In 1985, Nike, Michael Jordan and Peter Moore changed the sneaker industry forever with the introduction of the Air Jordan. Safe sneaker designs in predominantly white or black colorways were on the way out, as styles in bold team colors with custom logos became the new norm.
After the Air Jordan 2 failed to live up to the billing of the first, Jordan considered leaving Nike in 1988. However, a fairly new designer with a background in architecture by the name of Tinker Hatfield persuaded him to stick around with another game-changer — the Air Jordan 3. Jordan and Hatfield formed a bond beyond design and collaborated on the line’s most iconic designs. It’s moves like this that helped the brand generate buzz to keep our site focused on keeping up with Air Jordan release dates daily.
Now its own brand, Jordan is a multi-billion dollar business that controls majority of the basketball sneaker market. The vast retro line has allowed the brand to only strengthen its position with basketball’s most marketable star now wearing a suit and tie full-time. That’s no surprise to the people who line up every Saturday to buy the newest pair of Air Jordans, some being too young to have ever watched Jordan play a game live. There’s a nostalgia element in play, but the sneakers are also a modern fashion statement and have been since the beginning.
But which Air Jordans are the best of the best? We took it back to ’85 and selected the best Air Jordan release from every year until now. See which Air Jordans ruled each year below.
Shoe: Air Jordan 1 “Bred”
The one that started it all. In 1985 Nike introduced the Air Jordan, giving it bold colors the likes of which had never been seen on the NBA hardwood before. The Air Jordan 1, as it would later come to be called, came out of the gate with a ton of colorways, but this one remains the most memorable as Nike has latched on to it to spin the myth of the “Banned” Jordan 1.
Shoe: Air Jordan 1 KO “Chicago”
Even in the infancy of the Air Jordan line, Nike was already thinking up ways to spin off the shoes. The first takedown to ever arrive was the Air Jordan KO, which replaced the standard Air Jordan 1’s leather with a canvas build. The sneakers also used a different outsole, further separating them from the originals. The colors used were very much the same though, as evidenced by the “Chicago” one here.
Shoe: Air Jordan 2 White/Black
The second Air Jordan was a departure from the first one in a lot of ways. Rather than rely on standard Nike builds, the sneaker ditched everything, including the branding, and started from scratch. It also ditched the busy colorway program of the Jordan 1, and had just two colorways when it debuted. While both were pretty similar, this one with the extra black wins thanks to its spot in the 1987 Slam Dunk Contest.
Shoe: Air Jordan 3 “Black Cement”
The Air Jordan 3 began the Tinker Hatfield era of Jordan designs, which forever altered the course of MJ’s line. The “Black Cement” version has been celebrated as one of the most wearable Air Jordans of all time, and continues to be a hit with every bring back. Its present-day ubiquity is a testament to the combo of Tinker, Nike and Mike that would go on to dominate the game for decades.
Shoe: Air Jordan 4 “White Cement”
This Air Jordan 4 colorway picked up where the Air Jordan 3 left off in terms of patterns, introducing a cement speckling to the body of the shoe. The “White Cement” may not have been as present on-court for MJ as the other Bulls flavors, but the sneaker still stands out. Don’t forget about its cameo in the classic Spike Lee Joint Do the Right Thing.
Shoe: Air Jordan 5 “Grape”
Every Air Jordan, save for the 2, before this one had a blue colorway in its midst. The Air Jordan 5 managed to break the mold while creating one of the line’s most memorable colorways in the process. The Air Jordan 5 “Grape” played off the purple/teal palette of the Charlotte Hornets, taking advantage of the fervor around the young team’s look.
Shoe: Air Jordan 6 “Infrared”
In 1991, Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their first of three consecutive NBA championships. On his feet was the “Infrared” Air Jordan 6, which is iconic both on and off the court. Infrared has since become a staple as one of most popular accent colors in the world of sneakers.
Shoe: Air Jordan 7 “Olympic”
In the summer of 1992, the greatest basketball roster of all-time, the “Dream Team,” was assembled. En route to a gold medal at the Barcelona games, MJ laced up the “Olympic” edition of the Air Jordan 7. It donned a USA-themed colorway, complete with Jordan’s uniform number “9” on the back heel replacing the traditional number “23.”
Shoe: Air Jordan 8 “Aqua”
A departure from the usual colorways, the “Aqua” Air Jordan 8 was the only non-Bulls themed pair to release in 1993. Decked in black, aqua, and teal, and fastened with “bunny ear” cross-straps, the shoe was worn by Michael Jordan in the 1993 All-Star Game and is arguably the model’s most popular style.
Shoe: Air Jordan 10 “Steel”
While Michael Jordan continued to make a new career playing professional baseball, the Air Jordan line did not stop. Tinker Hatfield debuted the Air Jordan 10 in 1994, which Jordan would later go on to wear when he returned to the NBA in 1995. The “Steel” colorway was inspired by the Barons/White Sox colors and was the only pair released with the added leather toecap — something Jordan personally hated and requested to be removed.
Shoe: Air Jordan 11 “Concord”
Considered the greatest Air Jordan of all-time by many, the “Concord” Air Jordan 11 hit stores in the fall of 1995. Its sleek white upper and black patent leather detailing really made it stand out in both competitive and casual settings. “His Airness” was even fined for wearing them, as they did not meet the NBA’s footwear regulations at the time.
Shoe: Air Jordan 12 “Taxi”
Despite having to follow the ultra-popular Air Jordan 11, the Air Jordan 12 was well-received by Jordan enthusiasts. It’s predominantly styled in white and black, but the “Taxi” nickname is derived from the yellow accent hits on the pull-tab and outsole. Worn by Michael Jordan during the Bulls’ fifth championship season, the “Taxi” 12 may be best known for its appearance in the “Frozen Moment” commercial.
Shoe: Air Jordan 12 “Flu Game”
The “Flu Game” 12 was so significant that it would have been crowned “best of the year” for pretty much any year it would have released. There are few shoes in the entire line that carry as much on-court significance as the shoe MJ wore while battling the flu in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
Shoe: Air Jordan 13 “Bred”
Designed after Michael Jordan’s nickname, the “Black Cat,” the Air Jordan 13 is one of the most popular models in the line. Jordan laced up up the “Bred” colorway during the 1998 playoffs, leading up to his sixth and final NBA championship.
Shoe: Air Jordan 14 “Last Shot”
MJ’s actual last shot may have come in 2003 while playing for the Wizards in a pair of Air Jordan 18s. But say the words “last game” to any self respecting Jordan fan, and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about: MJ’s final shot as a Chicago Bull, which clinched his 6th and final NBA title.
Shoe: Air Jordan 11 Retro “Space Jam”
While the “Space Jam” colorway was one familiar to fans from the Space Jam movie, it didn’t actually release during the 11’s initial mid-90s run. The Space Jam 11s released for the first time in the year 2000, as a retro, and remain one of the most sought-after of all Air Jordan 11s.
Shoe: Air Jordan 11 Retro “Cool Grey”
Sneaker collectors tend to stick with original colorways when it comes to retro Air Jordans, but the “Cool Grey” 11 was able to break that trend. While not as highly coveted as some 11s, it was able to beat out strong retros like the “Black Cement” 3s based on the frenzy its release caused. The Niketown Chicago launch was documented on a program called Buy-ology that aired nationally on TLC.
Shoe: Air Jordan 17 “College Blue”
In recent times, retro Air Jordans have created far more buzz than the current game shoes. One of the last new models to create real conversation however was the Air Jordan 17. Not only was it packaged inside a metal briefcase, it retailed for the then-unheard-of-price of $200.
Shoe: Air Jordan 3 Retro “White Cement”
Jordan retros were ahead of their time in 1994, so 2003 marked the first time that the “White Cement” Air Jordan 3 was reintroduced to the retro-hungry market. The limited release went on to become one of the most sought after sneakers in the line until it was retroed again in 2011.
Shoe: Air Jordan 7 Retro “Olympic”
If the events that took place in Barcelona 12 years earlier weren’t enough of a reason to be excited about the first “Olympic” Air Jordan 7 retro, Fat Joe took the shoe’s popularity to new heights when he licked the sole of the original in a 2004 episode of MTV Cribs. He wasn’t lying when he said that they were fetching huge money on “the eBay,” so sneakerheads jumped at the opportunity to get a wearable pair for retail.
Shoe: Air Jordan 13 Retro “Altitude”
First spotted in the now-defunct Jordan Brand Magazine, the “Altitude” Air Jordan 13 was initially believed to be a Terrell Owens player exclusive. However, the shoe hit select Jordan accounts in limited quantities and sold out instantly.
Shoe: Air Jordan 6 & 11 Retro “Defining Moments”
The first and biggest Air Jordan pack to release, “Defining Moments” paired the Air Jordan 6 with the Air Jordan 11 in celebration of Michael Jordan’s first ever NBA championship and his first championship back from retirement. Both shoes, gold-accented versions of original colorways, were packaged in a two-tiered box with dog tags and a booklet for $295.
Shoe: Air Jordan 8 Retro “Aqua”
As finding original pairs in wearable condition became increasingly difficult, the “Aqua” Air Jordan 8 was re-released for the first time in 2007. The shoes weren’t particularly limited, but anticipation caused similar commotion.
Shoe: Air Jordan XX3 “Titanium”
The popularity of retros has eclipsed current game shoes since Michael Jordan retired, but the XX3 was able to recapture some of that energy. One of the reasons for that was a limited-edition release strategy, which saw colorways like “Titanium” released in extremely limited quantities at select locations worldwide. Only 1,058 pairs exist in this colorway.
Shoe: Air Jordan 11 Retro “Space Jam”
Understanding that Air Jordan 11 releases were a special part of its legacy, Jordan Brand began the tradition of an annual Christmas launch with the “Space Jam” colorway in 2009. Also separating the 11 from other retros, the shoes were packaged in a special pull-out box with a plastic cover and plastic shoe trees.
Shoe: Air Jordan 9 Retro Premio “Bin23″
Before the recent remastering campaign, Jordan Brand released a series of Air Jordans constructed with premium materials dubbed “Bin23.” The shoes, including this gold-accented Air Jordan 9, were packaged in a new box with dust bags and wooden shoe trees (They were still cheaper in price than a standard 2015 retro).
Shoe: Air Jordan 1 Retro High “Banned”
Though we’ve debunked the myth that this was the shoe originally banned by the NBA, the story was pushed by Jordan Brand for this unique 2011 release. The perfect storm of the return of Nike Air branding, high quality leather, banned detailing, OG-style packaging and an unprecedented outlet-exclusive launch made the “Banned” 1 one of the most unforgettable Jordan releases in recent memory.
Shoe: Air Jordan 11 Retro “Bred”
Despite just a 4-year break from the previous retro and the lack of a special box, “Bred” 11s had no problem flying off shelves again for the holiday season.
Shoe: Air Jordan 3 Retro ’88 “White Cement”
After sneakerheads clamored for the return of “Nike Air” branding for years, Jordan Brand obliged with the Air Jordan 3 ’88. Pegged to All-Star Weekend, the release was celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Michael Jordan’s performance in the 1988 Dunk Contest. It even released at the same exact time of day that Jordan hit his dunk.
Shoe: fragment x Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG
Using the existing “Black Toe” blocking, Hiroshi Fujiwara’s imprint introduced royal blue into the equation for an easy win. The shoe also marked the first in the brand’s efforts to remaster the way it does its retro sneakers.
Shoe: Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG “Chicago”
There’s still plenty of 2015 left, but there’s a good chance that the “Chicago” Air Jordan 1 will be in this spot at the end. It’s THE original Air Jordan and released with Nike Air tags for the first time in more than 20 years.
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