From the moment it was released, the Air Jordan changed sneakers forever. It’s like the album from Drake (who coincidentally happens to have an endorsement deal with Jordan), Nothing Was The Same. Sure, a couple other basketball players had signature shoes before Jordan, but those deals were just about slapping someone’s name on a shoe. In the case of Jordan and Nike (and eventually the Jordan Brand) it has always been a balanced equation between athlete and brand where each brought something unique to the table and fed off of each other in a kind of virtuous circle.
Before the Air Jordan, basketball shoes were mostly just white with maybe a colored stripe on the side. Before the Air Jordan, basketball shoes didn’t change much from year to year. Before the Air Jordan, consumers didn’t wait in lines to pick up the latest pair.
All you have to do to witness the enduring power of the shoes, is to go to any sneaker store on any Saturday and you’ll find kids, many of whom weren’t even born when Jordan played his final NBA game thirsting over the latest Air Jordan release.
AIR JORDAN 1: BRED
Because of the Chicago Bulls colors, black and red (which sneakerheads have since shortened to “Bred”) were always popular colors for the Air Jordan. While there have probably been more colorways of the Air Jordan 1 than any other model, it’s hard not to go with the original, which looks as good today as when it launched in 1985.
AIR JORDAN 2: JUST DON “BEACH”
The Air Jordan 2 was originally crafted out of fine Italian leather when it first released in 1987. It never received a ton of love from the sneaker community until Kanye West compatriot Don C. collaborated on a pair. This sand colored “Beach” colorway which dropped earlier this year, taps into the AJ2’s luxury history with quilted leather and suede on the upper. The look is so fresh and so clean.
AIR JORDAN 3: BLACK CEMENT
The elephant skin print that debuted on the heel and toe of the Air Jordan 3 went on to become synonymous with Jordan. These shoes look as good beat up as they do fresh out of the box and have a place on the Air Jordan Mount Rushmore alongside the 1, 4, 5, and 11.
AIR JORDAN 4: THUNDER
At the risk of sounding like Wiz Khalifa, “Black and yellow, black and yellow, black and yellow.” Part of a Thunder and Lightning pack (the Lightning pair had a mostly white upper), the tour yellow color was inspired by the Tour de France and provided the perfect contrast to the black upper.
AIR JORDAN 5: SUPREME BLACK
When it was revealed that Supreme was going to be collaborating with Jordan on a version of the 5, the internet lost its mind. And the shoes lived up to the hype. I was going to include the original black and fire red combo, but the aspects that Supreme brought with its logo under the mesh and “94” on the heel were combined with OG details like the reflective tongue were too hard to resist.
AIR JORDAN 6: DEFINING MOMENTS
Before Drake was using black and gold color schemes on his Jordan collaborations, the brand deployed the colors to great effect on these 6s in 2006. The sneakers were sold together with a pair of Air Jordan 11s in a Defining Moments pack that remains one of the best two-sneaker combos ever.
AIR JORDAN 7: HARE
Before Jordan suited up with the Toon Squad in Space Jam, he played alongside Bugs Bunny in the 1992 commercial for the Air Jordan 7. While Michael himself wore the “Bordeaux” colorway, Bugs suited up in these. The colorful pattern on the tongue is nicely balanced by the minimal white and silver which make up the majority of the upper.
AIR JORDAN 8: CHROME
As the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Kings have shown, it doesn’t get much more badass than black and silver. The Air Jordan 8 has always been a rugged shoe at home on the outdoor blacktop court, and the monochromatic colorway on the “Chrome” reflects that grittiness.
AIR JORDAN 9: JOHNNY KILROY
When Jordan retired for the first time to play baseball, Nike released a hilarious commercial for the Air Jordan 9 that featured Steve Martin as a conspiracy theorist who suspected that Jordan had faked his retirement and was masquerading as a player named Johnny Kilroy. This colorway commemorates that alter ego with Kilroy’s number 4 on the heel and his name on the tongue.
AIR JORDAN 10: DOUBLE NICKEL
Another classic, Bulls-inspired colorway, these 10s are what Jordan wore when he returned to the Bulls in 1995 and promptly proceeded to drop 55 on the New York Knicks (hence the “double nickel” nickname). What really sets these apart is the “45” around the ankle, a reference to the jersey number Jordan wore after he came out of retirement.
AIR JORDAN 11: COOL GREY
The 11 is one of the shoes that every Air Jordan fan loves, and it has seen many iconic colorways. Picking just one isn’t easy, but the “Cool Grey” gets the nod for its ability to make a typically boring color really interesting. The shiny grey patent leather that wrapped the bottom of the shoe paired well with the paler grey nylon on the upper and the clear outsoles were the icing on the cake.
AIR JORDAN 12: GAMMA BLUE
Air Jordans have always worked well when a black upper is set off with a pop of bright color. It’s the case with the “Tour Yellow” 4’s and it’s the case with these 12’s. You wouldn’t think that a shade of blue that seems concocted in an energy drink test lab would work on a sneaker, but in the case of the “Gamma Blue” on the 12 it does.
AIR JORDAN 13: WHEAT
Another example of less being more, the “Wheat” Air Jordan 13 utilized brown accents around the heel and midsole while keeping everything else a clean white. The 13 is said to have been inspired by big cats with the hologram by the ankle designed to look like a cat’s eye and the circles on the upper mimicking whiskers.
AIR JORDAN 14: FERRARI
Michael Jordan has always had a love of fast cars and one of his Ferraris served as the design inspiration behind the Air Jordan 14. So it’s only right that the connection between the sneaker and the Italian auto manufacturer be cemented with the iconic red and yellow. The carbon fiber styling around the midsole ties the whole supercar theme together.
AIR JORDAN 15: COLUMBIA BLUE
I’ll be honest, in my opinion, the 15 is one of the ugliest Air Jordans ever. The best thing you can say about this white and columbia blue colorway of the 15 is that you almost don’t notice it’s there.
AIR JORDAN 16: GINGER
Much like real humans, the teenage years for the Air Jordan were kind of awkward. The 16 featured a weird gaiter that wrapped around the shoe. On the ginger version, though, it had the positive effect of making the basketball sneakers look like a pair of Timberland boots.
AIR JORDAN 17: BLACK/CHROME
Covering up the shoelaces was a big thing for Air Jordan designers around this time. The main reason I selected the black and chrome colorway of the 17 is that it did nothing to make an already ugly shoe any uglier. The shoes did come in a briefcase though which was cool.
AIR JORDAN 18: BLACK/ROYAL
Another Air Jordan model that drew inspiration from sports cars (this time it was a Lamborghini), the black and royal blue on this version of the 18 managed to be both stealth and colorful. Carrying over the blue to the lining of the shoe is a great touch, as is the carbon fiber detail around the heel.
AIR JORDAN 19: WEST COAST
The 19 is when the Air Jordan started to get out of its late teen funk. Part of an East Coast/West Coast release, these sneakers made a strong case for the west side being the best side. The black patent leather at the toe wa reminiscent of the Air Jordan 11 and the way that it carried into the mesh lace cover created a stark and modern look.
AIR JORDAN 20: WHITE/RED
These sneakers required multiple levels of Velcro fastening to actually put on, but the look was unlike anything that had been done in sneakers before. Laser-etching was big around this time in 2005 and the way it was utilized on this white and red version really allowed you to see the different symbols that were included on the midfoot strap.
AIR JORDAN 21: RED SUEDE
People like to credit Kanye West’s “Red October” Yeezy 2 sneakers with kicking off the red sneaker craze, but Jordan had been doing it well before. This red suede version of the 21 is another one that makes you think of sports cars. Is it the most original? Perhaps not. But it definitely still works.
AIR JORDAN 22: BASKETBALL LEATHER
This is one of those concepts that either ends up cheesy or awesome. Fortunately, in the case of the 22 it ended up the latter. The pebbled leather familiar to anyone who’s dribbled the rock was used on the upper of this sneaker, which was inspired by a fighter jet. The result is a shoe that looks much more refined than your typical basketball sneaker.
AIR JORDAN 23: TITANIUM
Throughout the history of the Air Jordan, the blue from Jordan’s alma mater UNC has been deployed. For the version of his signature sneaker that coincided with Jordan’s jersey number, it was again used in the intricate stitching on the sides. The personal details on this shoe, such as the outsole designed to look like Jordan’s thumbprint, were remarkable.
AIR JORDAN 2009: HALL OF FAME
While the Air Jordan 2009 (the brand shifted to naming the sneakers after years for a period following the 23) isn’t one of the most memorable models, it does stand out because it was released the year that Jordan was inducted into the Hall of Fame. To mark the occasion, these black sneakers feature memorable stats from Jordan’s career subtly woven into the upper.
AIR JORDAN 2010: SILVER ANNIVERSARY
To commemorate the Air Jordan turning 25 years old, this version of the Air Jordan 2010 had a metallic silver upper that added the right amount of bling to a shoe that Dwyane Wade wore in the All-Star Game.
AIR JORDAN 2011: YEAR OF THE RABBIT
This Air Jordan and the shoe’s namesake were both born in the Year of the Rabbit. The sneaker in 2011, the man in 1963. The Jordan brand created this colorway to celebrate the Chinese New Year with a rabbit-inspired grey leather and red and gold accents. All the colors work together really well to form a sneaker that is more than the sum of its parts.
AIR JORDAN 2012: WOLF GREY
The fluorescent yellow “Volt” color is now well established in Nike products, but it was relatively new when the Air Jordan 2012 came out. The bold hue on the interchangeable inner booties of the sneaker offered the ideal contrast to the more muted grey on the outer shell.
AIR JORDAN 28: ELEPHANT
As the Air Jordan returned to its sequential naming conventions, it did so with a high top that was really high. The AJ28 had a shroud around the outside that zipped up to the middle of a wearer’s calf. That provided a lot of surface area for some really bold prints. Seeing this much of the renowned elephant skin on an Air Jordan was something to behold.
AIR JORDAN 29: INFRARED
Nike’s Infrared color, which more like a really red orange, has been used on Air Jordans in the past, most notably as an accent color on the AJ6. But seeing it utilized so boldly in the 29 was very cool, especially with the more subtle elephant print around the midsole.
AIR JORDAN 30: UNIVERSITY BLUE
We haven’t seen many colorways of the newest Air Jordan model yet since it just came out. But the University Blue looks great on the shoe, especially around the toe, where it provides a sky-like backdrop for the Jumpman logo.