Back in 1985, nobody knew that one sneaker release would kick-start a legacy in the world of shoes and revolutionize how we would look at footwear both in terms of aesthetic and business sense.
1984 was a remarkable year for both the NBA as well as Michael Jordan, who would later on become the greatest player ever to grace the court. After a national level victory at the University of North Carolina & a Gold Medal at the Olympics in Los Angeles, Michael Jordan was picked at the 3rd spot in the NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls.
While at UNC, Jordan had played wearing Converse and switched up to Adidas while playing for the country in the LA Olympics. He was also spotted in a pair of New Balance kicks in the LIFE magazine photo-shoot. Despite other ongoing efforts from Nike to take over the basketball court, the 12 year old brand based out of Oregon had their eyes set on MJ. It became evident when that same year, Michael would also sign a hefty $2.5 million contract (plus royalties) with Nike binding him in a 5 year endorsement deal. It was a huge gamble by Nike because it was unventured territory. However, Michael went on to prove everyone wrong.
In 1985, Jordan received his own signature line of sneakers and apparel with the trademark Jumpman logo. Designer Peter Moore delivered the first Air Jordan shoe named Air Jordan 1 featuring the Nike Swoosh on the mid panel and a wings logo on the upper ankle. Air Jordan 1 featured padded foam ankle collars, toe overlay and Nike Air unit for heel cushioning. Michael Jordan wore the shoe in his ’84-85 rookie season along with the Nike Air Ships which marked the beginning of his NBA career.
Controversy followed when NBA fined Michael $5,000 per game for violating its uniform policy according to which, his shoes were too “distracting.” However, the pair that got banned was not the Air Jordan 1 but the Nike Air Ship PE in the black/red colorway with Air Jordan written on the heel. On October 18, 1984 at Madison Square Garden pre-season game against the New York Knicks, MJ wore the Black/Red Nike Air Ship. The NBA notified Nike and the Bulls that the shoe from the October 18 game broke the “uniformity of uniform rule” and that Michael would have to change his kicks with immediate effect in the next game. Back in those days, your shoes had to match the rest of the team with a white base and team color accents or black with white accents. Michael’s black and red shoes were banned by the NBA making the pair be remembered in history as “Banned 1’s.” Controversy sells and Nike pounced on the opportunity to market and promote the Air Jordan 1. Nike paid the $5,000 penalty per game for an 82 game season i.e. $410,000 on behalf of Jordan!
All this hype and controversy would’ve died down had Michael Jordan’s in-game performance dipped, except that it didn’t! In his rookie season:
*He earned a spot on the All-Star team
*Finished third in scoring
*Helped the Bulls back to the NBA Playoffs
*Took home the Rookie of the Year award
With Michael Jordan’s unprecedented exit from the NBA and basketball altogether in 1993, Nike decided to keep the hype alive with retro versions of prior models of the Air Jordan series. While some people were happy to see Air Jordan return in the retro skin, the shoe mostly sat on shelves and hit clearance tables for as low as $19.99 in many stores. However, the Air Jordan 1 saw its second retro release in 2001 in the Bred (Black/Red) and Black/Royal colorways. The shoe did considerably well at retail and was resold for more than the retail price on eBay.
The Air Jordan 1 continues to enjoy hundreds of retro versions in different colorways with the OG colorways (Chicago team colors, Black/Red, etc.) being the most sought after pairs. With several sneaker boutiques spawning all over the world and the Jordan brand experimenting with the materials used on the shoe, the Jordan 1’s legacy continues under different skins.