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History of Air Jordan Retros with “Nike Air” Branding

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Jordan Brand’s impressive appetite-filling series of Retro releases over the last decade or so should have satiated even the hungriest of Air Jordan collectors and enthusiasts. Should have. The original Defining Moments Package of 2006, the Collezione in 2008, the Bin 23 Collection, the in-depth plot-driven Kilroy Pack – all of those and more gave us enough reason to perpetually shell out our savings to lace up in Jays, but one gaping hole continues to be left unfulfilled since 2001 – the appearance of the original Nike Air. It’s nothing more than a piece of molded plastic, but its absence was still a void that was eventually left ignored seeing that a return of Nike Air had less to do with production and more to do with brand identity (Jordan would branch out to form its own label, albeit under Nike, Inc.) – but the desire was still there. Even today, hardcore enthusiasts continue to shell out hundreds and hundreds of dollars to get their hands on Nike Air branded Jordan Retros from the 1999-2001 era – shoes that are on the cusp of complete physical breakdown.

Why is Nike Air so cherished? Because it’s the perfect embodiment of a Retro release. It’s the undeniable original form that we were graced with back in the late 1980s, so even the most well-done Air Jordan Retros – the Air Jordan VI ‘Infrared’ from the 2010 Pack release, the Air Jordan IV ‘Bred’ from 2008/2012, the Air Jordan V ‘Black/Metallic’ in 2007 to name a few – would be unable to achieve a 100% grade. The era from Air Jordan III to VI is considered by many to be the most lustrous period of the Air Jordan Golden Era (or when Tinker was the architect), and it just happens to be the same span that utilized the large Nike Air logo on the heel.

A quick side-note: The Air Jordan 1 and even the Air Jordan II shouldn’t be ignored either as both featured ‘Nike’ as well, but they aren’t exactly part of the exclusive III-VI fraternity. Without a large Nike Air branding and with someone other than Tinker behind the wheel, the two earliest chapters of the Air Jordan legacy are seen on a different regard.

Yesterday, Jordan Brand filled that twelve-year long gap by releasing the Air Jordan III Retro ’88. Like the original, these featured Nike Air on the heel as well as the inner lining, but the outsole was labeled with JORDAN rather than Nike Air – that detail alone would’ve made the MSRP more than it already was. Even at the elevated $200 MSRP, which to this date is the highest MSRP ever for a single Air Jordan Retro release (more than the Premio, but less than the single-pair Pack style releases like the 2006 Thunder/Lightning, the Levi’s Pack, etc.), droves of consumers swarmed their computers for the online-only release. The interesting detail of yesterday’s release was that it wasn’t a completely random or out-of-place occurence, but a calculated retelling of a memorable moment in Jordan’s career and sports history as a whole – the 1988 Dunk Contest. Twenty-five years ago, Michael took off from the free-throw line in acrobatic fashion and froze in mid-air to create an iconic piece of sports imagery that speaks volumes on motivation and human ability.

So with Jordan Brand using events in Jordan’s career to bring back original Air Jordans, will we see more Nike Air in the future? Perhaps the Air Jordan VI ‘Infrared’ to commemorate the first NBA Title? The Air Jordan IV ‘Bred’ as a throwback to ‘The Shot’? What we do know is that whatever wall was between the Retro and the original branding has been broken down to some degree, so enjoy this chronological review of every Air Jordan Retro to feature Nike Air and let us know what you think this signifies for future Retro releases.

Air Jordan III – 1994

Air Jordan III
White/Cement Grey
130203-101
$105
1994

Purchase HERE

In 1994, with Michael Jordan firmly retired, Nike made the decision to re-issue the original Air Jordan models that had been created in the past in an effort to continue Michael’s awe-inspiring legacy. Alongside the Air Jordan 1, Nike brought back the Air Jordan III in the White/Cement colorway in its original form.

Air Jordan III – 1994

Air Jordan III
Black/Cement Grey
130203-001
$105
1994

Purchase HERE

Alongside the original White/Cement colorway, Nike also released the Black/Cement version as well – also in its original form with Nike Air on the heel, outsole, and insole.

Air Jordan IV – 1999

Air Jordan IV
White/Black-Cement Grey
136013-101
1999
$100

Purchase HERE

Michael eventually returned to the NBA and won three more Championships in the process. After his second retirement, Nike returned to the Retro and re-issued the Air Jordan IV in the original White/Cement colorway. The ’99 Retro release is considered to be a “grail” for some, which is why the 2012 Retro release was such a hotly anticipated item.

Air Jordan IV – 1999

Air Jordan IV
Black/Cement Grey
136013-001
1999
$100

Purchase HERE

The Black/Cement Grey, aka “Bred”, was also brought back, just like how it was released in 1989. Nike Air on the heel, outsole, insole, and even the hangtags! The Bred IV would re-release in 2008 as part of the Countdown Pack and in 2012 as a Retro release. Nike also released some new colorways of the Air Jordan IV, beginning the “Retro+” era of non-original colorways. The “Oreo” also released in 1999, followed by the “Chrome” in 2000 – both featuring the Jumpman logo.

Air Jordan V – 2000

Air Jordan V
White/Black-Fire Red
136027-101
01/05/00
$120

Purchase HERE

The Air Jordan V was the next original model to be re-released. Nike chose the OG White/Black-Fire Red with the large Nike Air embroidery on the heel and NIKE debossing on the outsole of the sneaker. The “Fire Red” would return to stores in 2008 in the Countdown saga and again in January of 2013.

Air Jordan V – 2000

Air Jordan V
Black/Black-Metallic Silver
136027-001
03/15/00
$120

Purchase HERE

The Black/Metallic V was also a 2000 Retro release that featured Nike Air. This Retro would come back in 2007 and 2011 – both with ’23’ stitching on the heel. In 2000, Nike released two Retro+ colorways of “Laney” and “White/Metallic Silver”, but both featured a Jumpman logo on the heel.

Air Jordan VI – 2000

Air Jordan VI
Black/Deep Infrared
136038-061
08/23/00
$120

Purchase HERE

In 2000, three different Air Jordan VI colorways were made available in stores. The original Black/Infrared – the shoe that Jordan wore while winning his first NBA Title – as well as the White/Midnight Navy and ‘Olympic’ were the ones to hit shelves, but only the Infrared featured Nike Air. The Black/Infrared would be the only Air Jordan VI Retro to feature Nike Air on the heel.

Air Jordan III – 2001

Air Jordan III
Black/Cement Grey
136061-001
07/2001
$100

Purchase HERE

In 2001, the Air Jordan III made another return. The Black/Cement was joined by the original True Blue colorway, but for some reason, only the Black/Cement version featured Nike Air. The True Blue, despite being an original colorway, featured the Jumpman logo (as did the new Mocha colorway).

Air Jordan III – 2013

Air Jordan III ’88 Retro
White/Fire Red-Cement Grey-Black
580775-160
02/06/13
$200

Purchase HERE

Twelve years later, Nike Air returned to the Air Jordan Retro. For the White/Cements alone, it’s been nineteen years since Nike Air existed. Despite the heightened MSRP of $200 – nearly double that of the last MSRP – the Air Jordan III Retro ’88 sold out instantly during the online release.