A brief history of every Air Jordan from 1-23

Photo: Nike

The Air Jordan 1 released in 1985, for Michael Jordan’s rookie season. It was the shoe that started it all off, and is possibly one of the most iconic sneakers of all time. Designed by Peter Moore, who also created the Nike Dunk, it features a high cut leather upper, a rubber sole, and the now infamous Wings logo on the ankle. Michael Jordan was famously fined $5000 every time he wore the Air Jordan 1 Bred, but instead of swapping shoes, Nike paid the fines for him, and used their “Banned” status as part of their very successful ad campaign.  

In 1986, the Air Jordan 2 came out as the successor to the original, however it seems to often get forgotten when talking about the Air Jordan line. Also designed by Peter Moore, the silhouette didn’t catch on, and ended up only originally being released in 2 colorways. This is also partially down to Michael Jordan sitting out for most of his second season, thanks to a foot injury only 3 games in. 

The first Jordan sneaker to be designed by Tinker Hatfield, who also created the Air Max 1 two years later, was the Air Jordan 3, which was an instant classic. No longer featuring the Wings logo, the shoe came with the brand-new Jumpman icon on the tongue, that is now the main logo for the brand. This was also the first shoe to feature elephant print, a beloved pattern that has returned on many occasions since. 

In 1989, the Air Jordan 4 came out, sporting wings on either side of the shoe, and plastic netting side panels. Originally retailing for $110, the shoe was much more eccentric than the previous Air Jordan’s, but fans seemed to love it, and still do to this day. With that being said, the shoes polyurethane soles aren’t particularly durable, so none of the pairs released 31 years ago could possibly be worn again today. The Air Jordan 4’s were also featured on the big screen, in Spike Lee’s movie “Do the Right Thing” where the character Buggin Out has his pair scuffed by a cyclist. 

The Air Jordan 5 released in 1990, originally in 3 colorways, that were named the Metallic, Grape, and the Fire Red Air Jordan 5. The sneaker is said to have taken inspiration from World War 2 fighter planes, especially on the midsole that features a shark tooth design, reminiscent of the shark mouths that featured on iconic planes such as the P-40 Warhawk. The Air Jordan 5 also featured a grey tongue on all of its models, that was made of a reflective 3M material, and would flash every time a photographer took a picture of Michael Jordan in action. 

The Air Jordan 6 was Michael Jordan’s sneaker of choice when he won his first ever NBA championship, back in 1991. It had quite a different look to the previous Air Jordan’s, as it had a higher cut, and a bulkier figure. With that being said, it was just as popular, especially thanks to OG colorways like the Carmine and Infrared 6’s. 

In 1992, the Air Jordan 7 released for $125, and became extremely famous thanks to Michael Jordan’s accomplishments in the sneaker. Not only did he win the NBA championship once again, and win MVP, but he also took Gold in the 1992 Olympics in the shoes, alongside the infamous dream team. The shoe is very similar to the Air Jordan 6 in style; however, it featured many small tweaks to ensure it would perform better on the court. Firstly, it was much lighter and less bulky, but also the plastic pull tab on the 6 was replaced with a soft Achilles support, as Jordan apparently complained it was digging into his Achilles. 

Michael Jordan’s first three-peat was completed in 1993, and he won whilst wearing the Air Jordan 8. Also very similar in design to the Air Jordan 6, and 7, the 8 can be distinguished by its straps that go around the sneaker to hold it in place. It also shows the Jordan line temporarily returning to a bulkier design; however, this may be why it isn’t quite as popular as some of its peers. Originally releasing in 3 colorways, the Aqua’s were easily the most popular, now reselling online for over $1000. 

After his historic three-peat, Michael Jordan decided to retire from basketball, instead playing a season of minor league baseball. This did not stop Nike making Air Jordan’s however, creating the Air Jordan 9 that was inspired by baseball cleats. As a result, the sole featured stylized patterns, rather than any kind of traction. Still, the switch from a basketball sneaker to a lifestyle/baseball model did cause a slump in the shoes sales, however colorways like the Air Jordan 9 Olive are still very notable Jordan’s, even 26 years later. 

With Jordan still away from the game of basketball, the Air Jordan 10 looks back at his career achievements, in his early career. Like the Air Jordan 9, it doesn’t feature any traction pattern, and instead has 10 of Michael Jordan’s biggest achievements inscribed into the sole. The shoe originally released in 8 different colorways, as oppose to the standard 3 many of the previous Jordan’s were released in, as there was a 5 sneaker regional Air Jordan 10 pack, that was made to represent the cities of Sacramento, New York, Orlando, Seattle, and of course Chicago. 

With Michael Jordan returning to the league, Tinker Hatfield once again was forced to think of performance basketball sneakers once again, creating the Air Jordan 11. Not only is it a fan’s favorite, but Michael Jordan has even said this is his best model, followed by the 3’s, 12’s, and 13’s. It was also the sneaker Michael Jordan decided to wear in the infamous film “Space Jam,” and as a result, any kid growing up around 1996 will remember this silhouette fondly. 

The Air Jordan 12’s released back in 1996, for an increased retail price of $135. They had much more of a boot-like structure, that made them very durable, and their design was said to be inspired by Japans rising sun flag. On top of Michael Jordan winning his 2nd championship in these sneakers, the black and cherry edition is now known as the Flu game 12’s after Jordan scored 38 points against the Utah Jazz in them, whilst clearly being very ill. This not only cemented the shoes place in history, but also made them extremely valuable, with his game worn pair selling for over $100,000 back in 2013. 

In 1997, the Air Jordan 13 released, which was said to be inspired by a panther, as Michael Jordan had begun to receive the nickname, the “Black Cat.” This can be seen on the sole that is based on a panther’s paw, but also on the holographic Jumpman logo on the heel, that resembles a panther’s eye. The sneaker was worn by Jordan, as he claimed his 5th and final MVP, but it was swapped out for the 14’s in the finals. Nevertheless, the sneaker was still very popular, and was even worn by Denzel Washington in Spike Lee’s classic movie “He Got Game.” 

Although releasing after Jordan’s second retirement, the Air Jordan 14 saw a brief, but iconic few appearances in the league, being worn in the finals of the 1998 playoffs. The shoe is inspired by Michael Jordan’s love for race cars, in particular, Ferrari’s, and the clearest sign of this influence is on the heel, where a triangle shaped logo is situated. The Bred version of this sneaker was also worn by Jordan when he made the “Last Shot,” the buzzer beater in game 5 of the 1998 finals, that not only won the championship for Chicago, but also was the last shot Jordan ever had in the playoffs. 

For many, the Air Jordan 15 was the start of the demise of the Air Jordan line, releasing in 1999, as Jordan retired for the second time in his career. Although still relatively successful, the Air Jordan 15’s X-15 Fighter Jet inspired upper was simply not to everyone’s tastes, causing the shoe to receive some backlash. Made from a Kevlar Fiber and Leather upper, the tongue is connected to the rest of the shoe, and pokes out, creating a controversial silhouette. After this sneaker, Tinker Hatfield would be replaced with a new designer, and the negative reception the shoe received is very likely the reason why.  

The first shoe to release after the turn of the century, the Air Jordan 16 was the first Jordan to not be designed by Tinker Hatfield, for 15 years. Created by legend, Wilson Smith III, the sneaker features a sheath that covers the laces, that can be attached or detached magnetically. This innovative look allowed Jordan to bounce back from the Air Jordan 15, even if Jordan was now past his prime. 

The Air Jordan 17 came out in 2002 and released for a staggering $200 thanks to its luxury design and new technology. As Michael Jordan was so capable at improvising in the air, the shoe is inspired by jazz musicians and their ability to improvise, with the lace cover featuring musical notes along the sides. The shoe also featured a shank plate, and Tuned Air, but their price was also increased thanks to the shoe coming in a metal briefcase. This was the last shoe Michael Jordan would properly wear on an NBA hard court, and so for many Jordan fans, this was the last shoe they cared about. 

The Air Jordan 18 marked a new era for the Air Jordan line, as not only would this be the last sneaker Michael would wear on the hard court, but the designer baton would be passed over once more, this time to Tate Kuerbis. Released in 2003, the shoe was dressed in a stylish suede upper, influenced by the interior lining of a race car, and came with tools to keep it clean. This included a towel and a suede brush, very much buying into the sneaker culture of keeping your shoes looking good as new. 

The Air Jordan 19 was released in 2004, and with Jordan no longer being in the spotlight, the shoe did not receive the same kind of attention. It was however, still worn in the NBA, by Rip Hamilton and Michael Finley, but competition from LeBron James’ popular sneaker line caused the Air Jordan 19 to be forgotten by many. Designed again by Tate Kuerbis, the shoe featured Zoom Air and a Tech-Flex upper that wrapped around the shoe, covering the laces. 

The Air Jordan 20 released in 2005, to remember the two decades that had passed since the Air Jordan 1 had first released. Tinker Hatfield was brought back to work on the shoe, and it featured two straps, one just above the ankle, and another across the forefoot. Apparently 200 icons were printed into the upper, that was designed to serve as a reminder of Jordan’s achievements, and 69 dimples were put on the midsole, referencing Jordan’s 69 points he scored against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1990. 

The Air Jordan 21 saw a return to the luxurious style of the Air Jordan, again taking inspiration from the lining of a race car. Designed by D’Wayne Edwards, who has gone on to create Pensole academy, the shoe came in a tumbled leather upper, with grill shapes vents on the sides of the sneaker. It was worn by Richard Hamilton and Michael Finley, but also future Hall of Famer, Ray Allen. 

In 2007, the Air Jordan 22 was released, with the sneakers performance as its main focus. Coming with the first ever titanium shank plate, and a choice of a double stacked Zoom Air or an Encapsulated Air Unit, the sneaker was top of the range. Sadly, fans were not so keen on the shoes traditional looks, as by 2007, plastic’s and mesh’s were starting to become popular, instead of the leather or suede uppers that would feature on the Air Jordan’s. 

The Air Jordan 23 came out in 2008, and as 23 was Michael’s number for a large chunk of his career, it made sense that the shoe would pay homage to his previous achievements. Tinker Hatfield was called back once again to help, and the shoe featured DNA-inspired stitching, as well as Jordan’s thumbprint on the inside of the tongue. For many who still followed the Air Jordan line, this was the end of the classic Jordan’s, as after the 23, the shoes would be named after the year they were released for four years, before the brand decided to revert back to their numerical system, thanks to the strong backlash they received.