Best Shoes From Nike's Air Jordan Collection
The 2023 film "Air: Courting A Legend" — directed by Ben Affleck and starring Matt Damon, Affleck, Chris Tucker and Viola Davis — depicts the true story of how Nike and a young Michael Jordan came together to create the Air Jordan sneaker brand in the 1980s. It would become the defining moment in the history of athletic apparel. The movie was a surprise box-office hit and continued to impress upon the world that anything to do with Jordan ... is going to be a success.
In the 38 years since Nike's Air Jordan made its debut on April 1, 1985, Jordan and the shoe that bears his name have become synonymous with their own type of success — both in basketball and in the worlds of fashion, finance and entertainment. The Jordan Brand alone brought Nike $5.1 billion in revenue in 2022, and Jordan has reportedly made close to $2 billion from his deal with Nike since 1985.
Here's a look at the very best Nike basketball shoes from the Air Jordan collection, and if you haven't checked out "Air" yet, it's streaming on Amazon Prime starting on May 12, 2023.
15. Air Jordan XVI
Bottom line: One of the more daring designs from the Air Jordan collection was the Air Jordan XVI, and it's easy to see the influence of "designer" aspects of some past versions of the collection in this shoe. The most memorable part of the design is the spats — definitely a nod to the collection's stated goals of trying to make athletic shoes look like designer dress shoes in some cases.
This was also one of the shoes Jordan wore when he returned for the first of two seasons with the Washington Wizards from 2001 to 2003, following his second un-retirement from basketball.
14. Air Jordan XXI
Bottom line: Designed by D'Wayne Edwards, the high-top version of the Air Jordan XXI looks similar to some of the mid-1990s versions from the collection, released when Jordan was finishing up his time with the Chicago Bulls. I
It's not the high-top version of the Air Jordan XXI that gets this edition on the list, however. It's the low/mid-cut version in the white and Carolina blue that really gets my heart pumping. The embossed "23" on the side is also a nice touch.
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13. Air Jordan 2011
Bottom line: When you make a version of a shoe for over 30 years, you're going to have to explore some different themes. In this case, the Air Jordan 2011 (no Roman numerals) included a "Year of the Rabbit'' colorway to celebrate Jordan's birth year of 1963. It was more notable for actively trying to recreate the classic Air Jordan XI feel with the patent leather on the bottom, but it doesn't quite get there.
The Air Jordan 2011 is probably more intricate than it looks on the surface, as the holes along the sides — stars in the leather patterning — provide extra ventilation. Most notably, this particular version of the Air Jordan has yet to be rereleased as of 2023.
12. Air Jordan XXXIV
Bottom line: The newest version of the Air Jordan collection to make this list, the Air Jordan XXXIV reincorporated the "Flight" logo back into the shoe's tongue. The reason I like this shoe so much is it looks like a futuristic interpretation of some Air Jordans from the mid-1990s.
It also seemed like a return to form for the collection — you have to remember this came out one year after the Air Jordan was released in 2018 as a laceless version of the shoe. Which isn't functionally great for playing basketball.
11. Air Jordan XX3
Bottom line: Tinker Hatfield designed the Air Jordan XX3 with some interesting parameters — all of the materials used to create the shoe were taken from an area not more than 200 miles from the Nike Factory headquarters. It's also the last Air Jordan to feature Roman numerals as part of its title for five years.
Labeled as the "first sustainable basketball shoe" by Nike, the intricate stitching on the sides has aged quite well.
10. Air Jordan XII
Bottom line: The body of the Air Jordan XII is designed with inspiration from the "Rising Sun" on the Flag of Japan. While you very well could get a version of this shoe in a different color than white … you really shouldn't.
This is one of the rare versions of the Air Jordan that's probably not at its best with an interesting color design. The good 'ol black-and-white version of this shoe is just perfect with a small speck of color in the gold lace hooks.
9. Air Jordan VII
Bottom line: The Tinker Hatfield-designed Air Jordan VII debuted Nike's still-used huarache design technology that made for a more comfortable shoe created to conform to the foot of the user. The Air Jordan VII was most notable as being the shoe Jordan wore during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, as part of The Dream Team.
Nike's marketing campaign for the Air Jordan VII featured Jordan paired alongside Bugs Bunny in commercials — mixing humans and animation was big in the late 1980s and early 1990s — and was the genesis for the hit film "Space Jam" starring Jordan in 1996.
8. Air Jordan III
Bottom line: The Air Jordan III was the first version of the shoe to feature the iconic Jumpman logo that would be on every version moving forward. It was also the first Air Jordan designed by Tinker Hatfield, who added his signature touch with the cement gray on the heels. The Jumpman logo is iconic in the same way the NBA logo depicting former Los Angeles Lakers guard Jerry West is iconic — it's not really a design but a picture of Jordan flying through the air for a dunk.
The Jumpman also inspired a hit song — "Jumpman" by Drake and Future, which peaked at No. 12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 2015.
7. Air Jordan VIII
Bottom line: This was the first version of the Air Jordans to come out with an extensive support system — more ankle support, more traction, a tougher midsole, shank plate and most notably two crossover straps. All that extra stuff made the Air Jordan VIII the heaviest version of the shoe to date and earned it the nickname "The Punisher" among sneakerheads.
For my money, of the three colorway versions of this shoe originally released, it's the black-aqua version that makes it so great.
6. Air Jordan IV
Bottom line: The Air Jordan IV was the shoe that brought Air Jordans to the world as the first shoe in the collection released to the global market.
This shoe was featured in the classic Spike Lee film "Do The Right Thing" in 1989 — "YOU STEPPED ON MY BRAND-NEW WHITE AIR JORDANS!" — and Lee famously directed the commercials to promote the Air Jordan IV that included the tagline "It Must Be The Shoes."
These were also the shoes Jordan was wearing when he hit "The Shot" to win the first-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1989. In a testament to Jordan's everlasting popularity (or pettiness), the Air Jordan IV was rereleased in a Cavaliers-inspired colorway in 2012 to honor Jordan's game-winning shot.
What self-respecting Cavs fan would buy those?
5. Air Jordan XIII
Bottom line: The No. 1 thing that always dictated why Air Jordans were so popular was how good Jordan was on the court — this was the shoe he wore for his sixth championship with the Chicago Bulls, which led to his second retirement. A pair he wore in Game 2 of the 1998 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz sold for $2.2 million at an auction in April 2023.
The No. 2 thing that makes Air Jordans popular? Pop culture. Denzel Washington's character, Jake Shuttlesworth, wore a pair of Air Jordan XIIIs in the 1998 Spike Lee movie "He Got Game." He was even wearing them in the movie's pivotal scene when he plays his son, Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen), in a 1-on-1 game in Coney Island. Allen was actually wearing the shoes when he broke Reggie Miller's NBA career 3-point record in 2011.
4. Air Jordan V
Bottom line: The Air Jordan V was designed by Tinker Hatfield, who said he took his inspiration from the single-seat, P-51 Mustang fighter plane used by the U.S. in World War II and the Korean War. The shoe's popularity shot into the stratosphere after it was worn by Will Smith during the first season of the hit sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." Smith wore at least three different versions of the shoe in different episodes, usually without laces.
In a wonderful example of "game recognize game," Jordan honored Smith by rereleasing the Air Jordan V twice, in 2013 and 2022, as the Air Jordan V Bel-Air.
3. Air Jordan I
Bottom line: The shoe that started it all was the Air Jordan I, designed by Pete Moore and released during Jordan's second season in the NBA. The black-and-red version famously earned Jordan a fine for every time he played because it violated then-NBA Commissioner David Stern's "51 percent rule" that required all shoes to be at least 51 percent white. Part of Nike's pitch to Jordan on the shoes was that the company would pay the fines for him, which they happily did.
In one of the most famous come-ups in business history, Nike anticipated the Air Jordan I would bring in $3 million in sales in its first year — it brought in $126 million. Jordan brought these shoes back for his final game with the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden in 1998.
2. Air Jordan VI
Bottom line: These were the shoes Jordan wore when he won his first NBA championship in 1991, and they were designed with German sports cars in mind — most notable for the two holes in the tongue of the shoe and the nob on top of the laces.
While the Air Jordan VI was released in five different colorways, if you know anything at all about basketball shoes, it's the black-on-black version with the red accents that made this version so popular — and they're the ones he was wearing in the 1991 NBA Finals. But the dominant white version with the red accents and black tongue is almost as good.
1. Air Jordan XI
Bottom line: The basketball shoe to end all basketball shoes was the Air Jordan XI — better known as "The Concords" to the basketball-shoe-loving community.
The most interesting twist to the shoe was that Hatfield designed it during the 18 months Jordan was playing minor league baseball in hopes he would one day return to the NBA. When he finally did, the shoes were just in the sample version, and Hatfield and other Nike executives discouraged Jordan from playing in them — which, in true Jordan form, almost guaranteed he would. He wore them in his brief return for the end of the 1995 season and for the 1995-1996 season when he won the first of three consecutive NBA championships (for the second time) with the Chicago Bulls. He also wore them in the film "Space Jam" in 1996.
The Air Jordan XI has been singled out by both Jordan and Hatfield as their favorite from the collection — the ultimate endorsement for the perfect shoe.