The Air Jordan 39, Officially Unveiled

Jordan Brand designers break down the latest game shoe, which is set to release in July.

Air Jordan 39 Sol White Black Red
The Air Jordan 39 will release first in the ‘Sol’ colorway on July 23 for $200. Via Complex
Air Jordan 39 Sol White Black Red

If you’re there at his private golf course, The Grove XXIII, in Florida, you will know Michael Jordan is arriving before you see him. Maybe the clouds part a bit as he approaches. Maybe gravity shifts just barely in his presence, in deference to the times he’s defeated it. In some way or another, you can tell when Jordan is near.

“You hear him when he comes off the golf course,” says Joël Greenspan, a lead designer at Jordan’s namesake sneaker brand. “He's with his buddies and they're having fun, and you hear that voice and you're just sitting in the boardroom just trembling.”

Jordan is extremely warm and responsive upon arrival, per Greenspan. But still, it’s hard not to be at least a little intimidated by the guy whose name is on your paychecks, on the golf course, and on the world’s most popular and longest active line of basketball sneakers.

Greenspan presented to Jordan (at his golf course and elsewhere) a number of times as the lead designer on the Air Jordan 39, the upcoming Jordan signature shoe that’s set to release in July for $200. The shoe had more input from Jordan himself than any other of the brand’s signature models in recent memory.

Baron Air Jordan 39

“We met him with the brief, met him with the concept, showed him the sketch, showed him prototypes throughout the entire process,” says Greenspan. “He was more involved than he's been in many, many years as far as I know.”

The Air Jordan 39 represents in some ways a change in direction for Jordan Brand. It’s still intended as a pinnacle performance basketball shoe, and it still has a clear, 30-year antecedent like other Jordan signature models lately—as the Air Jordan 38 took cues from the Air Jordan 8, the Air Jordan 39 does from the Air Jordan 9.

But the Air Jordan 39 strives to better involve the man who originally inspired the sneakers. It’s also focused literally on helping basketball players change direction on the court. And the model is intended to be pared down, more simplistic than recent Air Jordan mainline entries.

“The past has been very overbuilt and over done, and obviously we see the comments and the things we get called out for that,” says Bennett Shaw, Jordan Brand’s director of sport footwear. “Just getting back to the basics is something that we pressed heavy on this one.”

Paolo Banchero Air Jordan 39

While the Air Jordan 39 is still months away for the general public, Jordan Brand athlete Paolo Banchero is set to debut the sneaker as his Orlando Magic take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday. Ahead of that, Complex spoke with Greenspan and Shaw for a full breakdown on the design and intent of the Air Jordan 39.

The Inspiration

Air Jordan 39 and Air Jordan 9

One of the objectives on the latest game shoe was to bring Air Jordan back down to Earth. Of course, the line will always be tied to the airborne heroics of its namesake, but Jordan Brand wanted the Air Jordan 39 to solve for a style of basketball played more on the floor.

“We've been heavy on Flight, and that's something that's been specific to MJ,” says Shaw. “But I mean, you see the game today, there's not a lot of crazy high flyers. It's all on the ground.”

The design team zeroed in on Jordan’s cross-step, a move that successive generations of hoopers learned from him.

“It's a move that [Jordan] just did fluidly almost every time down the court,” says Greenspan, “and we felt it was a good platform to just have a discussion with him about performance.”

It ended up being a long discussion. The designers presented Jordan with old game footage, circa 1991, of him playing in a pair of Air Jordan 6s. On the spot, he gave a dissertation on the cross-step, recounting how his shoe felt on his foot, how his toenails would break under extreme circumstances, and what the physical movement demanded of him.

“This is what drove the conversation and ended up driving all of the internals of the shoe,” says Greenspan. “Cushioning setup, traction, the lower silhouette—everything about this kind of move, which is fundamentally just about changing directions.”

The Testing

Air Jordan 29 Painted

The Air Jordan 39 refers back not only to the Air Jordan 9, but also the Air Jordan 29. When the designers for the next game shoe wanted to study how the foot in motion would react to Jordan's cross-step, they had basketball players lace up paint-covered pairs of the Air Jordan 29.

“We had our testers wear a shoe, a 29, and do the move based on Michael's exact instructions,” says Greenspan.

Air Jordan 39 Upper

Over time, the paint on the shoe wore away in jagged sections across the upper—think the intentional paint chipping on the Margiela Converse collaborations from 2013.

The Air Jordan 39 borrows from the crackled sections that emerged, using engineered embroidery over ballistic mesh to recreate the effect. Greenspan describes that pattern, the physical trace of Jordan’s movement, as the heartbeat of the shoe.

The Design

Air Jordan 39 Tongue

If the Air Jordan 39 is not the most visually complex sneaker, Jordan is the reason why. He challenged its designers to give his latest shoe a sense of bold simplicity.

“He wants to get us back to basics,” says Greenspan, “to make sure we're confident and clean and simple.”

So the shoe’s references, the fine details that allude to the Jordan 9, are subtle. The flexible polyurethane on the tongue, a tactile bit that begs to be thumbed over, is supposed to evoke the Jumpman globe icon on the back of the Jordan 9. That shoe’s side perforations are borrowed for the Jordan 39 and flipped as triangles, made to look like two turn signals on the vamp that represent the wearer changing direction. 

The sneaker’s designers obsessed over numbers. The Air Jordan 39’s bootie has 23 perforations on the medial and lateral sides, 39 beneath its vamp, and another nine over the toes.

The midfoot rubber that connects the tooling to the upper has an enlarged version of a pattern found on the Jordan 9’s globe icon. The Jordan 39’s take consists of 39 panels. Calculating how exactly to fit all that into the sneaker was no easy task.

“It took me so long to do,” laughs Greenspan.

The Technology

Air Jordan 39 outsole

The clever details embedded in the shoe’s aesthetics will not do much to enhance its actual on-court performance, of course. For that, Jordan Brand outfitted the Air Jordan 39’s sole with a combination of full-length ZoomX foam—a first for a Jordan shoe—and full-length Zoom Air. 

The ZoomX foam, typically used in running sneakers from Jordan Brand parent company Nike, provides a different sensation in the Jordan 39, according to its designer.

“It feels different than in a running shoe, quite frankly, because it’s caged in kind of a cup sole,” says Greenspan. “So we have the stability you need for a basketball game, but underfoot that bounce is fantastic.” 

The cushioning sits on a rubber herringbone traction pattern on the outsole and TPU that Jordan Brand says will stabilize the foot in multi-directional movements.

The Colorways

Air Jordan 39 Lumiere

The numerical rigor in the Air Jordan 39 extends even to the colorways, which number nine in total (for now). The number nine works on another level as a nod to one number Jordan wore in the Olympics—like all big sneaker companies, Jordan Brand is working on tying its product to this summer’s Olympic games in Paris.

The first Air Jordan 39 to release, on July 23, is a white-based colorway with a red Jumpman logo on the tongue that Jordan Brand is calling the “Sol,” French for “foundation,” in reference to the ground-level footwork the sneaker is built around. It will be followed on Aug. 6 by the black and white “Lumiere” colorway, named after Paris’ moniker of the City of Light and meant to represent its skyline at night.

Air Jordan 39 Guo Ailun

Aside from a China-exclusive light blue pair designed for Jordan Brand athlete Guo Ailun, the other Air Jordan 39 colorways connect back to Jordan’s history. There is the black and white “Croix” modeled after an original Jordan 9 colorway, the three-colored “Baron” tied to his brief stint in baseball in the 1990s, the “Heritage” in flooded red, the “Style” referencing Jordan’s suits, the “University” in Carolina blue, and the “Noir” in a straightforward Black Cat look.

The colorways aren’t particularly loud, and none of their themes are overbearing. But for Jordan Brand, each draws a clear line that connects the Air Jordan 39 back to the brand’s lineage.

“Like all things, it always starts with the story,” says Shaw. “What are we trying to convey to the kid? What do we want the brand to stand for as we're going forward? That was a lot of the conversation early. What does this line represent? What we have we kind of lost a little bit?”