The Jordan 1 has a place on the Mount Rushmore of sneakers. As the first shoe in the Jordan line, it carries massive historical and cultural significance. Today, the sneaker has risen to unprecedented levels of popularity, but many people don't understand its importance. From controversy to a fall from grace to transcending sport, the history of the Jordan 1 is a must-know for anyone interested in the shoe.
The Jordan 1 Before the Jordan 1Michael Jordan actually began his NBA career in a shoe other than the Jordan 1. Nike had signed Jordan to an endorsement deal in 1984, but the first shoe he wore on the court was the Nike Air Ship. Controversy quickly surrounded his choice of shoes. In February of 1985, the NBA penned a letter to Nike noting that Jordan could no longer wear "certain red and black Nike basketball shoes." The reason for the ban was simply that the shoes didn't meet league guidelines. The NBA fined Jordan $5,000 per game for wearing them and when Nike refused to pay it, they developed the Jordan 1 to meet the necessary regulations. The uniform infringement cited in the letter occurred on October 18, 1984. The Jordan 1 debuted on November 17, 1984. Of course, Nike took creative advantage of the situation. Using the letter as leverage, they marketed the upcoming Jordan 1 flagship "Bred" colorway as the banned shoe. The actually banned shoe was never the Air Jordan 1, it was the Nike Air Ship. The marketing tactic proved massively successful in fooling the public and launching the shoe.
Image via Back-Door Bottega
A Slow StartAt the time, Jordan was a rookie trying to make a name for himself in the NBA. His success was solid but unspectacular and his Nike endorsement wasn't doing much to change that. Many sneakerheads remember the shoe being dropped by Nike after its first run. It wasn't until 1988 that Jordan began to truly take off as a cultural icon, winning MVP awards and launching the Air Jordan 3. With the success of subsequent models, Nike re-released the original Jordan shoe in 1994. That year is widely considered to be the beginning of sneaker culture as we know it today. The shoe experienced yet another lull in popularity in the early 2010s. With other Nike Basketball and retro Jordan silhouettes booming in popularity, the original Jordan silhouette seemed lost in the crowd. From outside of the Nike circle, Adidas was also beginning to take a considerable chunk of the sneaker market. The added competition and the fact that the shoe was no longer a desirable on-court basketball shoe spelled its doom for the time being.
A Rise To PopularityAs Adidas saw its market share decline and Nike began experimenting with sneaker supplies, collaborators, and marketing. At this time, in the mid to late 2010s, the Jordan 1 began gaining back its popularity. In 2014, it finally started turning heads again with the releases of the Fragment Design and Lance Mountain Air Jordan 1 Highs. These high-profile collaborations were extremely minimal and wearable, reminding the public how versatile the sneaker is. From here, Jordan 1s gradually increased in hype until it reached "must have" status with the release of the Off White x Air Jordan 1 "Chicago".
Image via NikeFrom that point, Jordan 1s graced the feet of everyone from students to celebrities. The shoe even caught the attention of luxury fashion houses. In 2020, Jumpman joined forces with Dior to release a collaborative version of the shoe. Many would argue that this was the point that the famed silhouette didn't just transcend sport, it completely transcended streetwear. It had officially became an "it sneaker".
The Jordan 1 TodayToday, the Jordan 1 is a bonafide sneakerhead favorite and one of Nike's most popular silhouettes. It has transcended its basketball beginnings to become an all-occasion shoe, from streetwear to formal wear. While it experienced several highs and lows along the way, the Air Jordan 1 will always remain an iconic symbol of the Nike and Jordan Brand partnership, as well as sneaker culture.
Feature image via Unsplash - Joel Muniz