Aah, Nike Air Jordans, are the most iconic shoe of all time. Yes, there are several other popular basketball shoes on the market, but none have garnered the same cult following as the GOAT’s shoe.
Since the shoe’s inception, 35 editions have been released, to date. With that many shoes and the value they hold, the brand is ripe for ranking. Which is why you’re here.
Keep reading to find out the best Air Jordans of all time.
Brief History of Air Jordans: The Most Iconic Shoe
Before we get into the top 10 Air Jordans, let’s take a look at the history of this iconic shoe.
During the 1984 NBA draft, Michael Jordan joined the Chicago Bulls. While he was still considered a rookie, he quickly became a fan favorite thanks to his incredible skill and talent. Within his first year, Jordan appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, under the title “A Star is Born.”
His fast rise to stardom didn’t go unnoticed by big brands seeking someone to endorse. Jordan refused deals from Converse and Adidas, accepting Nike’s offer instead.
This offer included an up-front “commitment” fee of $250 000, along with $500 000 a year. Nike also promised him his very own sneaker line, designed by Peter Moore.
A year later, the very first Air Jordans made their court debut, worn by Michael Jordan himself. The Air Jordan 1s donned the famous Air Jordans Wings logo. As a fun side fact, Moore came up with this design during a flight, using a napkin and a pen.
Oddly enough, Jordan didn’t like the design at first. He believed the sneakers were clunky and clown-like. But they grew on him. Part of their allure was how close they made Jordan feel to the court.
The NBA banned the original Air Jordan, as they violated the league’s policy on uniforms and colors. Jordan wore his shoe anyway, and with Nike never turning down a marketing opportunity, paid the $5 000 per-game fine.
Once Jordan was seen wearing his shoes, everyone wanted a pair. And when they were finally released to the public, the shoe sold out quickly. This despite them costing $65 – which made them the most expensive basketball shoe on the market.
Despite the many variations, Air Jordans remain in high demand, even today.
The Best Air Jordans: Top 10
To this date, there are 36 editions of Air Jordans, with the 37th on its way. Each edition has its own variations, limited sub-editions, and collaborations.
Each new type of Air Jordans comes with its own tweaks and silhouettes. Throughout the shoe’s history, Jordan and popular designers worked hand-in-hand to develop what many consider to be the GOAT of basketball sneakers.
So here is our list of the top 10 Air Jordan (AJ) shoes:
- Air Jordan VII (7)
The Air Jordan 7 was designed by Tinker Hatfield and released in 1992. The original price of these shoes was $125.
Hatfield designed the majority of Air Jordan shoes, creating well over two dozen signature shoes for His Airness – another nickname for Jordan, the leaping legend.
While the AJ 7 was popular, it didn’t garner as much popularity as its predecessors, or successors. It did away with the visible Air-Sole and the translucent outsole. The AJ 7 also didn’t have a prominent Nike Air logo, one of the first steps to making Jordan a stand-alone brand, under the Nike umbrella.
The design had bold lines across the midsole, drawing major inspiration from West African tribal art. This shoe also had Nike’s Huarache technology, making it one of the lightest basketball shoes at the time.
A “Dream Team” Team USA color scheme was released later in the year, to pay homage to USA’s Olympic basketball team. Jordan wore this pair during the games, where he won two gold medals. Because of this, the shoe is also known as the Air Jordan Olympic.
On a social scale, some people hated the design, while others loved it. Some things are a hit and miss.
- Air Jordan X (10)
The Air Jordan 10s were the ultimate homage shoe. It is released in 1994, the shoe served as a tribute to the decade-long partnership between Nike and Jordan.
It also commemorated his retirement from the NBA (well, his first one), paying homage to his years in the NBA. The soles feature a list of his career highlights.
While the AJ 10s were meant to be special, their grandeur didn’t last very long. Especially when Jordan returned to the NBA in 1994. He wore the shoes a couple of times before donning a prototype of the next-gen Air Jordans.
- Air Jordan XIII (13)
Number three on our list are the Air Jordan 13s. They were designed by Tinker Hatfield, who took inspiration from Jordan’s predatory cat-like style on the court. Their design elements do indeed look like a panther – the outsole has a paw-like design, and the hologram on the upper looks like the eye of a panther.
These design elements were perfect, as one of Jordan’s nicknames is “Black Cat.”
Introduced in 1997, the AJ 13s remains one of the most popular Jordans ever. There are a few colorways; either white-based or black-based.
- Air Jordan XII (12)
Remember when we mentioned that Air Jordan was working its way to becoming a stand-alone brand? Well, the AJ 12 was the first shoe released under the separate Air Jordan banner.
This Hatfield design signified a new beginning, drawing heavy inspiration from the Japanese flag. The upper featured quilted bursts, resembling a rising sun. The shoe also paid tribute to Jordan’s perseverance and quality on the court. The pull tab along the heel featured the words “Quality Inspired by The Greatest Player Ever.”
Which was proven, again, during the famous “Flue Game.” Despite being incredibly and visibly ill, Jordan played like he always did, scoring 38 points.
The AJ 23s came in several colorways, including a Black-Red which Jordan wore during the “Flu Game.” Many collectors label the AJ 12 as the “Flu Game XII.”
The AJ 12 was re-released in 2003, all in additional color options.
- Air Jordan V (5)
In true Hatfield style, the AJ 5 was a testament to Jordan’s aggressive play style. Taking inspiration from American WW2 fighter planes, the outer midsole featured a shark tooth design.
Released in 1990, the AJ 5s also featured translucent soles, which would become a staple in future Air Jordans. They also featured the Jumpman logo on the tongue and an ankle collar.
They were first seen on the court in the Grape Purple/Emerald colorway, which made as much a statement as Jordan’s biting play style.
The AJ 5 holds a special place in most people’s hearts because they were prominently worn by Will Smith’s character in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Many argue that they are the best-looking Air Jordans.
- Air Jordan VI (6)
The AJ 6s were released in 1991 and were yet another tribute she designed by Hatfield. If you look carefully, the leather overlays reveal the numbers 2 and 3 – to honor Jordan’s Chicago Bulls number: 23.
That’s not all though. The design supposedly draws inspiration from Jordan’s Porsche 911. Its sleek design features a clean toe cap, the translucent “Icey” sole, and an inner body sleeve for ultimate comfort.
A first on Air Jordans, that would carry over into future shoes, were the two grip holes on the tongue. This made it extremely easy to pull on the shoes.
- Air Jordan III (3)
We’re going to rewind a bit, to 1988 and the release of the Air Jordan 3. This was the first shoe designed by Tinker Hatfield, setting the standard for Air Jordans to come. The AJ 3 turned Air Jordans from just basketball shoes into a street-style must-have.
It was also the very first Air Jordan to feature the famous Jumpman logo. It also featured elephant print panels and black and white uppers. The AJ 3 topped the beauty of the AJ 1 (which we’ll get into later) with its futuristic design. Many argue that the AJ 3 is the vanguard of sneaker design.
- Air Jordan XI (11)
In 1995, Jordan was the biggest basketball star, and Hatfield designed a shoe that encapsulated it. Taking cues from Jordan’s desire to have a shoe that he could wear with a suit, the AJ 11 was sleek and smart. It was also the very first basketball shoe to feature patent leather.
While the style was key in this shoe, so was its tech. Hatfield designed a shoe that would better suit Jordan’s play style, eliminating his foot roll.
When Jordan wore them in the movie Space Jam, they became even more coveted.
- Air Jordan IV (4)
The AJ 11 wasn’t the first Air Jordan to appear in a movie. That title goes to the fourth Air Jordan, which appeared in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
Following the release of the AJ 3s, Hatfield set out to make a more comfortable Air Jordan. The AJ 4s were much lighter, and in honor of how Jordan flew across the court, they incorporated the word Flight underneath the Jumpman logo.
Continuing with this thinking, the AJ 4 also had a new lacing system called “wings.” All in all, the AJ 4 built on the success of the threes and continued to set the Hatfield standard.
- Air Jordan I (1)
And last, but definitely not least, is the Air Jordan 1. You can list the best Air Jordans of all time, without mentioning the shoe that started it all. It was the shoe that sparked the modern-day sneaker culture, and Jordan’s sneaker cult following.
Designed by Peter Moore, the first Air Jordan was the only one to feature Nike’s Swoosh logo. With it being the first, it also didn’t have the Jumpman logo. Instead, it had the OG “Wings” logo, which was discussed earlier.
They remain the most popular Air Jordan on the market, having sold out almost instantly during its rerelease in 2015.
The Air Jordan 1 Mid is amongst the most popular of the AJ 1 varieties. Luckily, they’re readily available.
The Best Air Jordans
While there have been several more Air Jordans, these “classics” remain some of the most coveted of the brand. Many collectors still deem the Air Jordan 1s as the holy grail of sneakers.
Whether you’re a dedicated collector, or a simple sneaker lover, the Air Jordans, no matter the edition, remain some of the best shoes of all time.
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