Nike Air Jordan History: The Story Behind the Most Famous Shoe Ever


41,011. That’s the number of minutes Michael Jordan played during his 17-year career in the NBA. And chances are, if you ever watched the greatest player of all time on the court, then you saw him wearing Air Jordans. 

The Air Jordan has become more than just a basketball shoe, of course. It was and remains a cultural phenomenon — a shoe that sneakerheads will happily add to their collection with every new release. But how did Michael Jordan’s iconic footwear line get started? 

Here’s the Nike Air Jordan history, from the beginning all the way to today.

1984: An Unexpected Deal With Nike

It’s hard to believe in 2021 that any athlete would turn down the chance of partnering with Nike. But in 1984, Nike was a fledgling brand that was starting to gain credibility for its track shoes. They had yet to venture into the realm of creating basketball shoes. 

At the same time, Michael Jordan was a rookie himself, entering the NBA after an illustrious collegiate career at the University of North Carolina. The nation already knew his name, and sports experts expected him to become the league’s next biggest star.

So, it made sense that he’d get a shoe deal to go with his impending stardom. 

If you don’t know anything about shoes, then you’ll probably be shocked to learn that, in the early 80s, Converse was the shoe brand of choice for most NBA ballers. The brand wanted to add a young MJ into the fold, but there was a big catch.

They told him that they could not advertise him and his shoes ahead of the then-bigger stars on their roster, including Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. 

This offer didn’t suit the rookie — he wanted a brand that would give him top billing. So, he reached out to his favorite brand, and that wasn’t Nike. Michael Jordan wanted a deal with Adidas, but they said they simply couldn’t add a basketball shoe into their lineup at that time.

We imagine they’re kicking themselves now for making that choice. 

That rejection left Michael Jordan with only one offer, and it came from Nike. Like we said, they got their start in creating track shoes, and this made MJ wary to partner with them.

However, they offered him a huge partnership deal, one that his parents knew he’d be silly to forego — and that’s how they talked the newly minted Chicago Bull into working with Nike.

Why Air Jordan?

Nike’s track-shoe expertise would influence the name of their shoe collaboration with Michael Jordan. Before working with the basketball star, they had already come up with a new, super-soft sole material for their footwear.

They called them air soles, which was the perfect tie-in to MJ, who was already nicknamed Air Jordan — watch him dunk or take a jump shot and you’ll know why.

Michael Jordan’s Nikes Not Allowed in the NBA

Michael Jordan created his signature shoe with Nike, and it was clear that the rookie wanted his footwear to stand out. Rather than going with the typical, mostly white color palette, he opted for a shoe in his team’s colors.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Chicago Bulls wore and still wear red and black with a white accent. 

In the 1980s, though, the NBA had a rule that shoes had to be either 51 percent white or black, and they couldn’t have too many team-color accents. Clearly, Jordan’s red-and-black sneakers didn’t quite fit that bill, so they were banned by the organization.

But MJ wore them anyway, incurring a small fine each time, but Nike was happy to pay in exchange for the free press.

People already wanted to get their hands on a pair of Air Jordans, but the fact that they were banned made them even more desirable to sneakerheads around the country. 

In fact, Nike hoped to make a four-year return of $3 million on their Air Jordan line; within a year, they had already raked in a whopping $126 million.

And That’s Nike Air Jordan History

It wasn’t just basketball players who were investing in the Air Jordan. Sneakerheads fought to get their hands on a pair throughout the 1980s and 90s. And people still invest in them today as a must-have street-style accessory — as well as, of course, a pretty great sports shoe.

Since his first version of the Air Jordan came out, MJ has, of course, designed plenty of other shoes along the way. Every fan of his will have a favorite, whether that’s the laceless Air Jordan XXXIII, the sports-vehicle-inspired Jordan XXI, or even the Jordan Zero. 

No matter which you prefer, one thing is for sure — the Air Jordan isn’t going anywhere, and neither is Michael Jordan’s legacy when it comes to shoe design and performance. 

As for MJ, he had plenty of success both on and off the court thanks to his trailblazing shoe designs. So, when he knew he’d be playing his last game at Madison Square Garden as a Chicago Bull, he brushed off the shoes that started it all: his red-and-black Air Jordan Is. 

Will You Invest in Air Jordans? 

Now that you know the Nike Air Jordan history, there’s one last question to ask: will you be buying Nikes of your own? The good news is, you can’t go wrong with a pair of Jordans.

They’ll always be in style, and they’ll probably increase in value as time goes on. Oh, and you’ll be supporting the best basketball player of all time — who doesn’t love MJ? 

If you need more style advice, don’t forget to check back with us for more. 

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