Jordan 1s were predetermined to reach the spotlight simply because of the name behind them. Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. Drowning in awards and accomplishments (10 time scoring leader, 6 time champion, and 14 time MVP, just to name a few), his extraordinary performance in the NBA granted him this title, which is hardly disputed across the general population. At the ripe age of 21, he was drafted by the Bulls as the 3rd overall pick in 1984 and went on to finish the season as Rookie of the Year. His NBA career birthed his stature as a cultural icon, embodying perseverance, determination, and greatness, but his significance far transcends athletics. People of varying age, status, and identity admired and looked up to him, then and now. MJ served as the ultimate role model of his time, not merely because he was a baller, but because he exemplified the attributes of humanity that a person hopes for their kids as well as themselves.
The hype surrounding MJ snowballed so rapidly that he signed with Nike and released the Air Jordan 1 in 1985, at the end of his rookie year. Retailing for a whopping $65, they sold out immediately. (Moment of silence for that selling price). People were desperate to “be like Mike;” not necessarily because they wanted to be great ball players, but because they just wanted to be great. The Jordan Brand allowed people to feel as capable of achievement as Michael Jordan was.
As new Jordan models came out, consumers kept up to stay relevant since marketing and popularity circled around MJ, not the shoes themselves. So the AJ1s fell into the shadows. Despite Nike’s best efforts, AJ1s seemed doomed to life on the shelf after the flopped re-release in 1994–the failure of which was unsurprising, as MJ had left the NBA for baseball the year before. This heartbreaking switch-up confused consumers and decreased the desire to rep shoes that commemorated MJs retirement. It also didn’t help that this was the first time that a sneaker brand had tried to resurrect a shoe that went out of production the way that AJ1s had. Due to its diminishing value and therefore decreasing price, AJ1s found a new life in skate culture as beaters worn by skaters unafraid to crease them.
The shoe began circulating in the economy again in the mid 90’s. MJ returned to the Bulls in 1995, refreshing his hype amongst consumers around the same time that hip hop culture popularized retro jerseys, which also increased the popularity of retro sneakers.
When MJ joined the Wizards in 2001 after another retirement in 1999, the internet was on the rise, allowing for reselling on Ebay and other online platforms, ultimately keeping the AJ1 alive even after the Jordan Brand retired the shoe in 2004.
Air Jordan 1s were reintroduced to the world in 2007 with the “Old Love, New Love” two pack featuring the OG “Black Toe” and an entirely new black and yellow colorway, paying tribute to the past while looking to the future. The sentiment behind this release was filled with trust and confidence in the silhouette. Nike understood the influence of Michael Jordan and believed that the AJ1 was its best representative. “Old Love, New Love” opened the floodgates of creativity, jumpstarting new colorways and derivative redesigns that filled up the following years. The end of the decade saw various alterations to the shoe, which were subtle in design as well as impact. Nike added Velcro to a classic with the rerelease of the Strap “Bred,” and then in 2012 they came out with the AJ1 “Phat” version that was swollen with more padding. However, none of these subsequent releases were any match for the significance of “Old Love, New Love.”
Enter Fragment Design, their iteration of the shoes released in 2014. Hiroshi Fujiwara implemented his own vision while keeping the integrity of the original design intact. It sparked an uproar of attention, one that hadn’t been seen outside of OG colorways. Stock was limited and demand was high. The resale price increased instantaneously at the time of the release. They still remain one of the most sought after versions of the Jordan 1, circulating in the sneaker world for roughly $3500-$5750. The Fragments were only the first of many earth-shaking collaborations for the Jordan Brand. The release of Off-White x Air Jordans “The 10” collection in 2017 reinjected a feverish hype for AJ1s into society. “The 10” featured Virgil Abloh’s takes on 10 different Nike models, but the Jordan 1s received and retained the most hype. Virgil gave a deconstructed DIY aesthetic to the classic “Chicago” colorway, adding another layer of streetwear to a shoe that was streetwear by nature. It’s original retail price of $190 has since then skyrocketed by well over 2000%. It has become one of the most easily identifiable shoes, even to the untrained eye.
Above all other sneakers, people pay attention to the Jordan 1s. Worn by international celebrities and broke college students alike, this shoe maintains reputable popularity throughout the general public, regardless of personal aesthetics and societal status.
So why? How come this one shoe speaks to so many different people and for so many years? The answer is multifaceted.
Michael Jordan’s cultural icon status is sure to outlive him. The AJ1 is the representative for his career and significance in society, and above all, the shoe represents greatness. Flying high means more than just kissing the rim. Nike understood this human desire and used it as a marketing tool, catering to consumers by building on the concept of using the shoe as a means to achieve that feeling. Certain colorways pay tribute to crucial points in MJs career, like the DMP “Bulls Celtics” pack, which tells the story of his breakout performance in the 1986 playoffs. The classic look and reputable history makes the perfect canvas for different creatives to reconceptualize through their own personal visions of the AJ1 in a way that remains relevant three decades later. AJ1 releases with different brands and individuals continue to refresh consumers and collect hype circulating the various collaborators. In the midst of these elaborate collabs and collections, the OG colorways serve as a grounding force that can’t go wrong, /and therefore maintain steady popularity. The versatility and range of this shoe is unmatched on every front: price, aesthetic, cultural value, and clientele. AJ1s have a place in every tier of the fashion hierarchy, from thrifted to luxury. And the excitement synonymous with picking up a new pair reaches the same heights regardless of where they come from.
Air Jordan 1s have thrived effortlessly in this market where trends die just as fast as they are born. Fashion and consumerism continue to walk into the future at full speed, but AJ1s have successfully kept up. This shoe has taken over the world with no intention of leaving. It’s lasting relevance in popular culture has far exceeded that of any other shoe in the game and they have reached a significance beyond classic footwear. The permanency of Air Jordan 1s is a direct result of the person to whom the name belongs and the values he became idolized for. In his era, Michael Jordan was the human embodiment of the pursuit of greatness. This concept exists in the soles of every Jordan 1 manufactured since 1985. So, regardless of the cool factor and the wearability and the reputation, Air Jordan 1s are timeless because the human desire of flying high has no expiration date.