Nostalgia once again dominates this year’s list of top Air Jordans, but the generational shift that appeared to be emerging on our mid-year list has solidified as the year closes. We are now undoubtedly in an era where non-original colorways like the “Cool Grey” Air Jordan 11 and “Lightning” Air Jordan 4 have been in the pantheon of sneaker culture long enough to come back and be cherished as if they were worn by Michael Jordan in his prime.
Returning not-quite-classics were only part of the equation though, as new collaborations predictably played an important part in Jordan Brand’s year. Marcus Jordan, Virgil Abloh, and Travis Scott all added to their respective Air Jordan résumés, however each of those shoes carries its own unique baggage thanks to the controversy surrounding the Trophy Room launch, the Astroworld Festival tragedy, and Abloh’s unexpected passing. Meanwhile, A Ma Maniére and Union dropped projects that fell on opposite ends of the theme spectrum, but were each coveted for their own respective approaches.
As we wrap up the year, take a look back at which Air Jordans stood out the most. These are the best Air Jordans of 2021.
10. Billie Eilish x Air Jordan 15
9. Union x Air Jordan 4 'Tent and Trail'
Release Date: June 20
When Union released its first two colorways of the Air Jordan 4 in August 2020, there were some skeptics. Chris Gibbs’ alterations, mainly the folded over and sewed down tongue to mimic the way he prefers to wear his 4s, were not immediately well-received by everyone. Of course, plenty of opinions eventually changed and the collab would go on to become one of the most celebrated of the year. It was so nice, in fact, that Union did two more in 2021 to help celebrate its 30th anniversary.
This time, the pairs were each dressed in outdoorsy color palettes that mixed earthy suedes with bright pops of teal, purple, aqua blue, and green as a nod to the outdoor gear that was popular throughout the ‘90s. Of course, the folded tongue made a return as well. There was even a short film to mark the release starring Migos member and noted sneakerhead Offset to tie it all together. The second round of Union 4s isn’t quite as good as the first, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t still some of the best Jordans to hit shelves this past year. Plus, 30 years in business is a huge milestone in streetwear. Getting to celebrate that with your own Jordans has to count for something. —Mike DeStefano