26 Jun 2018
Life & Culture

Nike Air Jordan: An Icon That Defines Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

The rumor goes that Nike wouldn’t have survived without its historical contract with Michael Jordan. We’ll never find out whether that’s true, but let’s just be grateful that it stays with a hoax. A world without Nike, without the iconic Air Jordan brand seems like a rather uninteresting place to live. No label had such an influence on the global sneaker industry as Nike. If it wasn’t for Michael Jordan, Peter Moore, Bruce Kilgore and Tinker Hatfield, there’d a large chance we’d all be wearing plain, airless sneakers right now.

An icon has landed

While the beginning of the eighties was still defined by its predecessor, the second half was a fruitful time in the footwear industry. Two of the most iconic sneakers were launched during this decade: the Air Max 1 in ’87 and obviously the Air Jordan, three years earlier. In a time where everyone was wearing white high-top sneakers or classic Converse, the red and black Air Jordan’s literally came as a breath of fresh air.

Jordan was at the very beginning of his career when Nike offered him to collaborate. Anno 2018 there are countless brands, designers, sportsmen and artists who join forces, but 33 years ago it was rather exceptional. Naturally, there were commercial sponsorships but no basketball player ever had a sneaker named after him. It was a risk for Nike since Jordan hadn’t yet proven himself in the NBA and also the basketball rookie of the year had his doubts. Little did they know that their agreement would change the history of footwear, sportswear and youth culture in general.

By the end of 1984, the Nike Air Jordan 1 was a fact. Not the model itself, but rather the colorway made a difference. Michael Jordan appeared on the basketball court with his Chicago Bulls outfit and matching sneakers in black and red. The traditional minded NBA quickly decided that this type of unorthodox footwear didn’t belong in the game. Unintentionally, they created an even bigger hype. Kids would literally attack for a pair of Air Jordans.

Nike Air Jordan Michael Jordan
Nike Air Jordan 1

Nike Air Jordan 1

The story continues

Because of AJ 1’s great success, the AJ 2 was released two years later. Created by the same designers, but with a different approach. While the first Air Jordan mostly stood out because of its colors, this stood out because of its new style. No swoosh, faux lizard skin, sleek lines and made in Italy.

After two editions, Michael Jordan was ready to leave the Nike brand. That’s where sneaker genius Tinker Hatfield made his entrance. He created the AJ 3, distinguishable by the new Jumpman logo, a visible air unit and elephant print. This new design convinced Michael Jordan to stay with Nike. It was also the beginning of a long-lasting partnership. Tinker Hatfield would design most of the Air Jordan sneakers, from 3 to 15, 20, 23, 2010, 2011, 2012, 28, 29 and 30 to be precise and we probably forgot a few. If there’s one man who put his mark on the sneaker industry the past decades, it’s most definitely Hatfield. Not bad for a man who was initially hired to design one of the Nike campuses.

Nike Air Jordan

Air Jordan Legacy 312 NRG by Don C

Nike Air Jordan Kevin Couliau

Photo by Kevin Couliau & AJ 4

‘Unbanned: The Legend of AJ 1’

On the 13th of July, the long-awaited documentary about the AJ 1 will be officially released in the US. Unbanned, the legend of AJ 1 tells the story of how the partnership between Nike and Michael Jordan became a reality. As we already mentioned in the intro, little did they realize that they started a revolution that would reach far beyond the footwear business. Throughout interviews with Michael Jordan himself, Peter Moore, Tinker Hatfield, Spike Lee, DJ Khaled and more, director Dexton Deboree tells the story of how a “simple sneaker” turned into an icon.

Nike Air Jordan Off White

AJ 1 x Off-white

The New Heroes

The Air Jordan brand is a gift that keeps on giving. Even though Michael Jordan’s NBA career ended in 2003, his legacy persists in history books and the Nike label named after him. Nowadays, Air Jordan gives the opportunity to a younger generation to show their vision on the iconic sneaker. Artists, basketball players and designers such as Virgil Abloh, Don C, Russel Westbrook, Travis Scott and Billie Eilish all put their stamp on a pair of Jordans and managed to create a hype of their own. Who thought AJ 1 would become a one-hit wonder in 1984? Stay focussed because this story is far from over.

Photo credits: Nike & Ruth Van Soom for ENFNTS TERRIBLES

Nike Air Jordan Billie Eilish Russel Westbrook Don C

The New Heroes: Billie Eilish, Russel Westbrook & Don C

Nike Air Jordan

AJ 1, Cactus Jack by Travis Scott & AJ 1 x Off-white

Nike Air Jordan Westbrook 3.0

Westbrook 3.0 by Russel Westbrook

Nike Air Jordan

AJ 1 & photo by Kevin Couliau

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