This past year marked 30 years since the introduction of the original Air Jordan—the Air Jordan XXX will be unveiled next month—and as such, Jordan dug deep into the archives to bring back some gems. "Nike Air" branding found its way onto an Air Jordan VI for the first time since 2000, New York fashion label Public School put a monochrome spin on the Air Jordan XII, and the remastered Air Jordan 1 hit shelves in all sorts of flavors, from OG to UNC to Pinnacle.
But that wasn't all. There was new heat too, starting with the Air Jordan XX9, carried over from last season. A gradient lowtop with a speckled midsole brought a more casual feel to the flagship model, while Chris Paul's ninth signature shoe was done up luxurious for friends and family (and some select #influencers). As usual, there was something for everyone.
The tough part? Narrowing it down to the best 15 of 2015. (Maybe next year we'll have to do 16.) We went through them all—the ones that we got, and the ones that got away. Here's The 15 Best Air Jordans of 2015.
15. Air Jordan 11Lab4 "Black"
The era of fruity pebbles colorways on sneakers has been long gone, with more minimal schemes on sneakers prevalent today. For Jordan, putting out an all patent leather sneaker two decades after the shiny suit era might have been a risk, but they hit the mark with these Lab IVs. It was the sneaker that sat on shelves for a little bit, until your friend who bought them schooled you on just how good they were. Our favorites were the black colorway, and although you need to dress them down with something subtle on top, they were a sleeper when it came to one of the best J's of the year. Don't be afraid to live a little. —JLP
14. Air Jordan 1 Pinnacle "Vachetta Tan"
One of the biggest sneaker stories of 2015 involved high fashion label Hender Scheme. The Japanese brand put itself on the map by reimagining classic silhouettes, including the Nike Air Force 1 and Air Jordan IV, by turning them into unbranded pieces of footwear constructed of vegetable-tanned leather. The trend eventually trickled down to the masses, where even Jordan Brand came up with its own special colorway: the “Vachetta Tan” Air Jordan 1 Pinnacle. The $400 sneaker had all the makings of something you’d expect to see from Hender Scheme, namely untreated leather and single color panels. Like Hender Scheme’s versions, the pair of premium 1s were also constructed to develop a unique patina depending on the level of wear. The Air Jordan 1 already has a reputation among sneakerheads for actually looking better with signs of wear, which make this colorway all the more special. Jordan Brand co-signed the look so much, that it even went beyond retro sneakers. Chris Paul was gifted with a special friends-and-family pair of his signature CP3.IX with an identical leather make-up as the 1s. With Jordan Brand only scratching the surface and the possibility of more “Vachetta Tan” retros in the pipeline, 2016 could be an awesome year for sneakerheads (and probably bad for Hender Scheme’s business). —John Marcelo
13. Air Jordan IX "Anthracite"
In a sneaker landscape where there’s a new release every weekend and an ever-present plea for some sort of appeal to rationalize copping a new pair—"It’s an OG colorway,” “They haven’t released in 20 years,” “They put ‘Nike Air’ on the back again”—there’s something to be said for simplicity and authenticity. The Air Jordan IX constantly gets shafted because “MJ never wore them.” The season when the greatest to play the game left for America’s pastime is almost a marker in sneaker history that cuts off the true OG Jordans from the later, inferior versions. But, that doesn’t stop the IX from being included on this list.
The Anthracite IXs that released in September didn’t grab any headlines or start a hype cycle. But, that’s just fine. These IXs, done in a simple dark grey nubuck upper with small white accents, were stealthy and simple. They also brought things back to the original on a detail you might not have noticed—the eyelets. For a time, IXs didn’t have a complete set of molded eyelets. Instead, that bottom spot was a simple lace hole. In one small detail, a shoe once broken returned to its original stature. —Skylar Bergl
12. Air Jordan XX9 Low "Gradient"
It's easy to forget, with its emphasis on retro product, that Jordan Brand is still a sportswear company that creates performance sneakers. A new sneaker was debuted by Michael Jordan himself recently, and it wasn't one he brought out of retirement from his playing days: it was the low-top version of the Air Jordan XX9. During a tour of China, Jordan was seen wearing a Cement Print pair that faded into a gradient. But the most memorable moment with the Air Jordan XX9 came this summer at Jordan's Flight School, where a young camper decided to ask him, "What are thooose!?" and was hit with, "These are the XX9 lows." From that point on, the sneaker would remain a piece of Jordan lore, whether it was worn during Jordan's illustrious NBA career or not. —Matt Welty
11. Air Jordan 1 "UNC"
A pair of Air Jordan 1s based on a little-known Jordan moment—him shattering a backboard in Italy back in '85—got more shine, but these remastered 1s done up in Tar Heel blue were low-key the second-best Air Jordan 1 of the year for traditionalists. Carolina 1s had been flipped before, in both patent (2003) and mid-cut form, but this was the first time the colorway had been brought back in original form. Before this, if you wanted a pair of "Nike Air" Carolina 1s, it was eBay and thousands, assuming you could even find a pair. Hopefully, it's not another 30 years before the next run of these. —RB
10. Jordan CP3.IX Friends and Family "Green"
Chris Paul's sneaker legacy with Jordan Brand isn't a strong one. He's on his ninth signature shoe, and the company finally produced two pairs that people actually wanted to wear off the court. The funny part is that they're both limited to 33 pairs a piece and were only made for friends and family of Nike. The two selected color schemes brought the CP3.IX into the lifestyle spectrum with one pair in green suede with a gum sole, the other came in a vegetable-tanned leather. Both pairs proved that a performance shoe can look great if given the right treatment. Now, if Jordan Brand would only release these sneakers to the public. —Matt Welty
9. Drake x Air Jordan X "OVO"
Kanye might have won sneaker of the year, but he's pointed out that Drake is his only competition musically. 'Ye should probably stay keyed in to Drizzy's come up in the sneaker world as well. Once Drake stepped out in his own "Player Edition" Js, mainly courtside at Raptor games, internet and sneaker geeks got hype. As soon as the release date hit for the OVO Xs, sneaker plugs got hit for that oop and the bots were in full force online. If you were lucky enough to get a pair, it was fair to consider the flip to pay rent for a month or two. —Brandon Edler
8. Air Jordan 1 "Shattered Backboard"
Jordan Brand has done a decent job in creating new sneakers from moments in Michael Jordan's past. During a Nike exhibition game in Italy in 1986, legend has it that Jordan shattered a backboard with a monstrous slam dunk. While this occurred, he was wearing a uniform of black, orange, and white, and so the idea for the "Shattered Backboard" Air Jordan 1 was born. For what it's worth, the color scheme on these shoes is reminiscent of Halloween, but they're praised for the leather used on the upper, which is likely the best the company has used in recent memory. In a year that was centered around the re-upping of Jordan Brand's quality, the "Shattered Backboard" Jordan 1 was the shining example of this new initiative. —Matt Welty
7. Eminem x Carhartt x Air Jordan IV
Talk about ethical dilemma. The Eminem x Carhartt x Jordan IVs are arguably the greatest Wear-Your-Kicks quandary of all time. Like, there's rare, and there's dope. And often they collide, but rarely in such equal and hyperbolic quantities. The simple black/grey/clear color way is infinitely wearable—these could be your everyday go-tos—and the subtle details of brushed cotton fabric, metallic eyelets, and the backwards E / hockey mask logo are so sick and stuntastic they elevate the simple make-up to art. But then, there's the rarity. With only 2-3 digits worth of pairs in the marketplace (there are more than the 10 that auctioned—as Shady's friends and family were gifted pairs—but no more than 313, presumably) these will go down among the most valuable sneakers presently on the aftermarket. So wearing them once is basically like driving a Maserati off the lot. And when was the last time you drove a Maserati off the lot? Thus, the few and the lucky holding pairs of these gems are forced to wrestle with the impossible question: DO I DARE TO UNDEADSTOCK THEM???? Talk about #30000forthekickspeopleproblems, amirite? —NCB
6. Air Jordan VI "White/Maroon"
Nearly 25 years since its first and only release, Jordan Brand brought back the off white and maroon Jordan VIs in all its Nike Air and remastered glory. Even with a $220 price tag and high production numbers, these flew off the shelves at a steady pace. They may not have sold out in the same manner as retros did the past few years, but the kicks received praise on social for Jordan Brand bringing back a low key classic and lacing them up with the right quality. —Brandon Edler
5. Public School x Air Jordan XII
New York fashion brand Public School has become the de facto Air Jordan enthusiasts of the menswear world. For good reason. Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne are self-professed superfans of the enduring sneaker, and last year they immortalized their line with a super-limited Air Jordan I. It was just the start of what seems to be an ongoing love affair. Public School’s first two efforts, the Is from 2014 and the Xs it debuted at its show during New York Fashion Week this past March, were both strong efforts, but the recently released XIIs took the cake. While that retail price of $300 was tough to chew on, the slate grey sneaker had people willing to pay much more than the asking price to get their hands on the luxe nubuck treatment Public School dropped on it. The Jordan Brand and Public School marriage is one that should have both pure sneakerheads and the menswear crowd more than pleased so far, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going away. Based on the overwhelmingly positive reception when these were released, we fully expect to see more PSNY x Jordan collabs in the near future. It’s a partnership that checks all the boxes sneaker lovers want. Now, it’s just about what they can do to top these. —Skylar Bergl
4. Just Don x Air Jordan II
When the Air Jordan II first launched in 1987, it reinvented the then-two-year-old Air Jordan line in a way that had never been seen in athletic shoes, period, let alone ones from a then-15-year-old company. The Air Jordan II was manufactured in Italy, did away with Nike's signature Swoosh logo entirely, and retailed for $100 when $100 was still a LOT of money. It's been retroed several times since, but no retro captured the essence of what the Air Jordan II actually meant quite like the quilted blue Just Dons. Expensive? Yes. Luxurious? Yes. The quilted blue leather and matching blue suede was entirely unlike the original's mix of leather and faux iguana, but still sent the same message: lux sport taken to the extreme. And, like the originals, attention was paid to every detail, from the box to the gold pin. A worthy reinvention of a reinvention? Hell yes. —RB
3. Supreme x Air Jordan V "Camo"
A Supreme x Jordan Brand collaboration has been long overdue. The storied New York skate brand has already established itself as one of Nike’s key collaborators, and it was only a matter of time until Supreme took a crack at putting its own spin on a pair of retro Jordans. For one of the colorways, Supreme decided to update the Air Jordan V with a familiar motif: desert camo. The canvas upper complemented the all-over camouflage design, while hints of Supreme branding were perfectly placed on the V’s signature mesh panel, heel, translucent outsole, and tongue. The rollout proved to be equally as impressive, as Jordan Brand officially introduced the collaboration with a photo of Michael Jordan rocking a T-Shirt from the collection. For that moment, The G.O.A.T. joined a rare group of celebrities who were immortalized by Terry Richardson for a Supreme campaign. Sneakerheads have been crossing their fingers for a Supreme and Jordan Brand collaboration for years, and it turned out to be well worth the wait. —John Marcelo
2. Air Jordan IV "Oreo"
Not to get too sentimental on you, but I’m sitting here looking at two pairs of Oreo IVs that I went through in 2015, and although they’ve been everywhere from Seattle to Tokyo, somehow they’re still in good shape. Let's reflect. People were skeptical about Jordan’s remastering program, but you could wear these IVs daily, and after months of use they wouldn’t look like normal beaters. Forget the black colorway—it’s a safe bet on a IV—but the way that leather held up was impressive. If you’re like me, you clocked thousands of miles in these and you were waiting for them to fall apart, but it never happened. There’s a lot of arguments about fashion over function, but these checked off both boxes. I hope you stocked up. —JLP
1. Air Jordan 1 "Chicago"
Let us say, for argument's sake, that you did not buy a pair of original red, black and white Air Jordans back in 1985. Chances are very good that, if you're reading this, that is true. (Chances are good you weren't even BORN in 1985.) What the remastered Air Jordan 1 allowed you, or anyone else, to do was re-live this experience without the need for a flux capacitor. The box was right, the shoes were right, they even came unlaced and with the full complement of three pairs (red, black, white) of laces. They weren't just shoes, they were a full-on historical experience. And even if your method of purchase was radically different than it would have been 30 years ago, the rest was the same—opening the box, lacing them up, slipping them on for the first time. Plenty of Air Jordan 1s released this year, but only one had the power to transport the buyer back to the very first days of the Air Jordan phenomenon: these. —RB