue outside the Bulls’ arena. So we skipped it!
Air Jordan X
Designed before anyone knew Jordan was coming back to Basketball, the Jordan X was a clean design, using ghillie-style lacing and listing his numerous achievements on the Outsole. Then, in March 1995, Jordan suddenly came back out of retirement and laced them up for the last couple months of the season. The Bulls eventually lost to Shaq, Penny and the Orlando Magic, but there was no doubt – MJ was BACK.
Air Jordan XI
Mike’s first full season back in 95-96 called for something special and Tinker delivered with the iconic Jordan XI. The mix of materials – ballistic mesh and patent leather – once again broke the mould, and resulted in a phenomenal performance shoe that the streets also went crazy for. The Bulls set an NBA record for wins in a season on the way to championship #4, and Mike also found time to reunite with Bugs Bunny and film Space Jam, after which the black/royal blue/white XI’s worn in the film are nicknamed.
So there you have it – a quick tour of 11 (well, 10) of the most memorable and successful basketball shoes (both on and off the court!) of all time.