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Air Jordan 1: The history of how MJ helped Nike take flight with an all-time classic

Andy Silva breaks down the story of the shoe that introduced modern sneaker culture in advance of the release of the Air Jordan 1 High ‘85 Georgetown on April 2.

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In 1984, a young Michael Jordan would enter the NBA and everything would change. But that change would not be limited to the court or even the league for that matter, and his impact is still being felt to this day through his unparalleled Air Jordan sneaker line and the subsequent Jordan Brand. And we can’t talk about the Air Jordan sneaker line or Jordan Brand without talking about the Air Jordan 1.

Of course, part of the reason we’re discussing the Air Jordan 1 here is the forthcoming Air Jordan 1 High ‘85 College Navy, also known as the Air Jordan 1 High ‘85 Georgetown. The Air Jordan 1 High ‘85 is said to have the highest quality materials and a shape most similar to the OG Air Jordan 1s originally released in 1985, so these are sure to be popular, just like last year’s Air Jordan 1 High ‘85 White/Neutral Grey . The Air Jordan 1 High ‘85 Georgetown will release on April 2 for a retail price of $200. And of course, if you strike out at launch, they will be readily available on the secondary market on StockX and GOAT.

Back when Jordan was entering the league there was an undisputed sneaker king and it was not Nike. No, it was Converse. From the days of the classic Chuck Taylor All-Star to the famed Weapons in the 80s, Converse was literally the official shoe of the NBA.

However, other than Taylor with his namesake All-Stars, Converse to that point wasn’t really in the business of highlighting one of its star endorsers above the others, as evidenced by this commercial for the Weapon:

Other than the hilarity of seeing Kevin McHale and Larry Bird dropping verses, it's telling to those of us in 2022 that there are so many marquee stars all endorsing one sneaker in this commercial. Converse had such a deep roster. Nike knew that it did not. Nike knew that the future of the company was on the line, and when push came to shove Sonny Vaccaro pushed the Swoosh to lay all of its chips on the table on Jordan rather than trying to sign multiple members of the Draft class of 1984. There was still one problem.

MJ didn’t really want to sign with Nike.

It may be hard to believe now, but MJ was not always destined to be tied at the hip to the Swoosh. Jordan really wanted to go with Adidas. Let that sink in for a second and imagine how different the sneaker industry could have been had Jordan signed with the Three Stripes. In fact, Jordan’s mother made Jordan get on a plane and take a meeting with NIke. So in reality, sneakerheads owe a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Jordan for the love many of us have for sneakers.

Anyways, Jordan would be swayed by receiving his own sneaker, the Air Jordan, which was designed by Peter Moore, the same man who designed the somewhat similar-looking Nike Dunk. Not to mention the great-for-the-80s deal Nike signed him to. So everything was hunky-dory after that right? Not quite.

Let’s start with the design. Now it should be noted that Jordan, despite playing for the Bulls, was not enamored with the colors present on the first black/red colorway, going so far as to call them the devil’s colors. And he had no qualms about discussing his displeasure, even on national television with fellow pop culture icon David Letterman.

How about the story of how the shoe was infamously “banned?” It should be noted that contrary to popular belief, the Air Jordan 1 was not, in fact, the shoe that the NBA banned Jordan from wearing. That would actually be the Air Ship. However, never let the truth get in the way of a good story. And Nike knew a good story when they had one. So, the company decided to run with the whole “banned” angle:

Needless to say, they would not be disappointed. The Air Jordan 1, burgeoned by the notion of being anti-authority and being forbidden fruit so to speak, became an instant hit. The shoe was released in multiple colorways and multiple configurations, including a low cut and the Air Jordan 1 AJKO, which to this day still has yet to be explained. Some thought it stood for “Knock Off,” since it was made of canvas and had the sole of Nike Vandal, while others have posited that it stand for “Knock Out.” At this point, no one really knows.

Jordan would continue wearing the Air Jordan 1 into 1986 before transitioning into the Air Jordan 2. That was not the end of the Air Jordan 1’s story, however, far from it.

Nike decided to capitalize on Jordan nostalgia in 1994 when MJ tried his hand at baseball, retroing several models, including the Air Jordan 1. Believe it or not, the Air Jordan 1 retro bombed in 1994, often hitting outlets. But MJ broke the shoes out again for what he thought would be his final game at MSG in 1998 and thankfully for sneakerheads the world over, Nike would try again with much more success beginning in 2001. And Nike hasn’t looked back since, with the Air Jordan 1 constantly on the shelves in some form or fashion.

However, in the past decade or so the shoe has really become ubiquitous, with seemingly everyone on the planet owning at least one pair. The shoe was even the subject of its own documentary in 2018.

A true sign of its modern popularity, the shoe has had more collabs than you can count, including with Fragment, Travis Scott (high and low), the Fragment x Travis Scott in high and low, the Union LA in two colorways and the infamous Diors, also in high and low. The shoe has also been seen on the feet of countless celebrities as well as in the movies and on TV, including Miles Morales in 2018’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” (which also birthed the beautiful “Origin Story,” which released in conjunction with the animated feature) and Peter Parker in 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Every year dozens of colorways release in the Highs, the Mids, the Lows and even the High 85s, not to mention the collabs. The Air Jordan 1 is a staple in any sneakerhead’s collection and remains constantly in production, so fear not if you miss out or if you don’t like the upcoming release.

The Air Jordan 1 is, to many, the perfect sneaker. Classic, looks good in almost any color combination and goes with almost any look. It remains a timeless icon, just like the man who made them famous and can be credited with creating the sneaker culture we’re all enjoying to this day.

As Spike Lee would say a few years later, “it’s gotta be the shoes, money.”

If you have questions or just want to talk sneakers, hit on me up on Twitter — my username is @a_silva32. Good luck in trying to snag a pair of the Air Jordan 1 High ‘85 Georgetown!