It was 1984, Oregon based athletic shoe company Nike, was in a period of major growth. A year prior, the company was part of a successful Olympic campaign in which 58 out of 65 medal holders were wearing the Swoosh. The world's best marathon times for men and women were shattered by Nike athletes. Change in the footwear world was coming—better yet, it was already here.
In that same year, Nike took a gamble on a rookie basketball player with a ton of marketing potential. They assigned designer Peter Moore to create something that would stand out on the basketball court for this player, something with simple yet effective lines, and something that wasn't necessarily revolutionary from a technical standpoint, but surely would prove to be revolutionary from a cultural aspect years down the line. That rookie was Michael Jordan, and that shoe was the Air Jordan 1. Its smooth lines were similar to models such as the Air Ship, and Air Force, but the color blocking would be key, as it was banned from the NBA by then commissioner David Stern for not conforming to the league’s uniform code. The league fined Michael $5,000 per game, and Nike paid every cent on Michael's behalf.
The Air Jordan 1 would go on to become a cult sneaker. Basketball players wore them. Hustlers wore them. Kids on the street that begged their parents to buy them wore them. It was the perfect sneaker. A high top that was available in various colorways, and was easy to wear with anything. Denim, shorts, whatever. Various offshoots and hybrids would follow, but the original model would remain one of the most sought-after sneakers nearly three decades after its debut.
Perhaps now, with the 30th anniversary of the AJ1 on the horizon, there will be even more possibilities for a shoe that had many to begin with.
At the start of 2014, Nike announced that it be would creating models of the Air Jordan 1 for the skater in mind. Way back when, skateboarders had adopted the shoe once it began seeing markdowns, some of those original guys, like Lance Mountain, were asked to collaborate with Nike to create one of a kind, specially-designed versions. Recently, NY brand Public School released a friends and family Air Jordan 1 High that is beautiful to look at; and that's when it hit me. From a design standpoint, the Air Jordan 1 is perfect. Its simple yet durable leather upper, usually in just three colors, stood out. Also, it should be pointed out that it was not as bulky as other basketball sneakers released around that time. The shoe was like a vintage Chevy: clean lines, unique, and innovative.
So far, the two collaborations between Nike SB and Jordan Brand—releases designed by Craig Stecyk and Lance Mountain—have proven to be quite successful. Mountain, who rocked mismatched AJ1s in The Search for Animal Chin, released two pairs of the shoe with that inspiration, one white, and one in black, both with a top coating of paint that, with the proper wear and tear, would reveal the familiar black/royal and black/red colorways beneath. Folks began getting creative with removing that outer surface, running the gamut ranging from acetone to high-powered sanding machines. Various customs like those from JBF replace the leather with snakeskin or other exotic materials on the upper, and more recently I’ve seen people actually drawing on their pairs of black and reds. After seeing Fragment drop heat in our laps with their recent black/white/blue colorway and rumors of a Supreme collaboration in 2015, which in the world of sneakers and skateboarding would be only right. But we all know the chaos that will come of it.
What’s ironic in all of this is with all of the money, design, and effort put into footwear going into 2015, Jordan’s retro lines are still hugely popular. Perhaps now, with the 30th anniversary of the AJ1 on the horizon, there will be even more possibilities for a shoe that had many to begin with. But what does that say about the brand? Its most iconic silhouette has held up like a Ralph Lauren Polo, or a Clark’s Desert Boot, yet with all the amazing designers out there, they haven’t been able to top its success and moreover have seen it repurposed and reimagined by people younger than the sneaker itself.
Oddly enough, Jordan has released low and mid versions of the shoe that just don’t entice the consumer the same way that the original high top does, so with that said, why not release them more often? Think about it, we have repurposed nearly every popular retro model for collaboration purposes, Reebok Ventilator, Saucony Jazz, Asics Gel Lyte molds, so why not the most celebrated signature Jordan sneaker of all time?
Tommie Battle is a contributing writer for Complex. You can follow him on Twitter here.