When Michael Jordan burst onto the basketball scene in the early 1980s, the world didn’t know it, but a legend would be born on the court of the Chicago Bulls. After making a name for himself at the University of North Carolina playing for the Tar Heels, MJ quickly became one of the hottest names in US sports. Eventually signing for the Bulls in 1984, Jordan picked up a failing team and brought them directly into the limelight. The rest, as they say, is history.
Equally as impactful both on and off the court, the legacy of Air Jordans have played an important part in sneaker culture for over 35 years. Quite simply put, if Michael Jordan had never played basketball, footwear would look very different. Although His Airness may have stopped playing basketball almost 20 years ago, the importance of his sneaker line has not been affected. From special edition Jordans to brand new Jordan silhouettes, the hype is as big now as it was back then.
Although this is a tough task, we’re taking a closer look at 10 of the best OG Air Jordan silhouettes. For this list, we’ll be looking at the 10 best pairs of Jordans worn by Michael Jordan during his career. As you can imagine, this was a pretty tough task. So, without further delay, let’s take a closer look at some of the top OG Air Jordans of all time.
Disclaimer: this list is in no particular order. We’re not even going to try and rank these classics!
Air Jordan 1 “Chicago” (1985)
After finishing his time at the University of North Carolina, Michael Jordan was quickly drafted by the Chicago Bulls for the 1985 season. His dominance throughout his college basketball career was unparalleled, so when he joined the struggling Bulls, it was his chance to shine. Of course, brands all over the world were keen to get Jordan’s signature. In fact, Jordan himself wrote to adidas asking for them to make him signature shoes, but they declined. Thankfully, it was Nike that launched his first-ever signature shoe.
The Air Jordan 1, designed by Peter Moore, sparked an entire line of sneakers. Featuring the familiar colours of the Chicago Bulls, the leather sneaker was perfect for Jordan’s rookie season. White, red and black leather all graced the sneaker, with a large Swoosh running down both sides. The addition of the iconic Wings logo was a reference to His Airness, featuring “Air Jordan” above a winged basketball. Drawn on the back of a napkin, the Wings logo is now one of the most recognisable features on an Air Jordan 1.
In terms of importance in the sneaker world, few come close to the Air Jordan 1. From Off-White™ collaborations to historic Air Dior partnerships, the AJ1 is without a doubt one of the sneaker world’s most important shoes. Whilst the Jordan 1 may not have been Jordan’s personal favourite, the silhouette is one of the most popular Jordan shoes amongst the community. With more colourways landing every year, that’s not going to change any time soon.
Air Jordan 11 “Bred” (1996)
When Michael Jordan announced that he was retiring from basketball, the sports world was shocked. It may have only been for a year or so, but after the iconic “I’m back” press release, Jordan was about to go big. Although it would take a year and a half for the Bulls to win another championship, Jordan’s absence from the game had done him no harm. In 1996, the Chicago Bulls would win its fourth NBA Championship, kicking off the start of a second threepeat. Jordan was well and truly back from his brief baseball career.
On Jordan’s feet were the Air Jordan 11, another of Hatfield’s iconic designs. The sneaker itself was unlike anything else that the athletic footwear world had seen. Opting for a flashier approach, the all-black base was accented by patent leather on the upper. A white midsole and red outsole finished the Bred 11s off, making them one of the most desired sneakers on the planet. Although MJ may have worn the Concords for most of the 1996 season, the Bred 11s were what he won a ring in.
The Air Jordan 11 has remained a cultural icon for the best part of 25 years. As the sneaker celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, we’re sure that we’ll see more of this classic Jordan.
Air Jordan 3 “White Cement” (1988)
After breaking his ankle in his second season, Michael Jordan was itching to get back to the court. Having been on the sidelines for so long, and after having so many issues with Nike on his designs, it was a tense time. Jordan was close to leaving Nike for Reebok after being unhappy with his first signature sneakers. In fact, he had already agreed in principle a deal with Reebok, with his family telling him to move away from Nike altogether. Thankfully, a newly appointed designer by the name of Tinker Hatfield managed to keep Michael Jordan at Nike.
Featuring a crisp white tumbled leather upper, the Air Jordan 3 saved Michael Jordan’s relationship with Nike. Cement print across the mudguard and heel gave the shoe added edge, with minimal branding on the shoe. Only the heel tab featured “Nike Air” and a large Jumpman logo on the tongue was a reference to Jordan’s first photo in the AJ1. It was a success and Jordan agreed to stay with Nike for the foreseeable future.
When Jordan broke the Air Jordan 3 out on the court and dunked from the free-throw line during the Chicago All-Star Weekend, he made history. The sneaker helped Jordan to assert his dominance on the court for ASW, winning the Dunk Contest and All-Star Game MVP. Hatfield had saved Jordan’s Nike career and, in turn, bagged himself the lead designer job for the Air Jordan line. Whilst Jordan never won a title in the AJ3, he certainly started a sneaker revolution in them.
Air Jordan 4 “Bred” (1989)
Following on from the Air Jordan 3 was always going to be a difficult job. After Tinker Hatfield bagged himself the lead design role at Jordan Brand, he was allowed to put his crazy designs into action. Thankfully, Hatfield didn’t miss his opportunity. In 1988, Hatfield began working on what would become the Air Jordan 4. Much like its predecessor, the Air Jordan 4 was another groundbreaking silhouette that perfectly represented Michael Jordan both on and off the court.
The Air Jordan 4 “Bred” is without a doubt one of the best Air Jordans of all time. Hatfield’s clever combination of black nubuck, breathable mesh and distinctive colour blocking meant that the Bred AJ4 was always going to be a hit. A visible air unit in the heel, as well as a “Jordan Flight” tongue tag, meant that these were extremely distinctive. “Nike Air” on the heel tabs rounded off this iconic Air Jordan model, making it one of the best pairs in MJs arsenal.
Air Jordan 6 “Black Infrared” (1991)
The black and red Jordan shoes had become a trademark for Michael, taking inspiration from the darker side of the Bulls jerseys in the late 80s and 90s. The Air Jordan 1, Air Jordan 3, Air Jordan 4 and Air Jordan 5 had all been given the Bred treatment. However, it wasn’t until 1991 that they would eventually win a championship. It would take Michael Jordan nearly six years to win his first NBA title. After trying and failing so many times, the Bulls could simply not get it right.
After coming up against the might Los Angeles Lakers, the Bulls, and Jordan knew that things would not be easy. Captained by Magic Johnson, the Lakers had created one of the most successful dynasties in basketball. The Bulls would go on to win the series 41-1, bringing the NBA championship to Chicago for the first time. Of course, the sneakers that Jordan wore were immortalised, dubbed the Air Jordan 6 “Rings”. This sneaker would start a wonderful winning streak for the Bulls and earn Jordan the first of six rings.
From a career perspective, the Air Jordan 6 is the shoe that MJ wore when winning his first championship. Whilst it may not be as hyped as other popular Jordan shoes, there’s no denying the historic importance of the AJ6. For that reason alone, these are one of the best Air Jordans out there.
Air Jordan 1 “Bred” (1985)
When it comes to Air Jordans, few have as big a story as the Air Jordan 1 “Bred”. Back in the mid-1980s, the NBA was pretty set on its rules and before Michael Jordan was rocking the Air Jordan 1, he was a big fan of the Nike Air Ship. However, the Nike Air Ship did not adhere to the NBA’s 51% rule. The 51% rule states that 51% of a player’s shoes must match the uniform of his team, which the “Banned” Nike Air Ship did not, meaning Jordan would be fined $5,000 every time he wore them.
Nike took this and ran with it, putting out a marketing campaign in its history: “On October 15, Nike created a revolutionary new basketball shoe,” the advert stated. “On October 18, the NBA threw them out of the game. Fortunately, the NBA can’t stop you from wearing them. Air Jordans. From Nike.”
History proves that these are one of the best Air Jordans from a commercial and cultural standpoint. Nike sold out its first-ever Air Jordan in the US in a matter of minutes. Retailing for a fairly expensive $65, Nike predicted that it would only sell 100,000 pairs. In fact, it would go on to sell 3-4 million pairs, topping $55 million in sales in May 1985. The Air Jordan 1 was so popular that it had a waiting list way before its official release date of July 1st, making it one of the most sought after products in Nike’s history.
Air Jordan 12 “Flu Game” (1997)
There are few sneakers more iconic than the Air Jordan 12 “Flu Game.” Throughout all of MJ’s career, he had rarely missed games. For the 1997 finals against the Utah Jazz, things had taken a turn. Now, the story differs on who you hear it from, but here are the facts. According to Jordan’s personal trainer, Tim Grover, he had contracted food poisoning from a pizza the night before.
“So we order a pizza, they come to deliver it, five guys come to deliver this pizza. And I’m just … I take the pizza, and I tell them, I said, ‘I got a bad feeling about this.’ I said, ‘I just got a bad feeling about this.’ Out of everybody in the room, he was the only one that ate. Nobody else. Then at 2 o’clock in the morning, I get a call to my room. I come to the room, he’s curled up, he’s curled up in the fetal position. We’re looking at him. We’re finding the team physician at that time. And immediately I said, ‘It’s food poisoning.’ Guaranteed. Not the flu” Grover told ESPN.
Game five of the NBA finals saw a broken Michael Jordan put it all on the line for the game he loved. He was visibly sick, dehydrated and often short of breath. Though he may have started poorly in the first quarter, he would go on to lead the Bulls to victory. In Chicago’s 90-88 win, Jordan recorded an amazing 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block. His points also included a 3-pointer with less than a minute left that led the Bulls to victory. Without question, these are one of the best Air Jordans out there.
Air Jordan 11 “Concord” (1996)
There’s no doubt that these are one of the best Air Jordans of all time. After the iconic “I’m back” press release, basketball fans were thrilled to see the return of Michael Jordan to the Chicago Bulls. Many questioned how Michael Jordan would adapt upon his return in 1995. Nick Anderson of Orlando Magic commented how “it didn’t look like the old Michael Jordan…number 45 doesn’t explode like number 23 used to” after he faced him. In the following game, Jordan dropped 38 points and changed his number to 23.
What makes the Air Jordan 11 “Concord” such an iconic sneaker is that it is so different from the previous signature models worn by MJ. A combination of white mesh and the contrasting black patent was far from any previous Jordan sneaker. Tinker Hatfield’s design was not something even attempted by other sneaker brands. It is for this reason that the shoe became such a resounding success. Originally released in 1996, the sneaker has since retroed a number of times, but the OG will always be the greatest.
Air Jordan 1 “Black Toe” (1985)
The final colourway of the Chicago Bulls inspired trio of Air Jordan 1s was the “Black Toe”. Whilst it may not have been as popular as the “Bred” or “Chicago”, the “Black Toe” holds a special place in the heart of many sneakerheads. During Michael Jordan’s rookie season with the Bulls, the shoe was on heavy rotation with a young MJ. Whilst it may not have been his favourite of the three colourways, the “Black Toe” is one of the most important sneakers in the Air Jordan line purely because it was worn in the now iconic Jumpman ad.
Taking elements from both the “Chicago” and “Bred”, the “Black Toe” was an amalgamation of three. White leather uppers were accented with a “Black Toe” to create a perfect balance between all three colours. The premium materials used, as well as the clever colour combination, meant that the “Black Toe” was always going to be a winner. Over the years, the OG “Black Toe” style colour blocking has been applied to a number of sneakers and continues to be a smash hit to this day. Thankfully, there are no signs that this will be changing any time soon.
That concludes our list of the 10 best Air Jordans worn by Michael Jordan! Although MJ may have retired nearly two decades ago, his legacy in sneakers carries on. As we’ve already seen from this year, there’s simply no stopping Jordan Brand, with numerous high profile releases already happening in the first part of the year. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.