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Air Jordan 7: Gold-medal worthy kicks helped MJ soar into the pop culture stratosphere

Andy Silva breaks down the history of the Air Jordan 7 ahead of the release of the Air Jordan 7 Retro “Sapphire” on April 16.

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US-AUCTION-CHRISTIES-culture-Basket Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

The year was 1992 and life was good for Michael Jordan. He was perhaps at the peak of powers as both a pitchman and an athlete. He would have one of his best years on the court and would be part of the greatest team of all time. And he would do it all in one of the most underrated, in my opinion, Air Jordans ever.

The Air Jordan 7, particularly the use of colors and shapes as well as the tongue, would take inspiration from an Afropop poster legendary designer Tinker Hatfield came across in a shop in Portland as well as another of Hatfield’s designs, the Air Flight Huarache basketball model. While the shoe did have several things in common with its predecessors — like the toe box and elements of the outsole — there were plenty of changes in store.

One major change that really foretold the future was the continued minimization of Nike’s trademark Swoosh. Really, you could almost consider the Air Jordan 7 the very early genesis of what would become the Jordan Brand. Although the brand would not officially spin off until 1997, the Air Jordan 7 marked the first model to have no Swoosh visible on the shoe’s upper, it was all about the Jumpman. This was a strategic and deliberate decision on Hatfield’s part, he has revealed in interviews over the years. He felt that the Air Jordan line could survive and thrive without the Swoosh and that in the end it would be competitors and not Nike itself hurt the most by the lack of the Swoosh. And it’s hard to argue that he was wrong taking a look at the sneaker marketplace in the years since.

Another major change was the lack of visible Air. Visible Air had been a key component of the Air Jordan line since the legendary Air Jordan 3. Ever since the introduction of visible Air in the Air Max 1 in 1987, it was major part of Nike’s catalog. Moving away from the visible Air was another sign of the decision to set the Air Jordan line, and eventually Jordan Brand, apart from its corporate parent.

The Air Jordan 7 was also noteworthy due to its place in pop culture writ large. In yet another change, the advertising for the Air Jordan 7 saw the departure of Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon character. How do you replace an advertising legend? With an even bigger legend: Bugs Bunny.

But teaming up with one pop culture legend wasn’t enough for MJ. No, he would get together with another famous MJ: Michael Jackson. Jordan appeared in the Air Jordan 7 during Jackson’s music video for the song “Jam,” trading basketball tips for dance tips. It truly is a window into what life was like in 1992. Everyone wanted to be like Mike.

Jordan wasn’t just becoming a pop culture icon — he was dominating on the court, as well. Jordan made the All-NBA and All-Defensive first teams, won another scoring title plus league MVP. There was the shrug in Game 1 of the Finals vs. the Blazers as he led the Bulls to their second consecutive NBA championship and his second Finals MVP. Then there was the Dream Team.

There had never been and has never been since a sports phenomenon like the Dream Team. You had prime Jordan along with aging legends like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird coming together with the NBA’s best and the global public could not get enough. The atmosphere in the years since has been described as being akin to Beatlemania.

Everyone in Barcelona wanted a piece of the Dream Team, but especially Jordan. And what shoe was he wearing during this history-making summer? The Air Jordan 7 in a special white/red/blue colorway with his Olympic number 9 on the back as opposed to his customary 23. I would argue that this is one of the most special and important colorways in the entire history of the Air Jordan line.

The Air Jordan 7 was originally released in five colorways — the “Hare Jordan,” the “Bordeaux,” what is now known as the “Raptor,” the “Cardinal” and, of course, the aforementioned “Olympic” colorway. All these colorways — as well as several others such as the “Flint Grey,” “French Blue” and a Ray Allen PE — have been retroed several times since 1992, with the Cardinal colorway reportedly set to return later in 2022.

From Bugs Bunny to Michael Jackson to the Dream Team, there is no sneaker more identifiable with a period in pop culture than the Air Jordan 7. Lucky No. 7, indeed.

To purchase a pair of the Air Jordan 7 Retro “Sapphire on April 16, click here.

To see more of this month’s releases, check out our release date calendar.

If you have questions or just want to talk sneakers, hit on me up on Twitter — my username is @a_silva32.