Last Updated on December 26, 2022 by Hammad Hassan
Some sneakers stand out from the crowd in the history of sneakers. Among them are the Converse Weapon, the Vans Slip-On with the classic checkerboard graphic, and the Nike Air Max 1. However, in a market flooded with daily launches — enough to make your head spin — there is something about the simplicity of such shoes that distinguishes them from the rest.
The other shoe in the sneaker market has the same mystique as the Air Jordan It is undoubtedly the shoe that launched the sneaker business in the first place. And no matter where we go from here, many will regard the Jordan I as the best, most charming shoe of all time.
It’s also a sneaker that almost never existed. Michael Jordan’s favorite shoe to play in while college was Converse’s Chuck Taylor, a shoe he liked so much that he was bent on signing with them when he ultimately made it to the NBA. But Nike persisted, even getting Jordan’s parents to drive him to the Nike facility in Oregon. Nike tried to persuade him by demonstrating their goal for Jordan to be more than simply a sneaker. But none of it mattered to Jordan, who disliked Nike’s sneakers because the bottoms were too thick. Nike was glad to make the alteration, which resulted in the legacy of Air Jordan.
Jordan’s debut sneaker was to be designed by none other than Nike’s creative director, Peter C. Moore. Jordan didn’t like the Jordan I created at first, calling them “clown shoes,” but he soon warmed up to them. However, because the Air Jordan would not be available for the start of Jordan’s rookie season in 1985, he had to play in Nike Air Ships until the Jordan was released in November of that year. Even with hindsight, it’s difficult to discern the difference between those two shoes, which is why Nike chose the Air Ships in the first place, knowing that many would mistake them for the Air Jordan I, which would boost sales when they ultimately came out.
People often associate the first true Air Jordan 1 with the “Banned” colorway, often known as the “Bred,” or black and red. They received the term “Banned” because league regulations at the time required a player’s shoe to be at least 51% white, popularly known as the “51% rule.” Jordan was fined $5000 per game because the sneakers were mostly red and black.
However, the narrative is mainly fictitious because their shoes were the aforementioned Air Ships, and there is no proof of any actual violation being assessed against Jordan, simply a letter written to him by then NBA commissioner Russ Granik warning him about the sanctions.
All of that was simply for show, and when the shoe was introduced in the fall for $65 a pair, it sold out almost instantly. And as soon as they sold out, Nike restocked them until the shoe was overstocked, prompting the price to drop to $20 in 1985, finally leading to the shoe’s shelving in 1986. By that point, the Jordan 1 had been launched in 13 different colors, including “Banned,” “Chicago,” “Retro Royal,” and “Carolina Blue,” among others. Though numerous more colors would be introduced in the future, the first year’s colorways remain the most sought after.
It’s difficult to believe, but many of the things we take for granted in the sneaker industry today—drops, serializing—didn’t exist back then. There was no Air Jordan I or II; there was just Air Jordan. But, in 1994, Nike accomplished something no other shoe brand had done before: they reintroduced the Air Jordan I in multiple hues, including “Banned” and “Chicago.” Jordan was still playing (although baseball at the time), and the move was so unconventional that the re-issue failed.
The reissue of the Jordan I was as volatile as Jordan’s career. The Jordan I was not reissued until Jordan returned, retired, and returned again in 2001. This time, Jordan Brand launched it throughout the next three years in several iconic hues, including “Retro Royal” and “Birds,” as well as a few new colorways including “Midnight Navy,” “White Chrome,” and “Black/Metallic Gold.”
The Jordan Brand reissue (particularly the “White Chrome”) was also the first time the shoe featured a Jumpman rather than a Swoosh, as well as the first series to include a low-profile variant. Jordan finally retired in 2003, and Jordan Brand retired the Jordan I in 2004.
The Jordan 1 was ultimately reissued in April of 2007 as part of “Old Love, New Love,” a two-pack that had a throwback “Black Toe” colorway combined with a new shoe that was yellow and black. Several additional hues and silhouette variations were launched throughout the following several years, including the “Phat,” “25th Anniversary,” and “Frags” variants, to mention a few. Virgil Abloh disassembled the exhibition in 2017 and titled it “Revealing.”
Over its 36-year lifetime, the Air Jordan 1 has seen many ups and downs. But it appears that the most difficult periods have passed, and the shoe has reclaimed its proper perch atop the mountain of footwear. We may expect new colours and silhouettes in the future because the original design’s simplicity and utility allow for unlimited modification.