A Brief History of the Air Jordan 1

“I can’t wear those, I’ll look like a clown.” Though not quite verbatim, this was Michael Jordan’s initial reaction to the first designs of the Air Jordan 1. The shoe has gone through quite a few ups and downs since its original debut, but it stands as one of the more sought-after releases from Jordan Brand today. As such, we wanted to give you some context on one of the most iconic sneakers of all time. Here’s a brief history of the Air Jordan 1, the one that would start it all.

Now, we all know that the Air Jordan 1 is an item of cultural fascination. You could even go as far as suggesting that it is one of the ten or so most significant items of sneaker history to date. With that being said, the quote we opened with is not exactly an exaggeration.

Jordan really wasn’t feeling Nike’s idea of a signature basketball sneaker. In fact, he saw it as an overly bulky model that didn’t meet his needs.

Throughout his career in college basketball, he’d opted for the Converse Chuck Taylor. He became enamored with the low-to-the-ground rubber sole and valued court feel over anything else. What Nike presented to him was like wearing two Chucks on each foot.

MJ loved the Chuck Taylor so much that he was begging to sign an endorsement deal with Converse instead. Nike wasn’t having it. They saw Michael as something wholly unique in his otherworldly talent and potential appeal to consumers, so they pushed hard to sign him.

Eventually, the design that agitated Jordan began to earn his favor. After tinkering for quite some time with specifications such as the midsole and upper paneling, the Air Jordan 1 was officially released towards the end of the 1984-1985 NBA season.

Now, this is where the sneaker’s background gets a bit interesting. After MJ approved of the final mock-up, Nike had to get working on the product they would eventually send out to retailers. That, of course, would take some time.

Simultaneously, Jordan needed a shoe to play in for the coming season. Nike decides to have him play in the now famous Air Ship, styled in the same colorway as the “Banned” Air Jordan 1 that debuts soon after.

For marketing purposes, it was a pretty clever move. Nike had planned to push the Bred colorway as one of the first initial drops. As such, continuity was a must.

After dropping that iconic “Banned” Black and Red iteration, Nike would go on to release the Air Jordan 1 in a multitude of classic looks. Yet, the Bred look would persist in memory due to its backstory.

Legend has it that the NBA fined Jordan $3000 for every game he played in them as the colorway conflicted with the league’s uniform rules. The fact that those fines were never confirmed couldn’t matter less. The story was powerful and helped the shoe sell remarkably well.

It’s also the first sneaker that Jordan Brand would bring back from the past, sparking a habit of retro releases.

In more ways than one, the Air Jordan 1 truly started it all.