You wouldn’t be reading a sneaker site if this shoe didn’t exist. That’s a bold statement, and there’s no way to actually prove that it’s true, but think about it and you’ll have to agree: the sneaker world would be a very different place without the Air Jordan 1. After all, it began the Air Jordan line, the most popular series of sneakers in the world and the reason many enter the sneaker collecting culture in the first place. Of course, people collected sneakers before the Air Jordan 1 came out in 1985, and would have continued to even if it never released. But would the shoe industry—from the amount of models released, to the countless sneaker shops, to the plethora of sneaker blogs, and everything in between—be as big as we know it today? Almost certainly not.
The Air Jordan 1 is plain and simply the most important model of our entire sneaker culture. In every practical sense, the kickstart to the sneaker industry began when the stars of Michael Jordan and Nike aligned in 1984, birthing the legendary shoe. From the many original releases in 1985-86 to the virtually uncountable number of retro variations and colorways since, thirty years later the Air Jordan 1 is just as popular as ever. Now with the recent string of “remastered” editions of the silhouette featuring a return to full “Nike Air” branding and closer attention to materials and shape, the Air Jordan 1 is set to impress old fans all over again and win the hearts of the next generation of sneaker collectors. In this latest edition of Jordan 101, we celebrate the Air Jordan 1 with a look back at everything that makes it the most significant sneaker of all time.
The Legend Begins
Everything had to work out exactly the way it did for the Air Jordan 1 to exist. adidas, the shoe brand MJ actually preferred, had to pass on signing him out of college; Converse was distracted with the already-established superstars Larry Bird and Magic Johnson; And a shoe industry insider named Sonny Vaccaro (who’s been in headlines recently with the Sole Man documentary) had to convince the upstart athletic shoe brand Nike to throw money at the fresh-out-of-college Michael Jordan. Of course, we know all that happened, and we don’t even want to think about if it didn’t.
The Birth of the 1
After the partnership with Michael and the Swoosh was set, it was up to Nike designer Peter Moore to create the first signature shoe for the man that would become the game’s greatest player ever. We can probably all agree that Mr. Moore succeeded. The Air Jordan 1 released in 1985, at a retail price of $65. Believe it or not, that was a lot of money for a sneaker back then, which meant the Air Jordan line was elevated to a higher tier right from the beginning.
Most Original Colorways of any Air Jordan
The Air Jordan 1 has the most original colorways of any Air Jordan model still to this day. The three Chicago Bulls friendly colorways—“Chicago”, “Bred”, and “Black Toes”—were the only ones you ever saw MJ wearing on court, but a plethora of other looks released including the Black/Royal, “Carolina”, and the many “Metallic” colorways.
Worn by Michael Jordan for Two Seasons
The Air Jordan 1 was the only model worn by Michael for more than one full season. After completing his rookie season in the shoe, he continued to wear them for his sophomore campaign. But not for long—just a few games into the 1985-86 season Michael broke his foot, which ended up sidelining him for 64 games. He’d make it back in time for the playoffs that year, where facing the Boston Celtics in the first round he dropped 49 points in Game 1 and 63 points (still and NBA Playoffs record) while wearing the “Chicago” colorway. MJ and the Bulls were swept by the Celtics that series, but not before adding to the Air Jordan 1’s legacy.
Air Jordan 1 KO
The canvas-constructed Air Jordan 1 KO from 1986 is perhaps the greatest mystery of the entire Air Jordan line. Nobody can even confirm that ‘KO’ stands for “knockout”, but most would agree that it indeed does and the shoe was designed as a nod to the sport of boxing. Whatever the case, what we do know is that along with the canvas build, other modifications included “AJKO” in place of “Air Jordan” on the wings logo and the use of the Nike Vandal’s sole instead of the usual AJ1 tooling. We’re not sure how nobody seems to be able to shed any light on the origins of the Air Jordan 1 KO, but we’re definitely glad it exists.
After 1986, the Air Jordan 1 wasn’t released again until 1994 when it was among the first-ever retros along with the AJ 2 and 3. Only the OG “Chicago” and “Bred” colorways returned in 1994, but since 2001 when it came back again the Air Jordan 1 has returned almost every year in multiple colorways and forms.
Jordan Brand guards their catalog of models closely when it comes to collabs, with only a couple handfuls of Air Jordans lended out to third parties throughout the years. They seem to be most generous with the Air Jordan 1, as it has had more collaborative versions than any other game shoe, including the Nike SB x Lance Mountain, Dover Street Market, Public School (unreleased), and the fragment design editions.
30 Years and Beyond
The Air Jordan 1 has now been in existence for thirty years, leaving behind an ever-expanding legacy unmatched by any other sneaker in the world. What started as Nike being in the right place at the right time helped turn the brand into the powerhouse it is today, and propelled the entire sneaker industry to heights that it may never have reached without Michael Jordan and his bold black and red shoes.