The original Air Jordan (Air Jordan 1 or Air Jordan I) was a revelation — not so much a technical one as an aesthetic one. The airbag was small, the silhouette somewhat conventional, the outsole pattern ordinary. In the world of performance basketball shoes, new ground was not broken—1982’s Air Force 1 was far more revolutionary. But the look, that was something quite different. The red and black Air Jordan 1 with the now-familiar ball and wings logo on the outer ankles proclaimed nothing less than a sneaker revolution; one that would shape all what was to follow. Nike
’s basketball business—most of their business, for that matter—would ride on the shoulders of a rookie from North Carolina.
Things didn’t start smoothly, but in hindsight, they couldn’t have gone better. Famously, Michael Jordan
was fined for wearing the original red and black shoes, as they did not conform with the NBA
’s uniform code that required all members of a team to wear the same colors. Even more famously, Nike’s ad agency created a commercial around it — BANNED — a theme which would later return on one of the shoe’s many retro releases. Nike would also create a secondary colorway that circumvented the NBA rule. And all this before the shoe even hit the market.
As for Jordan himself, he did more than his part in making sure Nike’s unconventional decision paid off. He didn’t actually start his rookie season in the shoe, as it wasn’t ready yet. But he went on to wear it in the 1985 Slam Dunk contest, the remainder of that first season, and for all of his injury-shortened second season, including the 1986 playoff series against the Boston Celtics
where he scored 63 points in Boston Garden, prompting Larry Bird
to declare he was “God disguised as Michael Jordan.” And to think he was just getting started.