Although Michael Jordan wore a pair of Air Jordans himself as an NBA rookie in 1984, the first iteration of the shoes were not produced for the public until the following year. Until Jordan’s line of shoes revolutionized the sneaker world, the shoe companies and the NBA uniform code had been controlling the types of shoes on the court. With the controversy surrounding the original Air Jordan came the popularity that would push the shoes to become part of their own brand; a subsidiary of Nike known as the Jordan Brand. Each year since 1985, the shoes have become reinvented, including the addition of the “Jumpman” logo that is nearly synonymous with the brand itself.
Air Jordan I
Designed by Peter Moore in 1985, the first version of the Air Jordan brought fame to both the rookie from North Carolina and the basketball branch of the Nike company. The shoe was overwhelmingly conventional in its general appearance. The shape and pattern of the sole were not much of a departure from most the basketball shoes that were already on the market; however, it was the striking red and black coloring that garnered most of the attention for the shoe. Each time that Michael Jordan played basketball in the shoes named for him, NBA commissioner David Stern fined the new player $5,000 for violating the league’s uniform code that required all team members to dress in the same colors. Nike supported Jordan, paying each of his fines and creating an entire ad campaign around the banned nature of the shoe.
Air Jordan II
After the success of the banned Air Jordan 1, Nike released the Air Jordan II in 1986. Also designed by Peter Moore with assistance from Bruce Kilgore, this shoe was made in Italy and was significantly different than the first model. Retailing for nearly twice the price of the Air Jordan 1, this new shoe was lightweight with textured iguana-print leather on the sides. For the very first time, Nike removed its trademark swoosh from the Air Jordan II, boldly believing that the shoe’s design would be enough for buyers to recognize it. This shoe demonstrated the power of the Air Jordan line, ensuring the next 20 years of shoe releases.
Air Jordan III
As the first design by architect-turned-shoe-designer Tinker Hatfield, the Air Jordan III began to more fully incorporate Michael Jordan’s personality into the shoe. Jordan himself almost left Nike all together, but the design of this mid-cut shoe with visible air in the sole drew him back to the company and his shoe. The Air Jordan III featured elephant-print trim and the very first use of the Jumpman logo, a silhouette of Jordan himself flying toward an invisible basket.
Air Jordan IV
Released in 1989, the Air Jordan IV was the first shoe in the line to be marketed globally. Michael Jordan wore these shoes when he made “The Shot” for the Chicago Bulls, thereby winning Game 5 of the first round of the NBA playoffs. Also designed by Tinker Hatfield, the Air Jordan IV was constructed from nubuck and featured lightweight mesh windows, making this one of the best-performing and one of the lightest of the Air Jordans.
Air Jordan V
Tinker Hatfield reworked his design with the Air Jordan V, which was inspired by a World War II fighter plane. An asymmetrical ankle collar provided extra support in this sleeker design, while “teeth” were added to the midsole and the Jumpman logo became reflective material on the tongue of the shoe. For the very first time, consumers could buy pairs of the Air Jordan V with the number 23 embroidered on the back of the heel, a feature previously reserved for Jordan himself.
Air Jordan VI
Widely known as the easiest Air Jordan to put on, the sixth version of the show saw Tinker Hatfield replacing the side mesh panels of the previous designs with perforations and small circular holes for breathability. Michael Jordan himself requested the clean toe without reinforcement. Jordan won his first NBA championship in these shoes, providing more than enough advertisement for the design.
Air Jordan VII
During the time that he was designing the Jordans, Tinker Hatfield also worked on the Huarache concept, which combined the look of sandals with the needs of basketball shoes and cross-trainers. The Air Jordan VII included some of the Huarache style, losing the visible air and moving the Jumpman logo to the outer ankle instead of the tongue. The tongues of the shoes were inspired by African art, which was also carried over to the outsoles. Jordan wore these shoes during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as part of the Team USA Dream Team.
Air Jordan VIII
Because of the increased amount of detail and crossover straps, the Air Jordan VIII was noticeably heavier. A heavily-padded ankle collar and circular Jumpman tongue led to the nickname of “The Punisher” for this Tinker Hatfield design that might have contributed to Jordan’s foot problems that year despite the shoe advancements meant to provide more comfort.
Air Jordan IX
Released in 1993, the Air Jordan IX became the first model of the shoe line designed before Michael Jordan’s announcement but released after his official retirement from basketball. The clean style of lacing and the heeltab made this model of the shoe much easier to put on than the Air Jordan VIII and a much more comfortable game shoe. In response to the domination of the Dream Team at the Olympics, the outsoles of this Tinker Hatfield shoe were covered in messages in a variety of languages.
Air Jordan X
Michael Jordan was still in retirement, but he was heavily involved in the design of the Air Jordan X with Tinker Hatfield, demanding the return to the clean toe of the more recent versions of the shoe. Additionally, the Air Jordan X featured a lightweight phylon midsole for the first time, and the outsole listed several of Jordan’s biggest accomplishments until his early retirement.
-Guest contribution from Brandon Serna with Complex. Check out the Complex Sneakers Air Jordan Feature for more information.