The Air Jordan is arguably the most iconic basketball shoe in the world. With more than 35 styles and countless colorways, collaborations and limited editions launched since 1985, who could possibly choose a favorite? Plenty of people do, and we decided to research the best of the best, so read on for our list of the top five Air Jordans of all time, according to 15 experts, plus fans!
Is any one shoe really better than another when it comes to function? Well, yes. Nike has a history of pushing the boundaries and breaking the rules to deliver better results. One study shows that the Nike Vaporfly actually cut female athletes’ running times by up to three percent … and it was outlawed because of it. The mystique of the Air Jordan can trace its desirability to another moment Nike was in hot water. When Michael Jordan’s first signature shoe didn’t include enough white, according to NBA rules, Nike agreed to pay all fines Jordan would incur while wearing them. Thus the “Banned” Air Jordan I was born.
It’s no secret that Michael Jordan is considered to be one of the greats in basketball, and the Air Jordan brand created and named for him is also considered to be among the top kicks you can wear on the court. Designers Peter Moore, Tinker Hatfield, Wilson Smith III, Bruce Kilgore, and others have created the iconic shoes over nearly four decades, managing to keep the line fresh, modern and desirable, and creating new excitement in fans with every release. Often, designs are reimagined in collaboration with iconic artists. Over time, even the trademark Nike swoosh was replaced with the Jordan “Jumpman” logo, giving the brand a truly unique identity all its own.
Many people have clear preferences when it comes to their shoes’ design appeal, comfort, and general durability. Some even take it to a whole other level. So-called “sneakerhead” shoe collectors get excited about all things footwear, especially those rare and historic pairs that are so hard to get a foot on. So, let’s find out what the top five best Air Jordans of all time are, according to the experts — and the sneakerheads. Have another style or design that tops your own list? Tell us in the comments below!
The List: Best Air Jordans of All Time, According to Experts
1. Air Jordan I
With an original price tag of $65, and a current value of $30,000, these iconic first-release Air Jordans remain at the top, according to experts and fans alike. Luxe Digital writes, “The OG Air Jordan was the very first Nike shoe to be sported by MJ on the court and the only one you’ll find with the Nike Swoosh—two reasons why it’s indisputably one of the best Jordan shoes in existence. The Air Jordan I is the shoe that not only started the obsession with Air Jordans that continues today but also created a major controversy when its black and red color combination broke the NBA’s 51% white regulation regarding sneakers.”
Esquire adds, “This is it, folks: The one that started it all. You could argue all day about which sneaker lays the most substantive claim to creating sneaker culture as we know it today, but if that argument doesn’t focus pretty damn heavily on the Air Jordan I, you’re doing something wrong. From the then-revolutionary air cushioning to the wings logo that represented the high-flying rookie, the AJ1 continues to be the holiest of grails among collectors.”
“How has Jordan Brand managed to keep the 37-year-old fresh? By dropping the shoe in every colourway imaginable, many of which can be spotted on @mikepairs enviable sneaker wall,” says British GQ.
Fans of the Nike Air Jordan I can still purchase the retro model of the iconic shoe (below) — without having to spend an arm and a leg.
American filmmaker and actor Spike Lee wears the Jordan IVs in the movie “Do the Right Thing,” and his white sneakers are scuffed when someone steps on them. To commemorate this, the Jordan Brand created a replica shoe complete with the scuff. 90min likes the UNDFTD colorway best, writing, “In fact, the pair is so loved that they can still fetch upwards of $15k in good condition.”
The Trend Spotter prefers the Eminem x Carhartt colorway but lists UNDFTD as its second pick: “Made in collaboration with LA-based retailer UNDFTD, the Air Jordan IV UNDFTD is undoubtedly one of the most desirable and rare Air Jordans of all time.”
Sotheby’s chooses the Off-White Jordan IV Sail and Jordan IV KAWS among its top five, writing, “You probably think some sneakers belong in a museum, which is exactly what happened with the Nike Off-White Jordan 4 Sail — a very special Air Jordan 4. A collaboration between artist Virgil Abloh, founder of Milan label ‘Off-White’ and artistic director of Louis Vuitton’s menswear collection, the Off-White Jordan 4 Sail first appeared in an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.”
Retro pairs of Air Jordan IVs are also available for purchase.
There is much to be said about this pair of Jordans, from the memorable moment Michael Jordan flew into history wearing them, to the way they changed Nike and the brand forever. According to Robb Report, “Jordan would wear this style for the NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago in 1988. He took flight in the ‘White/Cement’ pair, dunking from the free-throw line at the Slam Dunk Contest, one of the most iconic moments in sports history. Jordan was already larger than life by 1988, but after he soared through the air on one fateful February evening, he became a superhero. The moment the world all wanted to be like Mike.”
Complex, “No hyperbole, it was the shoe that saved Nike. Designed by a former Nike architect named Tinker Hatfield, the Air Jordan III kept Michael Jordan with Nike when much of his original team had left, and turned an entire industry upside-down. Hatfield had the strange idea of incorporating an athlete’s personality into his shoes — making a signature shoe more than just a shoe with a signature on it — an idea that would change forever the relationship between athlete and brand.”
Sneaker Fortress prefers the IV in its Midnight Navy and University Blue colorways. “Another 2022 release that took fans of the brand by storm when it changed out the classic Nike Air branding with the Jumpman logo. This beautiful sneaker deserves its entry this high on the list, sporting the University Blue from Jordan’s distinguishable brand. The specific design is a nod to Jordan’s alma mater, UNC and is identical to the hard-to-come-by Air Jordan 4 UNC PE.”
Air Jordan 3 Retro Leather Synthetic Trainers are available for purchase.
This unique shoe is showy, with a shiny patent leather upper, and it’s the pair Michael Jordan wore in the movie “Space Jam.” Fadeaway World explains the origin of the shoe: “Jordan wanted a shoe that was shiny, something he could wear off the court in a suit. Tinker Hatfield delivered, and Jordan’s request became an addiction, as Boyz II Men wore the Air Jordan XIs at the American Music Awards while wearing tuxedos.”
GQ adds, “Outside of the Is, the XI is the Air Jordan people are still most likely to camp out overnight to cop: a 2011 retro of the Concord—a colorway so perfect that Jordan wore it for the entire ‘95-96 regular season—incited actual riots outside malls across the nation. Part of that lasting appeal is also due to the fact that it’s the shoe Mike had on in Space Jam, cementing them in the imaginations of an entire generation of kids forever.”
“Way back in 1995, Michael Jordan stepped onto the court and into sneaker history with this now iconic pair of Air Jordan XIs. At the time, the never-before-seen silhouette was groundbreaking, with its patent leather upper and translucent sole. More than 30 years on, the Concord XI is still referred to as one of the best Air Jordan shoes ever and thanks to the number 45 at the heel, also one of the biggest collector items,” says Man of Many.
5. Air Jordan V
The 1990 Air Jordan received an update in 2015, giving it extra points with sneakerheads. Fashion Beans, “In more recent years, the V has enjoyed unprecedented levels of hype as one of the best Jordans out there, thanks in no small part to a makeover by transcendent skate wear label Supreme in 2015. This made it the first ever Air Jordan shoe to receive the Supreme treatment and cemented its place as both a both a sporting classic and a streetwear staple.”
Bleacher Report touts its fast design, “The design is so sleek and streamlined that, with the back sloped down so quickly, it actually looks like the shoe is lurching forward. The entire thing is fast while it’s sitting still.”
“When Tinker Hatfield came up with ideas for the Air Jordan V, he took inspiration from Michael Jordan’s rough-and-tumble movement and attacking flair. So, he designed Fire-Red shark teeth outlines that referred to American WWII fighter jets. In the same way, the shoes had a translucent rubber sole, which Hatfield used when he created another piece of footwear that year: Marty McFly’s self-lacing Nikes from Back to the Future II,” explains Luxatic.
The Retro version of Air Jordan five is pictured below.
You might also be interested in:
- Best Basketball Shoes
- Best NBA Players of All Time
- Best Golf Shoes for Men
- Best Golf Shoes for Women
- Best Women’s Running Shoes
- Best Men’s Running Shoes
- Luxe Digital
- British GQ
- The Trend Spotter
- Robb Report
- Sneaker Fortress
- Fadeaway World
- Man of Many
- Fashion Beans
- Bleacher Report
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