Image via nikeinc.com
Image via nikeinc.com

Is there any performance sneaker line that has made as many technical breakthroughs as the Air Jordan legacy series? Since 1985, Jordan Brand designers like Tinker Hatfield and Jason Mayden have been pushing the best-selling collection to new heights. While many companies may be satisfied by sticking to the script and using what they know works best for them, Jordan Brand is better known for bucking the trends  and pushing the envelope to unforeseen levels.

An Air Jordan XX9/2014 release is imminent, but has yet to be set in stone. While we wait to see what sorts of insane breakthroughs the team at Jordan Brand is able to cook up this time around, it seemed like the perfect time to look back on innovations of years past. This is From Air to Flight Plate: The Tech That Defined Every Jordan Innovation.

Riley Jones is a freelance writer from Charlottesville, VA and a contributor to Sneaker Report. With an unshakable affinity for basketball and all things ’90s, he can be found on Twitter @rchrstphr.

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Today in Performance Sneaker History: Michael Jordan Sets Playoff Record in the Air Jordan 3Air Jordan I

Air Jordan 1

Year released: 1984
Defining tech: Heel Nike Air cushioning

The infamous Air Jordan 1 was introduced with the NBA’s banning of its black/red variation, Nike paying the $5,000 fine each time Jordan wore it anyway, and a series of unforgettable commercials tying it all together.Air Jordan II

Air Jordan II

Year released: 1987
Defining tech: Full-length Nike Air cushioning

Originally constructed in Italy with premium materials, the Air Jordan II is best known for bringing a touch of luxury to the hardwood, but it was also the first Jordan model to include full-length Air cushioning.Air Jordan III

Air Jordan III

Year released: 1988
Defining tech: Visible Air cushioning in heel

The Jordan III introduced a number of new traits and style cues, including the Jumpman logo and the iconic elephant print nubuck. The driving tech behind the model, its visible Air unit, was also fresh on the scene in ’88.Air Jordan IV

Air Jordan IV

Year released: 1989
Defining tech: Plastic lace lockdowns

Many elements of the AJIII were carried over to the Air Jordan IV, but the addition of plastic lockdown “wings” and mesh-backed plastic cutouts for breathability took this model to the next level.Air Jordan V

Air Jordan V

Year released: 1990
Defining tech: Translucent rubber outsole

With a design inspired by World War II fighter jets, the Air Jordan V was as menacing as it was sleek and stealthy. The major tech upgrade here was the clear rubber outsole, which added new levels of traction, and a plastic lace lock to keep the shoes from coming untied during play. Aesthetically, a 3M Scotchlite touch on the tongue of many colorways added visibility during night time sessions.Air Jordan VI

Air Jordan VI

Year released: 1991
Defining tech:  Specially designed tongue

Michael won his first NBA Championship in the Air Jordan VI, which carried over a number of elements from previous models, including the visible Air pocket, plastic lace locks, and translucent outsole. The major tech upgrade here was the addition of a rubber tongue which allowed the shoes to be easily removed and adjusted.Air Jordan VII

Air Jordan VII

Year released: 1992
Defining tech: Huarache bootie

The Air Jordan VII did away with the visible Air unit (but stuck with encapsulated Air cushioning in the heel and forefoot) and took a page from Nike’s innovations with the inner Huarache bootie for a snug, glove-like fit on the court.Air Jordan VIII

Air Jordan VIII

Year released: 1993
Defining tech: Lockdown straps

Carrying over the inner bootie concept from the Air Jordan VII, the AJVIII took lockdown a step further with the addition of two lockdown straps over the forefoot.Air Jordan Jordan IX

Air Jordan IX

Year released: 1994
Defining tech: Quick-lacing system

Michael Jordan was retired from the NBA during the release of the Air Jordan IX, but that didn’t stop Tinker Hatfield and Mark Smith from continuing to push the envelope. The AJIX featured another Jordan first: a quick-lacing system which could be tightened with a single pull of the top ends.Air Jordan X

Air Jordan X

Year released: 1995
Defining tech: Full-length Air cushioning

Although the partitioned outsole of the Air Jordan X provided was more of a design addition than a tech upgrade, it can be seen as an early precursor to today’s commonplace Nike Free outsoles. Inside, full-length Air cushioning returned once again.Air Jordan XI

Air Jordan XI

Year released: 1996
Defining tech: Carbon Fiber support shank

Since its arrival in 1996, the Air Jordan XI has gone on to become one of the most recognizable models of all time. The full-length Air cushioning was paired with a translucent outsole and a ballistic mesh upper supported by durable patent leather overlays. The real kicker was the addition of a Carbon Fiber shank, which would become a mainstay in future Air Jordan models.Air Jordan XII

Air Jordan XII

Year released: 1997
Defining tech: Full-length Zoom Air

Picking up where the AJXI left off, the Air Jordan XII stuck with a supportive Carbon Fiber shank and added responsive full-length Zoom Air cushioning.Air Jordan XIII

Air Jordan XIII

Year released: 1998
Defining tech: Pod outsole tooling

The Air Jordan XIII split its Zoom Air between the forefoot and heel and featured an all-new podular outsole, which would serve as the inspiration for future tooling.Air Jordan XIV

Air Jordan XIV

Year released: 1999
Defining tech: Articulated forefoot Zoom Air

Boasting a heavy dose of Zoom Air in the forefoot and standard Zoom Air in the heel, the Air Jordan XIV was worn by Mike for his iconic “Last Shot.”Air Jordan XV

Air Jordan XV

Year released: 2000
Defining tech: Woven Kevlar upper

What’s old is new again, and the woven upper of the Air Jordan XV, originally released in 2000, will be used as the inspiration for the Holiday 2014 release of the Jordan Future model.Air Jordan XVI

Air Jordan XVI

Year released: 2001
Defining tech: Visible blow-molded Air cushioning

With a removable shroud for support and the ability to rotate between multiple looks, the Air Jordan XVI also featured first of its kind cushioning, a visible blow-molded Air chamber in the heel.Air Jordan XVII

Air Jordan XVII

Year released: 2002
Defining tech: TPU-encased visible blow-molded Air cushioning

Sticking with the shrouded design introduced on the previous model, the Air Jordan XVII also featured a similar cushioning setup, but was reinforced with TPU for durability and a sleek look.Air Jordan XVIII

Air Jordan XVIII

Year released: 2003
Defining tech: Double-stacked Zoom Air cushioning

Standard Zoom Air is great, but the Air Jordan XVIII beefed it up with a double-stacked setup, allowing for new levels of responsiveness.Air Jordan XIX

Air Jordan XIX

Year released: 2004
Defining tech: Tech Flex design

Armed once again with double-stacked Zoom Air cushioning, the Air Jordan XIX focused its innovation on support and flexibility, which was delivered in the form of its woven Tech Flex upper overlay.Air Jordan XX

Air Jordan XX

Year released: 2005
Defining tech: Independent Podular Suspension cushioning

The 20th Air Jordan introduced an ankle support strap, but the true innovation of this model was its Independent Podular Suspension cushioning. Designed for a free range of motion and flexibility, the Air Jordan XX’s I.P.S. cushioning was truly ahead of its time.Air Jordan XXI

Air Jordan XXI

Year released: 2006
Defining tech: Swappable Zoom Air/Nike Air cushioning units

The Air Jordan XXI introduced a new cushioning concept to the legacy series: the ability to choose your own. Packaged with both Zoom Air and Nike Air cushioning, the wearer could swap between each setup as desired.Air Jordan XXII

Air Jordan XXII

Year released: 2007
Defining tech: Invisible Independent Podular System

With the Air Jordan XXII, the I.P.S. cushioning system originally introduced on the Air Jordan XX was modified to be hidden. The AJXXII also once again came equipped with double-stacked Zoom Air and standard Air cushioning options.Air Jordan XXIII

Air Jordan XX3

Year released: 2008
Defining tech: Considered construction

For the iconic Air Jordan 23 model, Zoom Air was paired with tuned I.P.S. cushioning (known as Articulated Propulsion Technology) for a smooth, responsive ride. But it was its Considered design, which reduced waste by eliminating unneeded glues and materials, that took the Air Jordan XX3 into the future.Air Jordan 2009

Air Jordan 2009

Year released: 2009
Defining tech: Articulated Propulsion Technology

Once again pairing forefoot Zoom Air with a tuned I.P.S. setup, the Articulated Propulsion Technology of the Air Jordan 2009 was combined with a lightweight upper for lightning speed on the court.Air Jordan 2010

Air Jordan 2010

Year released: 2010
Defining tech: Bottom loaded full-length Zoom Air

After experimenting with different cushioning setups over the years, Tinker Hatfield went back to bottom-loaded, full-length Zoom Air for this windowed model.Air Jordan 2011

Air Jordan 2011

Year released: 2011
Defining tech: Swappable insoles

Is your style on the court more explosive or quick? With the Air Jordan 2011’s interchangeable insoles, players could have it both ways. Featuring a Cushlon/Air pairing in its explosive option and a Phylon/Zoom Air combo for quickness, the Air Jordan 2011 was the best of both worlds.Air Jordan 2012

Air Jordan 2012

Year released: System of Flight setup

The Air Jordan 2012 came packaged with two different inner booties and three cushioning setups, allowing for six different performance and aesthetic options right out of the box.Air Jordan XX8

Air Jordan XX8

Year released: 2013
Defining tech: Flight Plate

The return to the numbered legacy series also marked the return of serious innovation. The Air Jordan XX8 introduced the Flight Plate, a supportive Pebax plate which brings out the best of Zoom Air’s capabilities.

Riley Jones is a freelance writer from Charlottesville, VA and a contributor to Sneaker Report. With an unshakable affinity for basketball and all things ’90s, he can be found on Twitter @rchrstphr.

RELATED: The Complete History of Cushioning Technology in Sneakers
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