The History of Air Jordan: How Michael Jordan Revolutionized Sneaker Culture

Everyone recognizes the Jumpman logo. It’s an iconic symbol of the Jordan brand, one that represents luxury, style, and streetwear. And it all began with the Air Jordans.

Let’s take a look at the history of Air Jordans to discover how these shoes became the icon they are today.

The Origins of Air Jordan: Michael Jordan’s Collaboration With Nike

Interestingly, the famous collab between Michael Jordan and Nike almost didn’t happen.

Jordan’s Early Career

In the early 1980s, Jordan was an up-and-coming star. During his sophomore year of college, he was heralded as the College Player of the Year. Just one year later, in 1984, he was the third pick by the Chicago Bulls’ NBA draft. That same year, he won Olympic gold on the U.S. men’s basketball team.

Even though he was just a rookie, he was on fire.

Shoe Endorsements

As a rising star, Jordan was considering endorsement deals. The number-one brand at the time was Converse, and all the big names in basketball wore them — including Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Because of that, the company couldn’t prioritize rookie Jordan.

His first pick, though, was Adidas. But the brand turned him down, thinking he was too short for the image they were trying to convey.

Despite Adidas’ rejection, Jordan didn’t want to accept the other offer on the table: Nike. At the time, Nike was a relatively small sportswear brand, focusing mainly on running shoes.

However, Nike’s offer was incredible: a five-year contract for $2.5 million. That was a record-high contract at the time, and Jordan’s agent, David Falk, knew that. So he begged Jordan to accept the deal and even appealed to Jordan’s mother to help convince him.

With his mom pushing him toward the Nike deal, Jordan agreed. And, in 1984, the dream team was born.

Designing the Air Jordans

While Falk wanted to name the new shoe line “Michael Jordan,” Nike did not agree. The company didn’t want all the design credit going to a rookie basketball player who hadn’t even played his first professional season yet.

Instead, they settled on Air Jordan, which speaks to the air cushioning technology Nike had just developed and the amount of time Jordan spends in the air while playing basketball.

Of course, it took some time to develop the actual Air Jordan 1s. The first Nike shoes Jordan wore were the Air Ships, which looked very similar to the Air Force 1 shoes Nike had recently designed.

They inspired the Air Jordan 1 design, which had a bold black and red colorway to match Jordan’s Chicago Bulls uniform.

Becoming an Icon

Nike had originally expected to sell $3 million in Air Jordans, but they actually sold $126 million in just the first year. That deal launched the Nike brand and essentially made it what it is today.

But part of the reason they sold so many was clever marketing. The NBA allegedly fined Michael Jordan $5,000 every time he wore the Air Jordan 1s because the colorway did not comply with uniform guidelines. Nike jumped on that and created a commercial promoting the “banned” shoes.

This built up a lot of hype around the Air Jordans and basketball sneakers in general, launching the beginning of today’s sneaker culture.

The funny thing is that Jordan was probably never fined for wearing the Air Jordans. In fact, some sources say that he was actually wearing Air Ships in red and black, and the famous “banned” Air Jordans were never banned.

Whether true or just a clever marketing scheme, it had a tremendous and lasting impact.

The Evolution of Air Jordan and Jordan Retro Shoes

Air Jordans started strong — and they’ve continued to dominate for the past 40 years. There have been 37 iterations over the years, plus a return of some of the most iconic original designs.

Retro is trending, so let’s look at some of the hottest Jordan Retro shoes.

Jordan Retro 4

Michael Jordan was wearing Air Jordan 4s when he made the iconic shot that cut the Cleveland Cavaliers from the 1989 NBA playoffs. That, and the shoe’s unique wing design, immediately launched these sneakers into immense popularity.

Jordan Retro 4s have that same iconic wing design with mesh inlays and a unique sole design. You can find them in several colorways, from neutral whites and grays to blue, black, and red.

Jordan Retro 1

Nothing quite beats the original Air Jordan 1 — the shoe “banned” by the NBA and the sneaker that started sneaker culture. And that’s why Jordan Retro 1s are still immensely popular.

Today, they come in various colorways — including the red, black, and white design reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s early basketball career. Or you can choose something a bit different, like the women’s Jordan Retro 1 Low. Even though the silhouette changed, the connection to the original Air Jordan 1 is undeniable.

Jordan Retro 11

Let’s fast forward a few years to 1995 when Nike first released the Air Jordan 11s. Both Michael Jordan and designer Tinker Hatfield have said this was their favorite Air Jordan, which also makes this a beloved shoe among sneakerheads. Plus, it was released right as Michael Jordan returned to the NBA after a brief retirement and led the Chicago Bulls to a three-year championship win. And let’s not forget that he wore Air Jordan 11s in a black colorway for the classic “Space Jam” movie.

Even the design was iconic. It featured patent leather, clear rubber on the outsole, and a full-length Air-Sole unit for extra comfort.

Since the original Air Jordan 11 was so popular, it only makes sense that the Jordan Retro 11s would be a hit. These low-cut shoes have a similar sole and design as the Air Jordan 11s, and they come in the classic red, white, and black colorway.

Jordan Retro 3

The Air Jordan 3s made waves when they were released in 1988. They were a sneaker of many firsts: the first Air Jordans to feature the Jumpman logo, the first Air Jordans Tinker Hatfield designed, the first Air Jordans with a visible Air-Sole unit, and the first Air Jordans to feature elephant print.

Since this shoe was such a trendsetter, it makes sense why the Jordan Retro 3s are also so popular. One of the hottest designs now is the Air Jordan Retro 3 with gold detailing and elephant print on the toe and heel.

The Legacy of Air Jordan

The clever commercial promoting the “banned” Air Jordans launched the initial buzz about the shoes. But what kept the legacy alive was Michael Jordan himself.

Not only is he one of the greatest basketball players of all time, but he has a marketable personality. Basketball lovers wanted to be him, and everyone else wanted to look like him. So the shoes he wore defined style.

Michael Jordan promoted a luxury product that was out of budget for many low-income families, but that only increased the sneaker hype. Having a pair of Air Jordans was a status symbol — one that everyone had to have.

Even though Michael Jordan retired from the NBA 20 years ago, the Jordan brand he developed continues to rule streetwear culture today.

Let the Legacy Live On

The Jordan brand has been a fashion staple for years, and there’s no end in sight. So stock up on your Jordan shoes and apparel today at JD Sports.

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