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OHSU’s Finest: Ranking the Doernbecher Jordans

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We’re currently three days out until this year’s crop of Doernbecher Freestyle Nike silhouettes arrive. Of course, the annual Jordan retro is at the forefront as the most coveted of the OHSU Doernbecher charitable creations, and this year the Air Jordan 8 was selected. It all started with the introduction of the Air Jordan 2 back in 2007; that shoe surprised many as the peacock-esque swirling paint job and synthetic snakeskin was far and by the most vibrant nontraditional colorway atop a Jordan retro at the time. Jordan Brand made it clear from the beginning that the charitable contributions weren’t just for show, as it promised to donate 100% of profits to the hospital.

But how do the past Jumpman models rank in comparison? 8 models later and the Doernbecher Freestyle Collection is still going strong, giving patients at Doernbecher Children’s hospital the freedom of self-expression to share their stories, passions, and hobbies in shoe form while on their road to recovery. From the gold monogram atop a red base in the memorable Air Jordan 3 DB, to the Superman inspired Air Jordan 4, there’s plenty of history to catch up on as we rank our favorite Doernbecher x Jordan creations over the course of the past 8 years. Are you excited about this year’s Doernbecher Freestyle x Air Jordan retro offering? Be sure to get a full rundown of where it ranks after the click and head to our Jordan Release Date Page for a full look at the remaining Holiday Jumpman drops.

The Air Jordan 8 Doernbecher releases this Sunday, November 23rd for $180.

9. Air Jordan 10 Doernbecher – 2013

2013 brought us two Air Jordan Doernbecher releases – one of them being the Air Jordan 10 Doernbecher designed by Daniel Pena. While Daniel has a love for the game of basketball, the majority of this shoe was inspired by his BMX riding, honored by a unique tire tread pattern arriving down the middle of the shoe. The DB release was notable for the use of glossy camouflage print throughout in an homage to the creator’s video game obsession, while the translucent sole was an official first for the model as a whole. The X was a prominent fixture in MJ’s comeback and quite possibly could be the silhouette that created the ‘Player Exclusive’ as the City Series doled out to a brand new crop of Jordan Athletes featured their respective numbers on the ankle. With that in mind, Jordan Brand modified Daniel’s ‘DP’ initials and gave him his own PE so to speak.

Why: The Air Jordan 5 Doernbecher, which released months earlier, was a tough act to follow. That said, Pena’s design was undeniably overshadowed by the earlier version as well as the OG varieties like the “Steel” and the long-awaited return of the “Powder Blue”.

8. Air Jordan 8 Doernbecher – 2014

Caden Lampert’s Guillain-Barre syndrome never sidelined him from his eclectic passions, whether it be magic, music, or basketball. Trying to fit in the growing interests atop a single shoe can prove difficult, but this Air Jordan 8 makes it work thanks to a hidden glow in the dark speckle that features the boy’s fingerprints. The cartoon snake tongue patch is by far the most leeway Jordan Brand’s given in terms of personal logos this side of the Superman patch on the Air Jordan 4 Doernbecher. Often times, a Doernbecher retro can feature an added experimentation that continues on after the release (think the translucent outsoles and synthetic snakeskin). Will we be seeing iridescent midsoles as the next reasonable step?

Why: We’ll have to wait and see how this pair is received after this weekend’s release to further gauge its impact in the Jordan Doernbecher lineage. We like the fact that the shoe branches out to utilize a vibrant upper when the Air Jordan 8 is often left to sport a white or black base, but the galactic motif on a basketball sneaker always brings back fonder memories of the 2012 “Galaxy” collection for that year’s All-Star game.

7. Air Jordan 1 Doernbecher – 2008

The Air Jordan 2 might have kicked things off for the Doernbecher Jordans, but the brand returned to its roots the following year when they hit up Tony Taylor Jr. to design the original Air Jordan 1. The shoe pulled off an all-over gradient print years before there was ever a mention of the 4LAB1s, while patent leather added a nice reflective touch underneath the printed palm trees and contrast yellow stitching. Tony even had his likeness stitched on the tongue in a look that mirrored Nigo’s take on Pharrell Williams with the words ‘I’m Fresh’ stitched underneath. Fresh indeed.

Why: Tony Taylor’s Air Jordan 1 opened up the boundless creative license kids have when working on Doernbecher Jordans today. Wings and palm trees, a gradient, an N.E.R.D. like character on the tongue? There as so much going on here that the intricate details were often easy to skip over. The pair could’ve ranked higher, but given how trendy the Air Jordan 1 is these days and maybe a bit too much on the yellow contrast stitching, we felt there were five more Jordan Doernbechers that sparked more excitement. Still, Taylor expressed the true meaning of Freestyle by treating the shoe like a blank canvas.

6. Air Jordan 9 Doernbecher – 2012

The Air Jordan 9 Doernbecher lands at number 6 Oswaldo Jimenzes showcased his taste thanks to a premium metallic gold accent throughout that hit the lower half of the sneaker in a what print. In a year that was dominated by the Air Jordan 9 thanks to the ambitious Kilroy Pack, this pair still managed to stand out. This is the first time we can recall a shoe with the callout of “Little Chicken” not being held against it though, as the tongue-stitched ‘Pollito’ was a nod at Oswaldo’s nickname.

Why: The fact that JB opened the floodgates with numerous Air Jordan 9s throughout that year might have actually worked against this release. There was plenty to write home about in regards to the Kilroy Pack; the premium gold aesthetic, the reflective upper, and translucent sole gave these a creative aesthetic that we expect when it comes to a Doernbecher release.

5. Air Jordan 2 Doernbecher – 2007

The first ever Air Jordan retro to be given the Doernbecher treatment was the seldom seen Air Jordan 2, done by Sheridan Brenton all the way back in 2007. At the time, rarely did Jordan Brand seek anyone outside their own design team to help produce a colorway dealing with their retro line, so to be included in this manner was a huge move for the Doernbecher Freestyle campaign. This peacock inspired take on the second ever Jordan signature definitely reached well beyond anything we’d ever seen atop a Jumpman model. With bountiful shades of green arriving in swirling patterns on the ankle collar and toe, snakeskin arrived well-before the texture became as popular as it is right now. They disappeared from store shelves almost as quickly as they did from people’s collective memory, as we rarely see anybody showcasing a pair belonging to the limited run today.

Why: The Air Jordan 2 rarely gets its due. We like the fact that the shoe went on to inspire the Nike Air Python SPs, but in general, the Air Jordan 2 never had the head-turning quality like the models that are listed after this one. The hypnotizing array of Peacock swirls was an interesting selection and people were more than surprised to see such an original take on the silhouette. This shoe could’ve been higher thanks to the historic nature given that this was the first ever Doernbecher Jordan, but the next four were too popular and or well-received to pass on.

4. Air Jordan 4 Doernbecher – 2011

There were times on the basketball court that Michael Jordan did things that were seemingly super-human. So what better way to honor the equally strong efforts of 11-year old Isaiah Scott’s recovery at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital than through an Air Jordan 4 featuring Superman’s signature ‘S’ stitched onto the tongue? Sure, there was a rather kryptonite-esque volt color arriving on the midsole, laces, and branding because the sneaker was initially inspired by Nate Robinson’s 2009 Dunk Contest win, but the fact that a super hero as iconic as Superman actually passed through trademark approval is impressive. The callout to Clark Kent’s other identity had to do with Isaiah being strong as steel during his recovery process as well, while the faint arrows on the black upper pointed to the numerous directions life can take you. One of the most playful takes on a Doernbecher retro, Isaiah even got the Mars Blackmon PE treatment on the heel.

Why: The Superman branding proved just how unpredictable and surprising Doernbecher creations are. The double meaning behind the logo – on how Isaiah was both tough as steel during his recovery process and was a big fan of Nate Robinson’s ‘Kryptonate’ character – was validation enough to use the ‘S’ while the rest of the sneaker fit right in with everyone’s volt obsession at the time. But in the end, the number’s don’t lie; the DB4s command the most money out of any other.

3. Air Jordan 6 Doernbecher – 2009

Blue suede Jordans. Designed by 12 year old Jordan Dark, the Air Jordan 6 Doernbecher utilized some of the more premium constructions in all of the Doernbecher Freestyle Collection’s 11 year history. The eye will initially catch the dark navy blue suede, but there’s also a couple of call outs atop the upper, from Jordan’s chemo dates printed subtly, to the faint gold accents lining the shoe. It’s hard to believe that this pair could still be found sitting on select store shelves weeks after releasing (they were at 21 Mercer after the release), but it also serves as a reminder at just how different the retro landscape was for Jordan Brand only a few years ago. That being said, if it wasn’t for this important installation in the Jordan x Doernbecher Freestyle lineage, the following might not be as strong as it is today.

Why: Premium materials, rich colors, faint pinstripes. Everything meshed really well atop one of the best Air Jordan signature silhouettes. The shoe didn’t over play the hand of metallic gold, limiting its use as it peeked out through the lining, and would’ve been a great colorway even outside the Doernbecher collaborative title.

2. Air Jordan 5 Doernbecher – 2013

The Air Jordan 5 Doernbecher was a heart wrenching addition to the Doernbecher Freestyle Collection as the shoe’s creator Isaac Arzate tragically lost his life to a heart attack before the sneaker ever made its way to store shelves. To honor Doernbecher Children Hospital’s fallen comrade, the shoe struck everyone by surprise with perhaps the most premium detailing to date in a look that his family helped Nike complete after his passing. With his basketball jersey’s number 9 and number 31 for his time spent on the baseball diamond stitched in a PE aesthetic, the shoe featured a hidden all over print from a poem Isaac wrote a day before he died, the words lighting up under a UV light. A special flashlight was even included in the packaging).

Why: Backing up Arzate’s story was a massively successful design of the AJV. The UV-light was a first, and the ominous Black Ice aesthetic ushered in a luxurious take on the model. We got a break from the loud colors usually seen in DB creations, and we were more than grateful for the subtle, unique take.

1. Air Jordan 3 Doernbecher – 2010

The only Doernbecher release to get the retro treatment, and for good reason. 2010’s Air Jordan 3 Doernbecher was a notable sneaker even outside the realm of DB collaborations. You could say that the shoe got a boost since it started with the Air Jordan 3 as a blueprint, but Cole Johanson knocked this colorway out of the park. The shoe featured a translucent outsole for the first time. The subtle laser etching might just have been the start of Jordan Brand’s fractal obsession, as a monogram cleverly nodded at Cole in a pristine metallic gold. An elephant print chose not to draw too much attention to itself as it blended into the Varsity Red base. When you think of Doernbecher Jordan retros, this is the pair that comes to mind. Now can we get another retro to celebrate the 15th Anniversary in a few years?

Why: The shoe floored people when it first released, and then when Jordan Brand surprised people with a re-release in 2013, the Air Jordan 3 DB disappeared as quickly as the first time around. The Toro motif carried well over to other models, we love the fact that elephant print isn’t the signature calling card of this Air Jordan 3 and the relevance of that translucent outsole on the Air Jordan 3 was something that we looked forward to again with last year’s Lab Series release. Simple and refined with just the right touches of gold, we couldn’t justify not putting Cole’s creation as the number 1 Doernbecher Jordan of all time, and overall, we have no qualms at putting an AJ3 at this top spot.