No one questions that Michael Jordan changed the face of basketball, but few people realize that the former Chicago Bulls guard also changed the world of men’s footwear. The year was 1984, Jordan was a rookie fresh out of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the shoe was the Air Jordan, a high-top sneaker with a red sole, a black trademark Nike “swoosh,” and white leather uppers with bright red trim.
Though tame by contemporary standards, the shoe was almost scandalous, prompting the NBA to ban the kicks from regular-season play. Jordan wore them anyway, eating the $5,000-per-game fine.
Jordan and the world would have to wait two full seasons for the Air Jordan II, which debuted at the beginning of the 1986 professional basketball season. Made of Italian leather and sold in both high- and low-top styles, the II was the first Nike shoe not to feature the company’s famous logo. Jordan was now a bigger brand.
Collectors seek the Air Jordan III from 1987 for several reasons. First, it was the first Air Jordan shoe to feature the new “Jumpman” logo, which depicts MJ silhouetted in midair, with a basketball in the palm of one hand. Second, the III was featured in a series of very popular television ads, which paired Jordan with director Spike Lee, who reprised his Mars Blackmon character from “She’s Gotta Have It” for the campaign. In 2005, ESPN readers named it the “greatest sneaker of all time.”
Since 1986, Nike has introduced new Air Jordans at the start of every basketball season, even after Jordan retired for good in 2003. But two other sneakers stand out.
The 1993 Air Jordan IX is notable because it was introduced the year Jordan decided to take a break from professional basketball to pursue a career in baseball—that detour proved unsuccessful for the otherwise talented Jordan. A version of the IX made a small appearance in 1996 in “Space Jam,” an animated film starring Jordan, Larry Bird, Bill Murray, and a host of Warner Bros. cartoon characters.
The other shoe to appear in “Space Jam” was the Air Jordan XI. The combination of Jordan and Hollywood made these shoes irresistible to shoppers in 1995 and 1996, which is why few pairs of this particular model in pristine shape have survived.