The first Air Jordan to pay homage to Michael Jordan’s University of North Carolina roots was, of course, the first Air Jordan. The original Air Jordan model released in a veritable rainbow of colors, from basic white/black to Bulls-specific black/red and white/red/black to a variety of metallic colors on a white base. Even now, nearly 30 years later, it’s still difficult to find a full accounting of each and every Air Jordan 1 colorway. But a white/Carolina Blue variant was indeed one of them, which made perfect sense seeing that Jordan had helped lead UNC to a national championship just three years prior.
And that was that.
As a whole, the ‘80s were not a time for nostalgia. There were no such thing as “throwback jerseys” (except for the ones on the clearance racks), no “retro” sneakers. And the idea of a sneaker done in collegiate colors for anyone other than actual collegians was absurd. After all, there was no UMass Converse Dr. J, no Southern Illinois Puma Clydes. The “Carolina” Air Jordan 1 was effectively a pilot that didn’t get picked up. (There was a Carolina Air Jordan II, but only a lowcut PE that Michael Jordan himself wore in a 1987 alumni game.) When adidas snatched up Patrick Ewing in 1986, they didn’t do up any of his signature models in Georgetown colors, although they probably should have. As for Air Jordans, they were produced in “lifestyle” colors, but none that really tied back to Jordan’s past. Why would they, when the present was so bright? Then, on October 6, 1993, everything changed.