90s trends have been in full force in recent years, and the iconic Air Jordan is no exception. There has been a revival of Jordan Retro shoes and a rise in women taking part in the trend after years of being underserved by the sneaker industry.

What began as an endorsement deal with a rookie NBA player in 1985 has resulted in one of the most recognizable products in pop culture. In 2021, sales of the Air Jordan brand topped $4.7 billion.

The Air Jordan has continued to evolve, reinventing itself with each style released. Its success has spanned several decades. So what is the story behind these shoes?

Get comfortable. We are about to unpack the history behind this legendary sneaker. Whether you’re an Air Jordan collector or not, this story is fascinating!

The History of the Air Jordan

This story began in 1982 when a young Michael Jordan became an NCAA champion. Jordan caught the attention of the Chicago Bulls, who would later use their third overall draft pick on him.

By 1985, Jordan was still building a name for himself. But people were starting to take notice of his slam dunk action and the way he played basketball in the air.

Around this time, Nike created their first air soles for sneakers. The company drew an instant connection between Jordan’s airplay and its new shoe technology. They offered Jordan a 5-year endorsement deal for $2.5 million plus royalties.

It was an unprecedented deal. Jordan would also have significant access to Nike gear to convince him to sign with them over Adidas.

The NBA Ban

The NBA initially banned Nike Air Jordan shoes. The Air Jordan 1 High did not meet the NBA uniform standards.

There were strict rules regarding colors in shoes. The NBA wanted players to wear predominantly white shoes, to avoid taking away from players’ jerseys.

Even though he was early in his NBA career, Michael Jordan chose to wear the Nike Air Jordan 1 shoe anyway. He was fined $5000 a game, and many believe Nike paid the fines to benefit from the publicity.

Nike set their sights high. They hoped the Air Jordan campaign would draw $3 million in the first few years. But Air Jordans made over $126 million in the first year.

The Air Jordan 1

The Air Jordan 1 High was designed by Peter Moore. The shoes were released in 1985 and sold for $65.

Unlike later styles of Air Jordans, the Air Jordan 1 High had the Nike swoosh logo. The shoe predated the iconic Michael Jordan jump man logo that would follow.

The Air Jordan 1 High became an iconic sneaker. They have had a retro resurgence at various times and have gained popularity in recent years once again.

Nike’s retro shoes are known for their bold colors and high-top look. The Air Jordan 1 was also known for its Jordan Air wings logo, which Nike trademarked in 1985.

The Air Jordan 1 High shoe used durable leather. The leather toes had perforation to allow for ventilation.

The Air Jordan 2

Hot off the heels of the success of the Air Jordan 1, Nike released the Air Jordan 2 in 1986 for $100. The Air Jordan 2 was designed by Bruce Kilgore.

By that time, Air Jordan had become wildly popular. Nike knew American manufacturers would not be able to maintain the pace of sales, so the shoe was made in Italy.

Kilgore pulled from traditional Italian shoe leathers and techniques to design a shoe unlike any other American sneaker. The Air Jordan 2 became the first “luxury” shoe in basketball.

By pulling from the design of the Air Jordan 1 and the technology of the Air Jordan 2, Kilgore was able to create a prototype shoe for Michael Jordan to wear before the shoe was officially released. But he only wore the shoes for 18 games before he endured an injury and had to sit out.

The Air Jordan 3

In 1988, Nike released its first signature sneaker, the Air Jordan 3.

The Air Jordan 3 was designed by Tinker Hatfield and would sell for $100. Hatfield chose to work with Jordan to source the best leathers to support his game. Among those leathers was the elephant print overlay, which has continued to be used in Air Jordan designs over the years.

Hatfield would go on to design several Air Jordans, which you will see if you shop for Air Jordan 13s. But Air Jordan 3’s were the first Air Jordan sneakers to include the Nike air-sole. The air sole was visible under the heel of the shoe.

The shoe also included the iconic Jumpman logo—a silhouette of Jordan in a dunk position. The logo came from a popular poster of Jordan released in 1985.

The sleek design of the shoes also made them popular in pop culture. Spike Lee wore them in his classic film She’s Gotta Have It. Hatfield’s leather sourcing paid off. Jordan averaged 35 points a game and became MVP during his 4th straight All-Star Game.

The Air Jordan Legacy Continues

When Nike partnered up with Jordan in 1985, no one could have imagined what was to come. Now, almost 40 years later, sales of the shoes continue to soar.

To date, there are 37 styles of Air Jordan shoes. Thousands of avid fans around the world collect Air Jordans. The shoe has also solidified its place in pop culture.

Jordan himself has reportedly earned more than $1.3 billion from Nike endorsements. That’s not bad for a deal he signed in 1985!

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