The Real Story Behind the Most Famous Air Jordans

Michael Jordan didn’t become a cultural icon just because of his feats on the basketball court. He also became a legend thanks to his footwear. Other players had marketing deals, but the combination of Nike and Jordan forever changed how the world thought of NBA players and their shoes.

The swoosh became iconic due to its connection with MJ. Every company involved with the NBA, including Nike itself, has chased the highs of Jordan’s commercials ever since. You may know about Air Jordans but do you know which pair is the most famous?

Air Jordans are more than just a pair of shoes 

The arrival of a new colorway of Air Jordans is often treated with a mix of reverence and fervor. Speak to enough NBA fans and you’ll notice that most of them have a personal favorite edition of Jordan shoes. 

MJ’s retirement couldn’t even lessen the excitement for the sneakers bearing his name. If anything, the demand has only risen since he became a full-time businessman. People camp out at stores, pay exorbitant prices and use bots on phone apps to grab a pair of J’s before anyone else can. 

Even offshoots from the Jordan brand make waves in the streetwear world. Jordan redesigns created by cultural tastemakers like the artist Travis Scott and fashion designer Virgil Abloh have become some of the most sought-after sneakers in the world.

A clean pair of Jordans can be a status symbol, a fashion statement and a piece of history all in one. Those silhouettes are legendary. This proves that good advertising can give footwear a sense of mythology. Nike did exactly this with “banned” Air Jordan 1 sneakers. 

The history of the “banned” Air Jordan 1s

Legend has it that this black and red edition of the Air Jordan 1’s cost Jordan $5,000 each time he wore them. Why? According to Complex, the NBA fined him for breaking the league’s uniform rules in 1984.

This rumor created a lot of buzz for Nike, who used it to craft a campaign playing off of the shoes’ rebellious nature. But here’s the thing: There is no photographic evidence of MJ wearing this colorway in an official NBA game.

Amateur sneakerheads have noticed instances where Jordan wore the Air Ship, a non-signature Nike model with similarities to the “banned” Jordans. Jordan, nor anyone at Nike, shows any interest in disputing this misinformation.

One confirmed instance where Jordan wore the shoes took place at the 1985 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Going head-to-head against fellow highflyer Dominique Wilkins, Jordan’s performance was so incredible that it left an indelible mark on those who saw it. Of course, Jordan’s look during the contest became more desirable as a result.

The birth of a shoe empire

Nike thought they had a modest hit when the Air Jordan 1s dropped. They projected sales of about 100,000 pairs. However, the company sold somewhere between three and four million pairs in the first year. This brought in over $55 million and became a generation’s idea of cool in the process. 

As retro sneakers came more into fashion at the beginning of the 21st century, the Jordan Brand decided to invoke the famous “banned” Air Jordan 1s in a number of forms.

The quality of these remixes wax and wane with each model. Puritan collectors derided the 2009 version for removing the Nike Air branding on the tongue. But the fact that Nike keeps making new versions of these Jordans speaks to the timeless appeal. Some models even fetch thousands of dollars in the resale market. 

Other shoes have become more popular in the last few years. But the “banned” Air Jordan 1s must be remembered for playing a seminal role in making basketball shoes so valuable to the culture.

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