A Guide To Jordans

Am I the only one who feels compelled to eat these?
Photo: MTV Style

God’s greatest gift to man is the Air Jordan sneaker. In this particular case, God being the God of Basketball himself, Michael Jordan. His second greatest gift is a tie: either his 1988 Slam Dunk competition-winning-jam-from-the-foul-line OR his game six winning shot against the Jazz in ‘98. [Ed Note: If you were looking for Space Jam here, EXHALE. We haven’t forgotten it. No study of Jordan is complete without it.] But that’s not what this article is about. This article is about Js.

Earlier this week, Mike WiLL Made It dropped a video for the track “23”, which features Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J paying homage to what may be the most beloved, revered and collected sneaker in all the land. For the uninitiated who may be thinking, “Well dang, where have these been all my life?” (everywhere, TBH) or, “I wish I could wear Jordans but don’t think I can pull ’em off!” (you can) or, “Does this mean I have to play sports now?” (no)—we are here to act as a gentle guide. Let us introduce you to the majestic and enchanting world of Air Jordans. (Fair ladies/gents of #TeamJordan #Been#Trill#, you may not need this guide, but stick around for fun. Have a snack. Chime in, if you will.)

The very first Air Jordans were released in 1985 when Nike took a chance on an up-and-coming star from the Chicago Bulls. Now, there are over thirty variations of Air Jordan silhouettes, including the famed numbered series (Air Jordan I to Air Jordan XX3) as well as some fusions and hybrids. Then we have various colorways for each shoe, ongoing re-releases, special editions and vintage collectables. This puts us in the ballpark of roughly 3 fajillion options to choose from.

As a n00b, this may seem overwhelming. HOW do I CHOOSE? Well, rookie—we’re going to break down our top seven favorite Air Jordans for your perusal and hopefully, enjoyment. You may notice the list is heavy on early-days releases. That’s because like The Simpsons, Air Jordan shoes were at their finest from seasons three to seven, with some standouts that followed in later years. Of course this is personal preference… except for the Simpsons thing, which is just fact.


Ones, ones, good for your heart. The more you wear, the more you’re smart.
Photo: MTV Style

Everyone can get down with classic 1s. The list of color options is neverending, and the retro design only grows more finespun with time.

Why They’re Important: Well duh, they’re the first release. But also, these babies were so jaw-droppy in those days that NBA Commissioner David Stern banned Michael Jordan from wearing them on the court (the first incarnation’s black and red colorway defied league rules. YUP). Legend has it that MJ wore them anyway and paid a $5,000 fine each time. Well. Nike paid it. BUT IT WORKED. A legend was born.


Threes are love. <3
Photo: MTV Style

IIIs are probably the most ubiquitous Jordan silhouette, and for a reason: they’ve topped many “best of all time” lists. They’re also a particular favorite among lady types; maybe because something about them is a little softer, a little rounder, a little cushier than most. Like a marshmallow. But still, totally badass. The most badass marshmallow there ever was.

Why They’re Important: This was the first Jordan shoe designed by the legendary Tinker Hatfield, who worked closely with MJ on its creation. Incorporating an athlete’s personality in the shoe design was a revolution at the time, and has long since become standard. Also! These were the first to feature Jordan’s signature Jumpman logo.


Yo, man. Your Jordans are F***ED up!!
Photo: MTV Style

Another Tinker Hatfield special, these got some major shade when first released because a) they were quite similar to IIIs, and b) some fans thought the breathable mesh looked cheap. But Spike Lee loved ’em so much that they were immortalized in Do The Right Thing. And now they’re one of the most beloved pairs of Js you can get your paws on.

Why They’re Important: IVs moved the Jordan brand to a global market—they were the first to be released internationally.


Grapes Grapes Grapes Grapes Grapes Grapes Grapes (sung to the tune of “Cake”)
Photo: MTV Style

Ooooh. Something about these stunners got me feelin’ inappropriate. When the Tinker-designed shoe was released in 1990, there were 4 colorways to choose from, including the legend-status ’Grapes’. The sneaker was inspired by a doubleya doubleya two mustang fighter plane and featured a mega-popular clear sole.

Why They’re Important: #23 was wearing these Js on his feet in 1990, the first year coach Phil Jackson stepped on board and Jordan led the Bulls to a franchise record for wins.


Catch a glimpse of these little pumpkins in the 23 video.
Photo: MTV Style

Inspired by Western African tribal designs, VIIs also caused a ruckus with their release—some loved ’em, others hated ’em. And that s*** got heated. But the homie MJ accomplished so much in this design that they are clutch for any collector. But also, look at that colorway. What a beaut!

Why They’re Important: In these shoes, MJ led the Bulls to their second straight NBA title and—no big deal—wore the above Olympic VIIs as a member of the legendary 1992 Dream Team.


I was so envious of this girl on the basketball team who owned a pair. Alternate title: I belieeeeve I can fly…(I can fly!) Iiiiiii can fly… (I can fly!!)
Photo: MTV Style

With these, a.k.a. possibly the most popular Jordans of all time, MJ worked with Tinker to create a shoe with a “more formal look.” Mission accomplished, pal. What resulted was an elegant basketball shoe in supreme assassin mode. These were stone cold killahs.

Why They’re Important: Not only did MJ come back from retirement and win the Bulls another championship in these Js, but he WORE THEM IN SPACE JAM. SPACE JAM!!


Nothing like a good sunrise, except the getting out of bed part.
Photo: MTV Style

These are Js on their grown and sexy tip. Inspired by the iconic Japanese rising sun flag as well as—apparently—a 19th century women’s dress boot, we can only assume that there was at least one history nerd in the design room.

Why They’re Important: The XIIs were the first to be released exclusively under the Jordan brand. But also, MJ won another championship wearing these honeys. Another day, another dollar, right?

HAI, are you still there? If yes, thank you for being a friend, Mom. Now that you may have chosen your own personal favorite pair of Js, the next most pressing question may be HOW do I WEAR THEM? The good news is you don’t have to do like Miley and cut up a Bulls jersey to show many of your VIP parts. Keep it simple: try black skinnies, a loose tee, cute-ass jacket and show off them Js. Or, you know, they’re your feet—just do you. Or just do what Rihanna does. That’s always the best answer to everything. (Not everything.)

Classic and simple Js get-up.
Photo: J Brand, Aritzia, H&M, Urban Outfitters, Foot Locker

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