Ranking the Best Signature Air Jordan Sneakers of All Time
"His Airness" taking off from the free-throw line during the 1988 Gatorade Slam Dunk Championship. Via Walter Iooss/Si.com
Air Jordans are to the shoe game what Michael Jordan is to the game of basketball.
Flashy and stylistic like MJ himself, Air Jordans have come to epitomize "His Airness," both on and off the court, drawing inspiration from all facets of his life on the way to becoming an international commodity.
It's no secret that Jordan's signature kicks turned the shoe game on its axis, but it's fair to say few predicted the monumental global success of the Jordan brand.
According to Forbes.com, Air Jordans accounted for 71 percent of the U.S. basketball sneaker market share in 2011, and the numbers have likely only grown since then.
His sneakers have became so popular they may have surpassed even their namesake's legacy.
In honor of Jordan's 50th birthday, I'd like to revisit the greatest signature basketball shoes ever made by ranking the top 10 Air Jordans of all time.
Honorable Mention: Air Jordan XIV
Based on MJ's Ferrari, these are the last Jordans "His Airness" would don as a Chicago Bull. Via Underground Soles
While not as iconic as some J's, they earn honorable mention, based on their sleek style and the fact Jordan wore them in the 45-point effort that included the game-winning shot to clinch his sixth and final NBA Title.
Honorable Mention II: Air Jordan II
The Jordan II's carried MJ to his greatest scoring season ever. Via Nike.com
After missing most of the 1985-86 NBA season with a broken bone in his left foot, MJ wore the Air Jordan II upon his return in 1986-87.
The II's featured a full-length zoom air sole and faux lizard skin on the sides, assuring they would stand out from the competition.
Jordan cemented his legacy as one of the greatest scorers of all time at a young age that season, averaging 37.1 points per game in the last "Jumpman-less" Jordans.
10. Air Jordan VI
The shoes Jordan wore to capture his first championship, the Air Jordan VI. Via Kicksaholic.com
The Air Jordan VI isn't as well known for its style as it is for what MJ accomplished while sporting them.
Released for the 1990-91 season, Jordan delivered his first championship in the VI's, defeating Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite straying from the flashy, cutting-edge styles represented by the I through V, the VI still deserves recognition as one of the greatest Jordans of all time. It features the famous rubber tongue and carried over the clear sole and lacelocks from the Air Jordan V.
9. Air Jordan X
The comeback shoe, also known as the Air Jordan X. Via Nike.com
The Air Jordan X is a classic among classics. This is the shoe that ushered MJ back into the game wearing "45" on his back.
What did he do? Oh, just drop 55 points to go along with the game-winning assist to beat the Knicks in only his fifth game since returning.
One unforgettable feature of this sneaker is the list of Jordan's career accomplishments on the bottom, including "'85 Rookie of the Year," "'88 Dunk Champ," "'91 MVP/Championship" and "'94 Beyond."
While boasting a much simpler design than previous Jordans, these nevertheless represent everything that's great about the Air Jordan brand.
8. Air Jordan XII
The Black/White/Taxi J's are possibly the best looking of the entire series. Via Nike.com
The Air Jordan XII—otherwise known as "The Flu Shoe”—is most famous for being worn during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, when Jordan dropped 38 points, including the game-winner, despite battling the flu.
Born in 1997, these Jordans were the first to be released under the exclusive Jordan brand, as MJ's kicks finally garnered their own Nike sub-brand—and deservedly so.
The XII is one of the best-looking and most durable Air Jordans of all time. It's certainly deserving of a place on this list, and one could make a plausible argument for the XII being higher on the list.
7. Air Jordan V
The Jordan V was inspired by the WWII Mustang fighter plane. Via Nike.com
The Air Jordan V—inspired by the WWII Mustang fighter plane—is one of the most recognizable Air Jordans ever made. Though the design is amazing, Jordan proved these babies weren't just for looks.
Released in Jordan's first year under the tutelage of head coach Phil Jackson, MJ led the Bulls to a franchise record for wins. He also dropped his personal-best 69 points wearing these bad boys before taking home the scoring title.
Aside from futuristic features such as the metallic tongue and "lace-lock" technology, the V was the first Jordan shoe to feature the clear sole, which would become a huge trend in the years to come.
6. Air Jordan IX
The Jordan IX's were a game changer for sure. Via Nike.com
Although Jordan never donned these sneakers on the court, he wore a cleated version on the diamond.
This sneaker also signified Jordan's growing global brand by incorporating words of many different languages on the shoe's sole.
The French word "dévoué," meaning "dedicated"; the German word "anmutig," meaning "graceful"; and the Spanish word "fuerza," meaning "force," amongst other adjectives describing Michael's game, combined for the Jordan IX to represent fans across the world (via NiceKicks.com).
To top it off, the IX is the shoe worn by MJ's statue outside of the United Center.
5. Air Jordan VII
MJ had one of his most successful all-around years in the Air Jordan VII. Via Nike.com
The Air Jordan VII was built on the look of the VI, but it traded the airsole heel for a full-length zoom-air sole while adding the legendary Jumpman logo around the ankle.
Released for the 1991-92 season, Jordan may have accomplished more in these kicks than any other shoe on this list.
Not only did he win his second championship, third MVP and a sixth straight scoring title wearing these shoes, he also led the Dream Team to an Olympic Gold medal.
Furthermore, the VII featured "huarache" technology that would be used extensively over a decade later in signature shoes for Kobe Bryant, along with those of many other NBA stars.
4. Air Jordan VIII
Featuring a carpeted Jumpman logo and "criss-cross" straps, no one had ever seen anything like the Jordan VIII. Via Nike.com
Ah, the crisscross J's. I remember them fondly.
When I was 10, I refused to throw a pair of these away despite the holes I'd worn into the soles from constant abuse. My mom tricked me into "washing" them one day, only for me to come home and realize they were gone forever.
Back to the topic. The Air Jordan VIII was truly revolutionary. It combined the strapped look of a cross-trainer with the iconic style of a Jordan, with the resulting kicks being absolute beasts.
Officially released during the 1992-93 season, Jordan led the Bulls to their first three-peat wearing the VIII's. Chicago defeated Charles Barkley's Phoenix Suns in six games, as Jordan averaged a finals-record 41 points per game to clinch the series in six.
The VIII's were the last shoe Jordan donned before his first retirement, making them both stylish and historic.
3. Air Jordan III
MJ rocked the Jordan III's when he won the 1988 Gatorade Slam Dunk Championship. Via Nike.com
The Air Jordan III just screams "His Airness."
These sneakers marked the beginning of the Tinker Hatfield era, and with that, the "Jumpman" era.
Hatfield's first rendition of the Air Jordan debuted the legendary Jumpman pose on the tongue to commemorate the Slam Dunk Championship Jordan won wearing these.
The legendary designer worked closely with Jordan to create this shoe, making it the first signature sneaker to truly embody Jordan's personality.
The most memorable features of the III are its air-sole heel, the Jumpman logo and the striking "elephant skin" print featured on the heel and toe.
While those qualities made it popular, the genius marketing campaign featuring Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon cemented it as one of the most celebrated shoes in history.
2. Air Jordan XI
There's no denying the Space Jam Jordans are sick. Via Nike.com
The "Space Jam Jordans" are probably the most popular J's of all time.
Earning the nickname for their role on Jordan's feet in Space Jam, the XI's were released for the 1995-96 season, Jordan's first full year back from retirement.
During that season, Jordan became the second player ever to win MVP of the regular season, the All-Star Game and the NBA Finals in a single season, Shaq being the other. Needless to say, Jordan led the Bulls to their first title since his return from retirement.
The XI reincorporated the clear soles from the V and VI and featured a patent leather liner around the bottom of the shoe. The XI combined style, class and performance into one of the greatest pairs of Air Jordans ever produced.
The Air Jordan XI changed the game again, springing Jordan and the Bulls toward another three-peat.
1. Air Jordan I
The Jordan I is the most iconic sneaker of all time. Via Nike.com
Most probably assumed the Air Jordan I would come in at No. 1 on this list, and with good reason.
Struggling to find their niche in the basketball market, Nike decided to go out on a limb, offering a five-year, $2.5 million contract to a decorated rookie out of North Carolina.
It worked out pretty well for Phil Knight and company.
Despite Jordan's claiming he wouldn't wear the shoes because they were "devil colors," they were released in 1985 anyway, marking the beginning of an era: the career of larger-than-life legend Michael Jordan.
MJ proceeded to bring home Rookie of the Year honors while carrying a lowly Bulls team to the playoffs and wearing these sneakers. He also angered many league officials by ignoring their attempts to ban his first signature shoe.
In fact, he was fined $5,000 a game because of it. Fortunately, Nike was happy to pick up the bill, per Nicekicks.com.
While this legendary sneaker may not have been up to the NBA's standard dress code in 1985, it earned high marks elsewhere and did wonders for Michael Jordan's brand.