The Road to 1: The Beginning of the Air Jordan Legacy

The Road to 1: The Beginning of the Air Jordan Legacy

Marissa Villamor

Netflix and ESPN have presented a documentary series titled The Last Dance in honor of the iconic Michael Jordan. The documentary showcases the 1997-1998 season of the Chicago Bulls, highlighting Michael Jordan as well as his teammates from Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and more. Michael Jordan goes down in history as one of the greatest basketball players to ever live and has transformed his legacy beyond basketball to sneaker culture. The Jordan Brand has been a fan favorite ever since its inception, however within the past few years and the premiere of The Last Dance, Jordan brand has skyrocketed into the most popular sneaker and lifestyle brands in history to date. In celebration of the final two episodes of the fan-favorite series, we’re going down memory lane and highlighting the iconic Air Jordan 1 silhouette and the timeline of how the sneaker has gained notoriety with every subculture and generation since its creation.

In 1984, Jordan entered the NBA draft. During his time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jordan wasn’t sure if he was going to go back to play his senior year at UNC or enter the NBA draft to play professionally. At UNC, Jordan by no means was the star player as the whole team consisted of NBA-ready players. The 1981-1982 UNC National Championship Team is also noted as one of the most legendary basketball teams in history to date. His coach encouraged Jordan to enter the draft and was the overall 3rd pick for the Chicago Bulls in the ‘84 NBA draft. 

Jordan at the '84 NBA Draft/ESPN

 During his time at university and at the beginning of his NBA career, Jordan initially played in Converse sneakers. Converse was THE basketball shoe during the 80s and had top tier athletes endorsing the brand such as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Aside from Converse, Adidas was the other popular brand that was seen on artists and athletes like RUN D.M.C., Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and more. Jordan was very interested in an Adidas partnership and had no interest in any other shoe brand. 

Back in the 80s, Nike was known for being a primarily running brand. They weren’t known for making basketball shoes and sure did not have any signature shoes that caught the eye of the masses. Nike was a very small and volatile company, known for being rebellious and different. 

Jordan made it clear to David Falk, who was his agent at the time, that he wanted a sponsorship deal with Adidas. However, Falk was concerned that Adidas would have treated Jordan the same as everyone else and that Jordan would have gotten lost in the faces of other top athletes. Falk had a good relationship with Nike and knew they were interested in signing Jordan. Jordan wasn’t into the idea of a Nike sponsorship as he didn’t like the way that the shoes looked due to their thick soles. 

Deloris Jordan, Jordan’s mother, made Michael take the meeting with Nike. Big companies such as Adidas or Converse wouldn’t have been able to give Jordan the creative freedom to produce his own shoe as Nike would. Nike did everything they could to impress the Jordan family, giving them the full treatment at the Nike headquarters from Limo rides and more to convince Jordan to sign with them. They didn’t want Jordan just to be another face, they wanted Jordan to be THE face and to create a new line specifically for Jordan. The meeting succeeded and became the start of a dynasty. 

Peter Moore, who was the creator of the iconic Air Jordan 1 sneaker, wanted to make something revolutionary. He was fascinated by air and airplanes, and the opportunity that air could bring in terms of flights and everything else. You needed Air to dominate. 

Nike was known for being rebellious. They wanted to be different and Michael Jordan was on board to do so. At the time, the sneaker industry was very generic, especially in the basketball industry. Shoes were primarily black and white and had the standard cut sole. They were stale, there was no creativity or expression in the shoes. Moore wanted Jordan’s shoe to be so different, it would be game-changing in the industry. 

Nike had a lot of signature players but not any star athletes. They needed someone to be their Jumpman who could fly through the air. Jordan was known for his spectacular dunks, he could jump and fly through the air easily. The connection was made, “Air Jordan.” Michael Jordan signed a 5-year $2.5 million contract with royalties for every Air Jordan sneaker sold. Which little did we know back then, the signing of Michael Jordan would go down as the biggest signing in Nike history and possibly for any brand to date. 

Jordan with Banned 1's/Nike

On October 15, 1984, Michael Jordan wore the Nike Air Ship in a black and red colorway against the New York Knicks. This was the first time that a sneaker was worn in the league that wasn’t white or black. Jordan ended up only wearing these shoes once during the pre-season game. As this broke the NBA league’s rules, the league fined Michael Jordan $5,000 per game every time he wore the sneakers. Nike was willing to pay that cost. The NBA did not approve of this sneaker as basketball sneakers were meant to be predominantly white with accent colors. 

The iconic silhouette later became known as the “banned” silhouette. Nike’s genius marketing spun these shoes to target rebels. Everyone on the streets wanted these sneakers as they promoted standing up for what you believed in and being rebellious. Once the shoe was released to the public, the shoes sold out immediately. 

The commercial narrates, “On October 15, Nike created a revolutionary new basketball shoe. On October 18, the NBA threw them out of the game. Fortunately, the NBA can’t stop you from wearing them. Air Jordans. From Nike.” The iconic commercial can be seen down below. 

In November 1984, the Air Jordan 1 made its first on-court debut in the Chicago colorway against the Philadelphia 76ers. This silhouette put Nike on the map. The silhouette became so popular that it attracted fans outside of the basketball world. Skateboarders, hip hop artists and more could be seen wearing the Air Jordan 1.

At the time, Air Jordan 1 retailed at $65 which sold out immediately once it hit the shelves. During the first year, Nike released 13 different colorways. Popular colorways were the “Chicago,” “Royal,” “Black Toe” and “Shadow.” Nike sold $70 million worth of Air Jordans in the first two months. By the end of 1985, the Jordan brand had brought in more than $100 million in revenue. 

After selling out, Nike restocked the Air Jordan 1 and the sneaker ended up sitting on the shelves and was marked down as low as $20. This was the same season of 1985-1986 when Michael Jordan was injured. Some speculate that without Jordan playing, the Jordan brand would tank. As Jordan was the face of the brand and without him, there would be no brand. The Jordan 1 also became quickly overshadowed by later Jordan models, especially the Jordan 3. 

Air Jordan 1 Banned

On March 8, 1998, Michael Jordan wore his original Air Jordan 1 Chicago’s in his final game at Madison Square Garden as a Chicago Bulls player. Jordan ended up putting 42 points that night, and even though his feet were hurting because he hadn’t worn the shoes during a game in a long time, he kept them on since he was playing so well. This game has gone down as one of Jordan’s most iconic games in history.

After a short hiatus from the league, Jordan made his return to the NBA in 2001 and brought back the Air Jordan 1’s with him. Jordan retired for good in 2003 and Nike retired Air Jordan 1 the following year until 2007. Later that year, Nike brought back the silhouette with the release of the “Old Love, New Love” pack. The “Old Love, New Love” pays tribute to Jordan’s passions with basketball and motorcycle racing. One of the pairs takes on the look of the iconic line’s first signature shoe with a black toe detailing, while the other pair was inspired by the black and yellow colors of Jordan’s racing team. 

Air Jordan 1 "Old Love, New Love"

The Jordan Brand changed fashion and street culture since it first launched and has grown into a lifestyle brand. Artists from Jay Z, Run D.M.C., Spike Lee and N.W.A. could be seen wearing Air Jordan shoes. The Air Jordan 1 birthed a new perspective on how to express one’s style with apparel and sneakers. Sneakers became symbolized as a form of status. Spike Lee also helped revolutionize the Jordan brand into the sneaker culture with his iconic “It’s Gotta Be the Shoes” commercial. Air Jordan’s were the first basketball shoe that jumped outside of the basketball industry into a modern cultural shoe. The sneaker also became popular in the skateboarding industry and in high fashion, everyone wanted to be wearing Air Jordans. 

To this date, Air Jordan’s have been a cultural staple throughout pop culture. The silhouette has transformed from just a sneaker to a brand, to art and more. Tom Yoo is an example of how the iconic silhouette has transformed his world of art. Yoo is an artist known for creating life-size sneaker silhouettes out of legos. We sat down with Yoo to learn more about his creations and how the Air Jordan 1 has transformed his life. 

Travis Scott/Tom Yoo

How did you get started making Lego Art and what was your first Air Jordan creation?

Everything started back in 2014 when I received a “Back to the Future” DeLorean LEGO set in a Christmas gift exchange. It was the gift no one wanted but my wife nudged me to take it since she knew my love for BTTF. When I opened the box the next day, I was blown away to find out that the kit was designed by a fan. He’d gone through the process of submitting his design to LEGO, receiving 10,000 votes from the public and, ultimately, LEGO produced his DeLorean.

Seeing this, my mind immediately began to race – what's something that I love that I could translate into LEGOs?  Of course, the answer was obvious...Jordans. I then spent the next several months dedicated to developing the right design for my first sneaker sculpture. Until finally, I debuted the LEGO Air Jordan 11 on my IG in May 2015 – the first Air Jordans ever made out of LEGO.  The rest is history.

What is your favorite Air Jordan piece you’ve made?

This is not a fair question – it’s like asking which child is your favorite. But if I had to choose one shoe that was the most fun to create it would have to be the large Air Jordan 1 - Travis Scott.  It was not only one of the first pieces I made in a significantly larger size but also it was obviously the first time I had to work with the reverse swoosh. This trademark design element presented some new challenges in construction which made it a really memorable sculpture to work on.   

How long does it typically take to make an Air Jordan piece?

Concept design is typically a week-long process.  Next, sourcing materials can take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks.  This can be the biggest challenge in the process because there isn’t a way to simply order all the bricks you need with one-click. Oftentimes, it’s not possible to find the LEGOs you need in the colors you are looking for, so this requires that I go back to the drawing board and edit my design. Once the LEGOs arrive, I check every piece to make sure it’s in good condition and that I’ve received everything I’ve ordered. This leads to the final step - construction. In my case, I hand-glued each piece together to make sure there’s structural integrity to the final product.  I also inspect each brick to make sure the side with the least amount of imperfections faces outwards. Overall, this building phase can take up to a week but it’s worth it because I never compromise on the quality of my work.      

How big is one of your creations?

Sculptures range in size from being 8.5 inches long to over 20.5 inches long (and weighing 18 pounds!). 

What does the Jordan 1 mean to you?

My journey with Jordans started with my first pair in 1989 - the 4.  Suffice to say, my appreciation for the Jordan 1 didn’t kick in until later in my life.  With that said, it holds a special place in my heart because it’s THE ONE that started it all.  It’s a big deal to me to remember where you come from so it only makes sense that I hold the 1 in such high regard.  It blazed the trail yet somehow has remained timeless.  Without it, I wouldn’t be sitting here doing what I am doing now.  Period.     

And I have to mention, it’s one of the few sneakers that I feel looks good with any fit.      

What is your favorite Air Jordan 1 of all time and why?

My favorite has to be the Fragments. Not only is blue my favorite color, but I also have a deep respect for Hiroshi Fujiwara and everything he has done for the Culture.    

Rock one, stock one, flip one: Travis Scott, Off-White Chicago and Fragment?

Rock:      Fragment (WEAR YOUR KICKS!!!)

Stock:     Off-White Chicago

Flip:        Travis Scott

Dunk Conteset/Tom Yoo

Since its inception, the Air Jordan 1 silhouette has released in a multitude of colorways and collaborations. The Jordan Brand has gained notice from practically every designer and every creative wanting to collaborate with the brand and on the AJ1. Here are some notable collaborations that have helped make the sneaker as iconic as it is today. 

In 2008, Nike partnered with the American clothing company and denim empire, Levi’s on the Air Jordan 1 Retro ‘23/501 Denim Pack.’ The release was so limited that they only dropped around 2,300 pairs of the silhouette with a pair of co-branded Levi’s 501 jeans and a matching t-shirt. Levi’s x Air Jordan 1 features a navy denim base with varsity red elephant print and khaki accents in the stitching and Swoosh. The current average aftermarket price on GOAT is around $700.

Air Jordan 1 Retro '23/501' Denim Pack

In December 2014, Jordan Brand collaborated with Hiroshi Fujiwara’s Fragment Design for their minimal approach to the classic silhouette. The silhouette features a similar color blocking to the Air Jordan 1 “Black Toe” but with royal blue addition. The silhouette contains a white and black leather upper with royal blue accent colors and features a Fragment double-bolt logo on the heel. The Nike Fragment Design x Air Jordan 1 is one of the most coveted colorways ever created in sneaker history. The current average aftermarket value on GOAT is around $3,060.

Air Jordan 1 "Fragment"

 In a 1985 exhibition game in Italy, Jordan dunked the ball and as he gripped the rim coming down, the glass backboard came shattering down. During the game, Jordan wore a black and orange jersey, giving the meaning behind the colorway of the iconic Air Jordan 1 silhouette. 30 years after the event, the Jordan Brand introduced the Air Jordan 1 “Shattered Backboard” in 2015. The Shattered Backboard’s features a black, orange and white leather upper paying homage to Jordan’s uniform. This current silhouette is one of the highest reselling sneakers outside of a non-original colorway for the Jordan 1. The current average aftermarket value on GOAT is around $1,000

Followed by two more renditions, the Shattered Backboard 2.0 released in 2016 which featured an away color blocking scheme with a white and orange leather upper and black accent colors; similar to the Air Jordan 1 Chicago. In 2019, Jordan released another rendition known as the Shattered Backboard 3.0 which featured a crinkle patent leather upper represented as the shattered glass in a black and orange upper. 

Air Jordan 1 Shattered Backboard 1.0

In 2017, Nike partnered with Off-White ℅ Virgil Abloh on a series of shoes called “The Ten.” The Ten was inspired by Abloh’s most iconic silhouettes of Nike’s past, reimagined through Abloh’s avant-garde style. Undoubtedly, the most iconic silhouette out of The Ten was the Air Jordan 1 “Chicago.” The Chicago put a deconstructed twist on the original Air Jordan 1 that featured exposed stitches, “Air” written on the midsole, a swoosh-less medial side, 85 printed on the inside of the ankle collars, zip ties and extra sets of laces in neon colors. All very much classic Off-White branding elements. The current average aftermarket value on GOAT is around $3,270.

Other popular models in “The Ten” are the Nike Blazer Mid, Air Max 90, Air Max 97, Air Force 1 and Air Presto. Other iconic Off-White collaborations include the Jordan 1 Retro High UNC Men’s Off White which currently is reselling around $1,370 and Air Jordan 1 x Off-White Men’s’ NRG.

The Off-White x Jordan 1 “Canary Yellow” is also rumored to release this year in 2020, however, there are no set confirmation dates. The Canary Yellow silhouette was first seen at Abloh’s Figures of Speech exhibition at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art back in 2019.

Air Jordan 1 Retro High Off-White Chicago.

 In 2019, the Jordan Brand partnered with Union Los Angeles to collaborate on the Air Jordan 1 Retro Hi 'Union in two different colorways, “Black Toe” and “Storm Blue.” The model was designed by Union’s Chris Gibbs who took inspiration from the ‘80s and ‘90s. The models resemble a vintage pair of Jordan 1s and combine Union’s reputation of elevated taste and quality. The style features a DIY style to create a different take on the classic sneaker. Both silhouettes feature exposed stitching, pre-yellowed midsoles, nubuck fabrications and dual-colored laces. The current average aftermarket value on GOAT is around $1,200 for each pair.

Air Jordan 1 Retro High Unions.

Another notable collaboration that has taken the world by storm in the hip-hop industry is the current on-going collaboration with rapper Travis Scott. In 2019, the Air Jordan 1 Retro High Travis Scott released. The silhouette has some unique elements which feature a reverse Nike swoosh, a hidden stash pocket in the tongue and Cactus Jack branding. The Air Jordan 1 x Travis Scott is notably the most popular out of all Travis Scott collaborations. The Air Jordan 1 is widely recognized as the most sought after silhouette in all different subcultures. The current average aftermarket value on GOAT is around $1,045.

Air Jordan 1 Travis Scott

Other sought-after releases that haven’t been formally announced yet are the Air Jordan 1 x Dior collaboration. During the Men’s Fall 2020 runway show in Miami, Kim Jones of Dior partnered with Jordan on the Air Dior collaboration. This silhouette merges the high-fashion and luxury world of Dior with the sports lifestyle of the Air Jordan brand. This silhouette will be highly sought after and can already be seen on celebrities like Travis Scott and Kylie Jenner. A release date has not been announced yet, but get ready as the release is likely to be very limited.

Air Jordan 1 Dior

After 35 years since the Air Jordan 1 was introduced, the silhouette can be labeled as the most iconic sneaker in history. Jordan brand doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon and has seen heightened popularity in the past decade. Recently, a pair of Air Jordan 1s Chicago from 1985 worn by Michael Jordan and autographed by Michael Jordan has gone up for auction and is the custom-made player sample from the GOAT himself. The pair recently sold on Sothebys for $560,000 and set the record for the most expensive sneaker ever sold.

Without Michael Jordan and his mom Deloris Jordan forcing her son to take a meeting with Nike, who knows where the sneaker industry would be today. The Air Jordan 1 has become a cultural staple throughout different subcultures and is arguably the most sought after, inspiring and game-changing brands and sneakers in history to date. The partnership of Nike and Michael Jordan has given the world a voice of culture and confidence in fashion and we are more than excited to see what’s to come with the revolutionary innovation of Jordan Brand.

Jumpman/Sneaker Bar Detroit

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