Sneakers, Sports Memorabilia & Modern Collectibles

Nike Air Ship And The Rise Of Jordan Brand

By Sotheby's
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The Nike Air Ship is a key part of the design legacy of the original Air Jordan. When Nike launched the Jordan line, they did it with a legendary ad campaign, now referred to as the “Banned” commercial. The camera focuses on Michael Jordan, in black and red practice gear, dribbling the basketball and holding it in his hands. As the camera lowers onto Michael Jordan's feet, you see two shiny black and red Air Jordan 1s (now known as the ‘Bred’ colorway). It was a powerful and remarkable ad, and is famous for the brand that it helped catapult into history: The Jordan Brand.


To start at the beginning, in 1984, Nike gave Michael Jordan his own signature line of shoes and clothes, which was pivotal in Jordan agreeing to sign with Nike. It was the first time the brand did anything like this, and it paved the way for many of the player collaborations we now see. The term “Air Jordan” was coined by Michael Jordan’s agent David Falk. David apparently came up with name because Nike shoes had air in the soles and because, of course, Michael Jordan played basketball in the air.

Nike Air Jordan 1 Retro Banned 2011

The Nike Air Ship is a key part of the Air Jordan brand genesis. When Michael joined the NBA, the Air Jordan 1 was still not ready for him. He preferred sneakers that were lower to the ground, where he could feel the court beneath his feet. In the process of creating the Air Jordan 1, Nike supplied Jordan a limited number of Nike Air Ships – some of which had “Air Jordan” or “Nike Air” printed on the heels.

The “Air Ship” – designed by Bruce Kilgore – was originally released in 1984, and was the first basketball shoe worn by Michael Jordan as an NBA professional. In the preseason and early games of his rookie year, Jordan wore a white and red colorway and also the black and red colorway referenced above. Soon after, as designed by Peter Moore, Michael Jordan wore Air Jordan 1s in 1984 and 1985, as well as modified versions in 1986 (after a broken foot Michael endured).

Nike Air Jordan 1 Retro High OFF-WHITE Chicago

In terms of the shoe itself, the original Air Jordan 1s were so popular and successful that Nike continued to make new signature Air Jordans each season. This tradition continued beyond Jordan's retirement, and Nike is currently on the Air Jordan 36. From the day it launched, Air Jordans have always represented the pinnacle of sneaker design. The shoes are unmatched when it comes to quality, craftsmanship, materials, innovation, performance, and of course style.

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