Air Jordan and the Jumpman

Seldom does a sporting figures impact transcend beyond their game and influence broader culture. What Michael Jordan was able to achieve on and off the court. Is so astoundingly impressive that you’d struggle to find a comparison. What might have started as a simple endorsement from one of the sports rising stars has grown into one of the world’s most recognisable brands (Air Jordan). One that has, since its inception, been a homage to Jordan’s illustrious and critically acclaimed career.

Described by many as the greatest of all time, the Jumpman’s time on the court is remembered not only by fans of the sport but due to his brand’s broader cultural significance. Celebrated by proponents of his high tops in equal measure. The Air Jordan catalogue reads like a rich tapestry of the great man’s sporting milestones. I’m about to take you through the career of Michael Jordan via a museum of the trainers inspired by it.

1982 “The biggest shot in North Carolina history”

We begin our story during Michael Jordan’s freshman year at the University of Carolina. Where he burst onto the national stage as part of the North Carolina Tar Heels team that won the 1982 NCAA Championships. Thanks to “the biggest shot in North Carolina history” taken by Jordan to win the game. This very jump shot made by Michael was in his own words “the birth of Michael Jordan” and in 2017 was encapsulated in the release of the Air Jordan 11 Retro Win Like 82. A shoe designed to commemorate the first of many big wins for the young star.

Air Jordan
“The biggest shot in North Carolina history”
Jordan at UNC

Jordans time at the University of Carolina was sighted by many as so significant that Air Jordan felt it entirely appropriate to commission the design of a ‘UNC’ colourway for many of their models. A baby blue and white composition akin to the jersey of the Tar Heels for which he was such a success. This ‘UNC’ colour palette can be seen on some of Air Jordan’s most notable of releases; including Virgil Abloh’s Air Jordan 1 Retro High UNC x Off-White and the new 2019 women’s Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG ‘UNC’. 

Virgil Ablog UNC
Virgil Abloh wearing his Off-White x Air Jordan 1 UNC

1984 NBA Draft

Jordan’s contributions at the University of Carolina did not go unnoticed. As a two time player of the year his high flying exploits dazzled fans across the country. Leading to his drafting to the Chicago Bulls in 1984. As the third overall pick Michael Jordan became an instant sensation in his first season in professional basketball. He received the honour of being awarded the NBA Rookie of the Year. A feat that in 2018 was immortalised in Air Jordan’s release of the Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG ‘Rookie of the Year’. A gold harvest and white colourway adorned with ‘1984-85 R.O.Y. 2313 POINTS 28.2 PPG’ to commemorate Michael’s excellent debut season.

December 1984 Sports Illustrated cover

Halfway through that very season, in December 1984, Jordan was subject of the cover of Sports Illustrated. With a still of him leaping above the Milwaukee Bucks defence captioned ‘A Star is Born’. In late 2018 Air Jordan once again decided to pay tribute to this moment with the release of their Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG ‘A Star Is Born’. Designed with a gradient green white and red Swoosh; meant to hark back to the retro Milwaukee Bucks’ uniforms that His Airness is masterfully evading on the cover, on the way to two of his 32,392 career points. Never have I seen a shoe so fittingly convey a moment. To such an extent that fans of Jordan would recognise the connection before even seeing its inspiration.

1985 “Not meant to fly” Commercial

Jordan quickly became one of the biggest names in the sport – young, talented and incredibly popular. In 1984 Nike looked to bottle the great man’s mass appeal by creating a product line exclusively for him which later became available to the public. From there the Air Jordan brand was born. Michael Jordan had gone from a talented Basketball player to a cultural icon overnight. Designed by Peter Moore, Tinker Hatfield, and Bruce Kilgore, the brand’s first offering was a black and red colourway modelled on the silhouette of the Nike Air Ship’s. Now referred to as the ‘Bred’ the shoe featured in the now legendary debut Air Jordan 1 commercial “Not meant to Fly”. This shoe released on September 15th 1985 to be worn by Michael Jordan himself on the court. On October 18th 1985 the kicks were thrown out the game by the NBA.

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BAnned Air Jordan

NBA commissioner David Stern sighted the reason for the ban as being because their vibrant red-and-black colour scheme didn’t match the shoes and jerseys that the rest of Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teammates were wearing. The penalty for wearing the pair came in at a hefty $5000 a game. In response to this, Nike used the banning as a promotional tool in advertisements, hinting that the shoes gave an unfair competitive advantage for the Jordan 1. Stating that whoever wore them had a certain edginess associated with outlaw activities. This lead to the revivals of the now legendary colourway by Air Jordan in 1994, 2011, 2013 and 2016 and the creation of the now staple ‘Chicago’ colourway. A modified bred, replacing the black colour panels with white to be worn by Jordan in keeping with his team’s colours.

1985 NIKE eXHIBITION GAME

Whatever you paid to see Michael Jordan you knew it wasn’t enough. In Trieste, Italy 1985 during a Nike Exhibition game. Jordan made a dunk that shattered the glass on the hoops backboard and sent crowds into rapture. This incredible moment of sheer athleticism was the subject of the 2015 Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG ‘Shattered Backboard’. Dressed in the same orange, and black Jordan wore on his uniform during this game.

1986 Boston Gardens record 63 point haul

From there his unmistakable talent was beginning to translate into the postseason. In 2009 Air Jordan 1 launched an exciting new colourway to its collection: the Air Jordan 1 Retro High ‘Boston Celtics’. Combining a black, white and most notably green colour blocking. It is immediately recognised as a nod to one particular night in April 1986 at the Boston Garden where Michael Jordan scored a then NBA record 63 point haul against the green and white of the Boston Celtics. 

1992 Barcelona OLYMPIC Games ‘Dream Team’

Michael Jordan had gone from national star to global sensation. Although already having one Gold medal to his name from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic games as a collegiate player. It was in 1992 at the Barcelona Olympic games as part of the fabled ‘Dream Team’ where Jordan won his second gold medal and cemented himself as the greatest player on earth. 2018’s Jordan Legacy 312 ‘Dream Team’ accurately portrayed the teams legendary run that captured the hearts and minds of the world with a colourway that gave a definite nod to the American flag and uniforms of that incredible team. 

1991 Chicago Bulls first NBA Championship

Jordan’s most unforgettable performances, however, would take place on the NBA stage, where he turned the finals into his own personal showcase. With it all beginning a year prior to his Olympic triumph, in 1991 where he delivered to the Chicago Bulls their first, and his first NBA Championship. Jordan achieved this against Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers, sporting a pair of newly released Air Jordan 6 ‘Infrared’ a kick that has become so notorious since this Championship game and Michael Jordan’s stellar performance that it has received several later iterations, most notably in 2000, 2014 and a version brand new for February 2019. 

Air Jordan

Every year Jordan came back he was better, quicker, stronger, shot the ball cleaner, developed free point range, the effect he was having on and off the court is something that can only now be appreciated in hindsight as you look back on his achievements. For an athlete to captivate a generation in such a way was astounding on its own, and for Air Jordan, his impact on footwear culture never has and will never be emulated.

1993 RETIREMENT FROM nba

To buy a pair of Jordans was for many a way of channelling his skill, to embody his style, or in some way absorb some of the man’s aura that made him such a legendary figure. It was in 1993 however, where he shocked the basketball world the most, after the tragic loss of his father he decided to retire from the NBA after three successful Championships with the Chicago Bulls in 1991, 1992 and 1993.

1996 Wins NBA Crown on return

After a reclusive 18 months away from the game, Jordan decided to return to the hardwood, and when he returned, with him back at the centre of it all, the Bulls continued making history. Regaining the NBA throne on his returning 1995-1996 season. A new pair of Air Jordans were released in late 2017 to commemorate his historic returning year with the Air Jordan 11 Retro ‘Win Like 96’; a dazzling red silhouette with a name similar to that of the ‘Win like 82’ released a month earlier.

Air Jordan
Fourth NBA Title in six seasons

This shoe so significantly celebrates not just a winning year, but the Chicago Bulls team that capped off the regular season with a record-breaking 72 wins, on their way to a fourth NBA title in six seasons. Michael wore the Jordan 11 during that magical run, and this Jordan 11 is a fitting tribute to the team that couldn’t lose. Not the only shoe of its type, Air Jordan also released to the public in 2015 the Air Jordan 11 Retro ’72-10′ a nod to that awe-inspiring regular season record and a homage to the MVP of that same year “The King” Michael Jordan. 

1997 & 1998 NBA cHAMPIONSHIPS

Michael went on to win two more championships with the Chicago Bulls both in 1997 and 1998, and for those six championships, many in the game consider him the very best to ever play the game. His dominance at both ends of the court was defining, but his prestige and popularity that transcends the game is the hallmark of his impact culturally. Air Jordan has become the only court shoe, and for a brand name to become the generic term is impressive in itself, but for one mans career to be celebrated so openly and frequently, that it borders on a cult-like following it is a testament to the strength of the mans character and the quality of the product. Air Jordan is the gold standard for high tops, and they dominate the market fittingly, just like their namesake dominated the court. 

Air Jordan

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