Sneakers, Sports Memorabilia & Modern Collectibles

The Meteoric Rise of the Nike Air Jordan Brand

By Oliver Vonderahe
Looking where to buy Nike Air Jordans? Shop our curated selection of the best Jordans . Check out our selection including limited edition and popular Jordan sneakers, at our online Sneaker Shop .

Brief History of Nike Air Jordan Shoes

In 1984, Nike signed up-and-coming basketball rookie Michael Jordan to an unprecedented $500,000 a year endorsement deal. The brand was looking to expand its presence in the basketball market, and Jordan—with his impressive skills on the court, and dynamic personality off of it—was the perfect fit. Sporting the infamously dress-code violating black and red Nike Air Ships that the NBA “threw out of the game,” MJ became synonymous with boundary-breaking talent. But it was the release of the first Jordan shoe in 1985 that truly propelled the Jordan brand to new heights.

The first Jordan shoe, the Nike Air Jordan 1, was an instant hit, kicking off modern sneaker collecting as we know it. In fact, it was so popular that Nike continued to make new Air Jordan models each season. The tradition has continued beyond Jordan’s retirement, and Nike is currently on the Nike Air Jordan 37. Throughout, Nike Air Jordans have always represented the pinnacle of sneaker design, and are unmatched when it comes to quality, craftsmanship, materials, innovation, performance and style. We take a closer look at 5 of the most popular Jordans, including rare Nike Jordan 1s and popular releases of the Nike Jordan 4.

The 5 Best Jordans to Shop Now

Nike Air Jordan 1

The Nike Jordan 1s was the first Jordan shoe in Michael Jordan’s groundbreaking signature line, and paved the way for the many coveted player collaborations we see today. Perhaps the most pivotal shoe in sneaker history, today the OG High is a grail for collectors worldwide. With its sleek silhouette, signature Wings branding, and revolutionary air cushioning technology, the Peter Moore-designed Jordans debuted in 1985 to whirlwind success. MJ wore Air Jordan sneakers on the court, and they quickly became a must-have for sneaker collectors and basketball fans alike. The iconic Nike Air Jordan 1 OG High 1985 “Chicago” colorway, in red, white and black premium leather, celebrates Jordan’s pioneering legacy with the Chicago Bulls.

Nike Air Jordan 3

With Peter Moore’s 1987 departure, Nike almost lost its biggest hoops star—until revolutionary designer Tinker Hatfield stepped in. The Air Jordan 3, Hatfield’s first Jordan shoe design, is credited with keeping MJ at Nike. Working in close collaboration with Jordan, Hatfield created a modern, lightweight shoe, remarkable both for its innovative design and historical impact. The first ever mid-cut basketball shoe, the Nike Air Jordan 3 is the first Air Jordan sneaker to feature ‘Visible Air’ in the form of an exposed heel unit. It also marks the debut of the iconic Jumpman logo on the tongue, and the model’s distinctive elephant print accents.

Since its original 1988 release, the Nike Air Jordan 3 design has inspired numerous collabs and special editions. One of our favorites, the Nike Air Jordan 3 Retro Fragment, gets a sleek, minimalist treatment thanks to Hiroshi Fujiwara’s design label, Fragment Design. Known as the godfather of the Ura-Harajuku fashion scene in Japan, Fujiwara riffs on the Hatfield original, accenting the white tumbled leather AJ3s with black leather overlays embossed with the Fragment lightning bolt logo.

Nike Air Jordan 4

Hatfield’s second Air Jordan model, the Air Jordan 4 debuted in 1989 in 4 OG colorways. Combining striking aesthetics with unique performance-enhancing features, the Nike Jordan 4 sneaker stands out for its triangular support wings and breathable over-molded mesh paneling. Its eye-catching design quickly made the Nike Jordan 4 one of the most popular Jordans, bolstered by standout moments on and off the court: His Airness famously hit “The Shot” over Craig Ehlo sporting Nike Air Jordan 4s, and the shoe makes a memorable appearance in Spike Lee’s seminal 1989 film Do the Right Thing.

Thanks to its perennial popularity, the Nike Jordan 4 has inspired many innovative collaborations. Among the most talked about, the KAWS Nike Air Jordan 4 Retro marked the first collab between Nike Jordan Brand and legendary street artist KAWS, aka Brian Donnelly. The 2017 release was so hotly anticipated that it nearly started a riot—a London raffle had to be shut down by police. In premium gray suede, the KAWS Jordans definitely live up to the hype: the artist’s distinctive Mickey Mouse-inspired glove graphics adorn the insoles, outsoles and uppers, and Donnelly’s signature ‘XX’ hits the heel tabs of this Nike Jordan 4.

Nike Air Jordan 5

For the Air Jordan 5, Tinker Hatfield took design cues from the P-51 Mustang fighter jet, an American-made plane used by Allied forces in World War II. The Air Jordan 5’s aggressive Mustang-inspired silhouette embodies Jordan’s dominant on-court style, while signature shark-tooth detailing on the midsole pays homage to “The Shark,” a version of the P-51 embellished with cartoonish shark teeth. Like its predecessors, this Jordan Brand sneaker also represents a number of design firsts: the first Jordan shoe with a clear outsole, it was also the first to feature reflective 3M material on the tongue and a molded ankle collar.

This special edition Nike Air Jordan 5 Retro SE Oregon brings an added element of Nike history to the classic design: the company was founded by former ‘Oregon Ducks’ track athlete Phil Knight and coach Bill Bowerman, and Hatfield himself is an alumnus and former track athlete. The Jordan shoes feature Apple Green uppers with contrasting black eyelets, tongues and mesh, and yellow shark tooth detailing on the midsoles.

Nike Air Jordan 11

The Nike Air Jordan 11 has the distinction of being the favorite sneaker of MJ himself. Released in 1995, the iconic Jordan shoes made NBA history during Michael Jordan's legendary 72-10 season with the Bulls. Jordan’s spectacular on-court performance wasn’t the only thing that made the Air Jordan 11 stand out: with a ballistic mesh upper wrapped in a shiny patent leather mudguard, this was a basketball shoe the likes of which had never been seen before. This Nike Air Jordan—which Jordan also famously wears in the 1996 movie Space Jam—became an instant pop cultural phenomenon, and remains to this day one of the most popular Jordans.

This Nike Air Jordan 11 Retro Jubilee was created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the AJ11. Black uppers are dressed in sleek patent leather and ballistic mesh, while the back of the heel features a metallic silver Jumpman and Jordan’s number 23. Eyelets are adorned with silver “JORDAN” lettering, and a Jumpman can also be found on the inside of the tongue and sole of the shoe.

Available for Immediate Purchase

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.