Air Jordans have revolutionized the way the world sees and consumes sneakers, bringing together sports and fashion lovers alike. Besides holding a rich history, they have also heavily influenced sneaker culture even up till today. Every sneakerhead probably has a go-to Air Jordan colorway, a silhouette they are absolutely obsessed with, or a collab they just have to get their hands on. Ox Street brings our readers the “Air Jordan Sneaker Guide 101” where we talk about the different silhouettes and rank them, whether you are a beginner who wishes to know more about these legendary kicks or a seasoned collector who just wants to revisit some of the models that might have been forgotten about by many, we’ve got you covered.
It comes as no surprise that the Air Jordan 1 tops our list because there is really no sneaker like it. Available in the high, mid, and low iterations, this silhouette is an absolute classic that has never failed since it first debuted in 1985 and revolutionized sneaker history forever. The sneakers were further made (in)famous by Michael Jordan when he was fined $5,000 for violating the uniform policy every game when he wore a “certain red and black NIKE basketball shoes” and Nike paid the bill. The Air Jordan 1 ‘Banned/Bred’ as well as the ‘Chicago’ one of the most famous and coveted colorways. However, the true story behind this has been constantly debated in the sneaker community up till today. Nonetheless, check out our list of must-cop AJ1s releases 2021 as we look forward to another year with AJ1 releases on our watchlist.
The Air Jordan 3 is everyone’s favorite silhouette for those who prefer something bulkier. The first Jordan design by Tinker Hatfield has proven to be people’s choice time and time again, and is now an icon in pop culture as the first Jordan to feature the Jumpman logo. With its exposed air bubble design and self-lacing system, the sneaker was born at the cusp of retro going modern as seen in its futuristic yet chunkier design.Some noteworthy Air Jordan 3s you would recognize immediately are the ‘Black Cement’ and ‘White Cement’ originally released in 1988 with the signature ‘Elephant’ print.
As the first Jordans to get a global release, the Air Jordan 4 is yet another milestone in sneaker history. An upgrade from the 3s, the AJ4s is created from Hatfield’s experimentations with mesh and molded plastics as well as the first time nubuck leather was used on basketball shoes. The results? It was definitely a hit. Since then, this silhouette has seen several high profile collaborations like the OFF-WHITE x Air Jordan 4 ‘Sail’ and Travis Scott x Air Jordan 4 ‘Cactus Jack’.
The Air Jordan 11 combines great style and elite performance into one, with this pair of high kicks. They were also the first pair of sneakers that bore MJ’s jersey number 45 on it. The Air Jordan 11 ‘Bred’ made waves in a blend of glossy patent leather and mesh when it first debuted in 1995 in the eye-catch colorway. The Air Jordan 11 ‘Concord’ however, takes it to another level with a black and white colorway that looks like a tuxedo. He was also fined for wearing this colorway before switching to the Air Jordan 11 ‘Space Jam’ that was approved by the NBA.
The first Air Jordan to release under the Jordan Brand name instead of Nike, it was also the first without the Air bubble and no Swoosh branding at all. It marked a new era of Air Jordans, and for MJ himself as he earned his second ring with the Chicago Bulls and set his eyes on the Barcelona Olympics that year. Of course he donned the Air Jordan 7 ‘Olympic’ specially made for him in 1992 as he played alongside the rest of “The Dream Team”.
Trying to match up to the Air Jordan 11 with the model after it was no easy feat, but Hatfield managed to do so with the Air Jordan 12 by making some changes like switching the patent leather to a subtle textured leather instead and bringing the fan like panels to the next level with quilted panels that extends down to the midsoles. Performance-wise, the AJ12s comes out top of many lists as the most durable on-court pair of Jordans ever.
The Air Jordan 5 carries over some hit elements of the Air Jordan 4 like the plastic mesh on the quarter and the use of nubuck leather with smooth leather. But it carries a bulkier build with lines inspired by WWII-era fighter planes that give it a nice military-style look. Will Smith further brought these kicks to fame by wearing a pair of Air Jordan 5 ‘Grape’ throughout the first season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which resulted in the Air Jordan 5 ‘Bel-Air’ release that celebrates the 90s sitcom and his love for the silhouette.
As the pair that comes after the legendary Air Jordan 1 and before the well-loved Air Jordan 3, the Air Jordan 2 finds itself highly underrated despite being an important part of sneaker history as well. It paved the way for sportswear and high fashion to come together by minimizing Nike branding as seen in it being the first pair to remove the Swoosh.
Tinker Hatfield was reportedly inspired by Jordan’s Porsche 911 when he designed the Air Jordan 6, but how the sleek luxury car translated into a blend of different materials and a bulkier build is a mystery. Nonetheless, it is still the pair that MJ laced up and got his first ring, and also the first to introduce new technologies like neoprene sleeve lining and two-hole pull on the tongue to make it easier to put on.
MJ fans will almost remember the iconic pair of black Air Jordan 14 that was inspired by Ferrari when was the winning jumper in the 1998 NBA Finals. These legendary sneakers were rereleased again in 2018 for fans who had to get their hands on it, in the form of the Air Jordan 14 Retro 'Last Shot', retaining original elements like bleack leather uppers, red Jumpman detailing on the heel and tongue, and of course the yellow and black Ferrari-style medallion on the midfoot.
The Air Jordan 8 has not has any rereleases since 1993 compared to its other cousins, which also makes it seem like a breath of fresh air every time it does. Notable Air Jordan 13s are the Air Jordan 13 ‘Bugs Bunny’ inspired by one of America’s favorite cartoon characters, the Air Jordan 13 ‘Playoff’ and its white iteration inspired by the Chicago Bulls the Air Jordan 13 ‘Alternate’.
The very last pair that Jordan wore to close his career in Washington, D.C. this interesting pair indicates Jordan’s love for cars featuring a driving shoe heel and a shape like that of loafers that make the Air Jordan 18 good for casual wear as well.
The Air Jordan 9 and Air Jordan 10 were, unfortunately, both a victim of poor timing as it was released while Jordan was trying out a brief stint with professional baseball. They were intended as a tribute to Jordan’s basketball career with a cumulation of his career highlights but that was quickly overshadowed by the 11s that released after he returned to the court.
The first Jordans that were part of MJ’s Wizards era, the Air Jordan 17 was hailed as a technically advanced performance shoe, featuring Jordan’s first Blow-Molded Air system, a full-length composite shank plate, and TPU heel stabilizer. However it had mixed reviews with its then-unheard-of retail price of $200. Yet it was still popular amongst some fans for its clean look and even came in a Jumpman branded metal briefcase, complete with a CD-ROM back then.
Launched in 2004, the Air Jordan 19 again pushes boundaries on sneakerwear design with a distinctive patterned cover on top of the laces which is actually a Tech Flex braided sleeve. This feature is made all the more distinctive in its ‘Flint Grey’ OG colorway inspired by a venomous African snake.
Modeled after MJ’s passion for golf, we have the Air Jordan 23. With the number 23 as Jordan’s jersey number, it was a notable release that fans were looking forward to. To pay homage to that we see personal details like Jordan’s thumbprint embossed on the heel, his signature etched on the toe, and patterns around the shoe inspired by his DNA.
Introduced in 2013, the Air Jordan 28 was unveiled by the new face of the Jordan branch then Russell Westbrook. Over the years they have been released in several whacky prints and bold colors for this mid-calf design.
The Air Jordan with holes in it - the Air Jordan 2010. A bold choice with completely see-through circular windows on the sides, they were released in celebration of Air Jordan’s 25th anniversary.
The Air Jordan 20 is known for a floating ankle strap and featured the debut of IPS cushioning technology. It also sports laser-etched prints on the ankle and midfoot straps.
The Air Jordan 15 has one of the weirdest silhouettes with a seemingly bizarre mix of gothic theme meets sportswear, that was in fact inspired by the X-15 fighter jet. Nonetheless, it might have some fans despite its strange but interesting shape and construction like pop singer Billie Eilish resulting in the Billie Eilish x Wmns Air Jordan 15 Retro.
The first Air Jordans came with removable spats, inspired by a classic footwear accessory for outdoor wear used back in the 40s, were the Air Jordan 16. Yet another weird one, at least it is functional but doesn’t seem to be popular as well.
After 30 years of sneakers, the Jordan brand decided to look back at the Air Jordan 1 and give a modern spin to it resulting in the Air Jordan 31 and brought back the Swoosh another time, of course in a familiar colorway.
Getting the same treatment as the Air Jordan 31, the Air Jordan 32 and 33 both pay homage to its predecessors the Air Jordan 2 and Air Jordan 3 by giving them an upgrade but still grounded within some of the design essentials. Whether it was successful is up for debate.
The Air Jordan 34 seems to have done better than its predecessors, boasting an innovative design. However, not many were a fan of the hole in the midsole of the shoes. Yet, I have to say it looks pretty sick in the ‘Chicago’ colorway.
While it is the lightest Air Jordan ever due to its entirely woven uppers, the print graphics on the woven material just did not work. The result was not as sleek as Jordans should be and was disappointing such that even prints attributed to the iconic ‘Elephant’ could not save it.
Another design that was forgotten as fans were looking forward to the Air Jordan 23 attributed with MJ’s jersey number. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with its simple construction but it was criticized for being plain as well, perhaps with more efforts by designers to go into the AJ23s.
The Air Jordan 21 takes inspiration from MJ’s love for racing, as it was modeled after sports cars, shoes, or helmets. However, they seemed more built for racing than basketball shoes. The Air Jordan 2009 makes the same mistake but draws its design elements from fencing instead. Probably not anyone’s go-to Jordans.
This pair seems to focus more on performance than aesthetics, as while it was not a stunner many could not deny its performance on court. However its modern design seems to be a bit of an upgrade from its previous year’s iteration.
The Air Jordan 30 was supposed to mark an epic milestone as the third X in the lineup of Jordans and Tinker Hatfield had purposely not hint at any retro style but opted for the galaxy as the inspiration for his designs, a nod to MJ’s otherworldly talents. However the result was nothing really epic and almost forgettable unfortunately.
The Air Jordan 2012 was meant to draw from some of basketball’s ancestors, meaning different elements from some of the greatest kicks of all time. However, the result was a strange collage and was definitely not a fan of the strange side panel that seems to be stitched on oddly.
We have seen that classics remain popular for a reason, that continue to awe and inspire us today. However the Jordan brand has pulled some surprises over the years as well with newer models, but they can’t all be a hit. We have also seen some older models that are extremely underrated and almost forgotten, but do still have a certain charm to them as well.