Nike Air Jordan history (complete 1984-2020 timeline)
You’ve seen The Last Dance, now it’s time to walk in Michael Jordan’s shoes. We discuss every model of Nike Air Jordan since its inception in 1984.
Nike Air Jordan: an iconic brand of the highest order
Not many people back in 1984 knew what a fresh-faced NBA rookie by the name of Michael Jordan was truly capable of. Nike though, somehow seemed to have the inside scoop.
When they signed MJ, he was coming off the back of an incredible first season with the Chicago Bulls. They knew then, they’d unearthed the perfect icon to sell their shoes. Jordan has reportedly done well (ahem) from the partnership, rumoured to have earned between $1-2 billion dollars across his lifetime.
So, what happens when you link arguably the greatest basketball player to ever grace the court, use his natural charisma and add a healthy dose of the boldest and bravest styles ever seen? A Nike Air Jordan brand that has over 30 successful silhouettes and 100s of millions of sales to date. We’re here to talk you through them all…
A 1984-2020 Infographic Timeline of Nike Air Jordan Trainers
1984-85 Nike Air Jordan I
The great-great-grandfather of Air Jordan. The OG. Just like Jordan in his first season in the NBA, this sneaker set the US alight. And still does to this day.
MJ himself wore Converse throughout his college career and was more drawn to adidas before signing with Nike. It took incredible design by Peter Moore on this shoe to convince him to join their ranks.
It would be the only Air Jordan design to feature the Nike Swoosh, alongside the original ‘Wings’ motif used in early forms of AJ. Even though Jordan was wary of what he called a ‘devil’s’ colourway, he wore a boxfresh pair for every game. Oh, also racking up a measly $5k in fines each time, due to breaking NBA uniform rules. Luckily, you can wear them whenever you want.
1986-87 Nike Air Jordan II
Removing the Swoosh was a big call by Nike, but it paid off as they moved swiftly into forming a fresh brand for the game of basketball. Nicknamed ‘The Italian Stallion’, this shoe was the only one to be produced in Italy.
It brought a newer, more modern shape to the court, moved the ‘Wings’ logo to the tongue and switched the original colourway from black to white. No more fines for MJ, not that he was that bothered anyway.
Contrast laces and specks of red dashed across the sneaker complemented the Chicago Bulls uniform of the 80s perfectly. A full-length Nike Air bubble was introduced into the midsole for added comfort.
1988 Nike Air Jordan III
The third iteration of the AJ brought a new design mind into the frey, the aptly-named Tinker Shoefield. Not Shoefield, we meant Hatfield. He was a tinkerer though as will be seen over future years.
As he was aiming to leave Nike, the III reportedly changed Jordan’s mind. Could this have been the reason the new ‘Jumpman’ logo was added? He was a big star with a big ego to please after all.
The iconic Nike Air bubble was made visible for the first time, something that would become a notable fixture in Nike’s future designs. Elephant skin styling was added to the upper, adding luxury to this silhouette.
Comedian Spike Lee starred in the latest advertising campaign with MJ, bringing culture and sneakers closer together. Something which would weave itself into the DNA of the Jordan brand for years to come.
1989 Nike Air Jordan IV
Coming in a choice of 4 original colourways, this model was the first to be released to the global market. The beginning of a ginormous, well-oiled, money-spinning machine for Nike and Jordan.
Another sneaker in the collection that profited from product placement, appearing in the popular Spike Lee movie ‘Do The Right Thing’ and cementing the brand in popular culture.
Eagle-eyed viewers of ‘The Last Dance’ documentary will have noticed His Airness sporting these sneakers whilst sinking his game-winning shot vs. Utah Jazz in game 5 of the 1989 playoffs too. They weren’t just made to look good, it turns out.
1990-91 Nike Air Jordan V
By this point, MJ was well and truly established in his no.23 vest for the Bulls. It was time for Nike to add his iconic number to the shoe.
With a reflective tongue, translucent sole and lace locks, it was a bold look to add to the collection. But, we knew Tinker Hatfield was capable of changing it up. He even added breathable mesh side panels to the upper. The crazy cat.
A retro ‘Bel Air’ version was rereleased in 2013, in homage to Will Smith’s commitment in donning the sneakers throughout his hit show during the 90s, ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’.
1991 Nike Air Jordan VI
This was the last ever shoe to feature the Nike Air logo. It’s also a culturally important sneaker, MJ was wearing the black/infrared colourway when he helped sink the LA Lakers in the NBA finals of 1991, winning his first championship and second Most Valuable Player accolade in the process.
Arriving in 5 original colourways, the VI had updates to the heel tab and reinforcement around the toe area. Hatfield added the first inner bootie to the design, something which would become a regular fixture in later models.
It wouldn’t be a Jordan release without a movie appearance though, would it? This time it was alongside Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes in ‘White Men Can’t Jump’. Classic.
1992 Nike Air Jordan VII
A total refresh of style from Nike’s main man, Tinker Hatfield. Jordan was dominating in the NBA but that wasn’t as important as starring alongside Bugs Bunny in a TV commercial. Which actually happened. Early thinking for ‘Space Jam’ by any chance?
Nike could never be accused of missing a marketing trick, creating a unique Olympic colourway for Jordan whilst he played in the infamous USA ‘Dream Team’, winning gold at Barcelona ‘92. Too easy.
The VII used new Nike Huarache technology, released in 1991. A subtle blend of neoprene and Lycra for less weight, plus added flexibility and support. The Nike Air Logo could only be seen on the insoles and the Air bubble was hidden from view.
1992 Nike Air Jordan XIII
Their second release in a year, this one was timed to coincide with the new 1992-93 NBA season. Nicknamed ‘The Punisher’, this shoe gave unprecedented levels of traction, helping its wearer pivot quicker and sharper on the court. Like MJ needed any more help...
Whilst it was a heavier shoe than previous models, it had a more futuristic silhouette than Nike had produced before. The beginning of a shift in the shape of modern basketball sneakers.
The materials used were for optimal durability and support. It incorporated a full Air sole, polyurethane midsole, polycarbonate shank plate and two crossover straps effortlessly.
1993 Nike Air Jordan IX
If you haven’t watched ‘The Last Dance’, spoiler alert. MJ, whilst still the best player in the league by a country mile, decided to retire from basketball at only 30 years old. This is the first time His Airness wouldn’t wear an AJ release on the hardwood.
Inspired by baseball cleats that Jordan wore with bat in hand as a junior, ironically a game he played professionally during this retirement (spoiler alert, I know). Whilst we’re on irony, the sneakers on his statue outside of the United Center in Chicago, are these ones too.
The model was still very popular across the world. In 1994, rapper 2Pac donned them for his iconic ‘Thug Life’ photo shoot. The IX featured an inner sock sleeve which would become a fixture of future designs and Nubuck leather accents, adding more durability than standard leather.
1994 Nike Air Jordan X
Another shoe that missed plenty of Jordan’s slam dunking action, he was instead hitting home runs for the Birmingham Barons in the USA's minor baseball league. It’s like Neymar quitting PSG to play minor counties cricket? Bizarre.
Clean lines and lateral shapes were the ingredient of this sneaker, built as a tribute to the man himself. Jordan would eventually reverse his retirement to play in the AJ X for the Chicago Bulls during the 1994-95 season. With pure panache, his press release simply read, “I’m back”.
Originally released in 3 colourways, the X brought with it the new lightweight Phylon midsole technology; denser foam that offered comfort but support for the user.
1995 Nike Air Jordan XI
The XI is rumoured to be the shoe that enticed and kept Jordan in the NBA, it was only a sample when he was deciding on his future. On his return, colleagues noted that MJ looked just as hungry as his 21-year-old self. Bad news for his opponents. Good news for Nike.
The NBA rule at this time called for 51% of any shoe worn to be white. As we know, Nike nor Michael were too bothered about this and an original colourway was born, black/red.
Mesh upper made the shoe more breathable and a carbon fibre spring plate gave better torque and shift on the court. A patent leather mudguard encased the sneaker, this would help to hold the original shape for wearers.
1996 Nike Air Jordan XII
Trainer technology was advancing at a rapid rate when Michael Jordan’s size 13s arrived in the form of the AJ XII. This is the first model from the newly-formed subsidiary brand, ‘Jordan’.
Said to be inspired by the Nisshōki, the Japanese rising sun flag, you can make out ‘fan’ style stitching in the upper. Originally in 5 colourways with no sign of Nike or Air branding to be seen.
These sneakers had plenty of added luxury. With gold-plated steel lace loops, embossed lizard skin pattern and full Zoom Air unit in the sole. The brand also explored limited edition releases with the XII, making only 12,000 units of the ‘Wings’ version.
1997 Nike Air Jordan XIII
With the Chicago Bulls and MJ swishing their way to a 5th NBA championship title, it would be rude for Nike not to cash in on all that exposure. It was time for the XIII.
The majestic black panther was Hatfield’s (yep, that guy again) inspiration for the outer of this silhouette. More specifically the paws, which can be seen merged into the shape of the sole.
Add in high levels of cushioning, reflective cat’s eyes on the heel and you’ve got yourself a real specimen. It’s safe to say that sales were probably helped by the coolest man on film, Denzel Washington, sporting them as Jake Shuttleworth in the movie ‘He Got Game’.
1997-99 Nike Air Jordan XIV
One of the longest running models of AJ, most likely to give the public enough time to work out what the Roman numeral for 14 was. This time a joint collaboration with Mark Smith and our Tinker man.
A strongly branded piece, the sneakers had a total of 14 ‘Jumpman’ logos, 7 on each shoe. The Ferrari racing car badge was also adorned in the same way. It’s clear to see the inspiration drawn from Italian supercar design throughout.
This shoe is cemented in history. As MJ took ‘The Last Shot’, a game-winner against Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the NBA playoff finals of 1998, he was wearing a prototype of this model.
1999-2000 Nike Air Jordan XV
A 6th NBA title was enough for Michael Jordan, the two sets of 3 were cutely named: the 3-peat repeat. He announced his (second) retirement at the age of 34, as arguably the best player to have ever played the game.
Without the great man, the shoes continued though. It would be time for Hatfield to take a break after this shoe, having designed the AJ III-XV. Taking inspiration from the NASA designed X-15 aircraft, this sneaker used woven kevlar fibre side panels and sleek, low shape.
The shoe wasn’t greatly received by the public, but if we’re honest, we think they were just protesting the MJ retirement announcement…
2001 Nike Air Jordan XVI
In the biggest single change since 1988, a new Nike senior designer took charge. It came in the form of Mark Smith. Smith was keen to resurrect some of the traditional stylings of the earlier silhouettes.
We nearly forgot to mention, it’s worth noting that MJ came out of retirement to play for the Washington Wizards in this sneaker. He really couldn’t let the game go, could he?
Nike moved back to a translucent rubber sole which was noticeable on the V, VI and XI models. Patent leather stylings and a removable ‘shroud’ was added to the upper for thermal and fashion purposes.
2002 Nike Air Jordan XVI
As a wizard, now in a Wizard’s vest. The 17th iteration of AJ was created to commemorate Jordan’s ability to improvise in mid-flight, like a jazz artist in mid-flow.
Staying with the musical theme, the trainers came with their own metallic instrument box and theme tune (really), which was burned onto a CD and included in the packaging. Musical notes appear in minute detail on the upper.
With 4 mid-top and 3 low-top colourways, it offered a wider launch selection than previous Air Jordans. A reinforced midsole made the shoe sturdy and comfortable, extremely suitable for a now 37 year-old MJ.
2003 Nike Air Jordan XVIII
I know you’re tired of the boy who cried wolf stuff now, but Michael really retired in 2003. I mean it this time. Nicknamed ‘The Final Bow’, Jordan wore this shoe in his last season with the Washington Wizards, as he pulled the curtains on an illustrious career at the top level of basketball.
A new designer was on this silhouette once more, Tate Kuerbis taking the helm. He chose sleek lines, carbon-fibre used in racing cars and a rubber heel wrap preferred by F1 drivers. The Air bubble became visible throughout the sole once more.
Released in one original colourway, the XVIII featured bold stitching on the soles like Italian shoes. The care package was detailed too, including a brush, a towel and a driver’s manual. Yes, a manual.
2004 Nike Air Jordan XIX
Just checking, MJ has definitely retired right? Other players could play without fear now. That’s for sure. It was time for the lightest ever Jordans to come into production, from a Nike team always on the forefront of technology.
In partnership with Material ConneXion Consultancy, Kuerbis took inspiration from the Black Mamba snake of Africa. Nobody knew that an NBA rising star by the name of Kobe Bryant would go on to take that very nickname.
The first to have laceless technology, something which would go across to other professional sports including football. The XIX used PVC sleeving, an architectural technique used to improve stability.
2005 Nike Air Jordan XX
When 2005 arrived, the Air Jordan was 20 years-old. Michael Jordan had not only created a legacy on the court, but off it too, in the world of street fashion. Excitement for each new release was as palpable as it was for the latest iPhone.
The XX switched things up, the Hatfield/Smith combination had to be brought back into the fold for this model. Inspired by shoes of professional cyclists, this was about aerodynamics and grip on court.
This was a celebration of MJ. The gapped ankle strap was original design, with the patent wrap over the toe adding unique style. The lace cover was highly detailed, with mementos from Michael’s life etched into each millimetre. A total of 69 dimples in the outer sole marked His Airness’ highest ever scoring game.
2006 Nike Air Jordan XXI
A truly luxurious looking silhouette. The XXI saw a fresh face on the sketchbook, with D’Wayne Edwards stepping in to create. It was big on three things, comfort, tech and style.
Said to have taken inspiration from sports touring cars, Edwards added lower foot air grilles, double overlasted Phylon midsole and diamond-quilted inners. As always, the wearer rides on Air.
This was the first to introduce optional technology, with the I.P.S (Independent Podular System) offering the owner a choice of Zoom or Encapsulated Air. Shame it didn’t give the option: ‘play like Jordan’.
2007 Nike Air Jordan XXII
A much more bold, sharp and aggressive design was used for the 2007 version of Air Jordan. Built for battle, the camouflage heel was reflective and bold stitching runs throughout the outer.
This shoe laid the foundation for many future basketball trainer designs, using the first ever titanium shank plate and chevron sole pattern for additional traction. The I.P.S unit from the previous XXI model stayed.
An extremely rare shoe, there were 7 original colourways released in 2007. You’ll do well to get your hands on a pair as they haven’t even been recreated in retro!
2008 Nike Air Jordan XXIII
With as many reappearances as Jordan himself, that guy Tinker Hatfield was back in the mix again. Collaborating with Mark Smith, they came back to design the number which aligned with the most recognisable in NBA history, 23.
Detail was the key for this model, it had several intricate touches woven throughout. From MJ’s fingerprint on the tongue, to hand-stitched patterns on the upper.
It wasn’t just for show though, like His Airness, it could still do the business on the court. Carbon fibre shank plate, I.P.S tech and a new articulated chassis gave performance a boost.
2009 Nike Air Jordan 2009
So, we’re a big fan of things in order. Turns out, Nike not so much. For some reason they decided to scrap their 25-year tradition of a Roman numeral system with this release. Maybe they thought it was getting too tricky for the public? Who knows. We digress.
Why not throw another designer in the mix too? Jason Mayden took the wheel on this model. He aimed to focus on the underrated part of MJ’s game, defence. It seems, unlike Messi, Jordan did that sometimes!
Mayden included articulated propulsion technology which was used by leading paralympians, a full Zoom Air structure and a durable pleated silk upper. Patent toe guards were added to keep shape to the shoe over time and help with defensive pivots.
2010 Nike Air Jordan 2010
Right, this is getting silly now. Tinker Hatfield has returned. I mean, he’s a visionary so we guess it makes sense. As he was entrusted with the XX, now he was in charge of the 25th anniversary shoe too.
The idea was that MJ had the ability to see through his opponents. This led to the addition of a bold mesh ‘porthole’ on the upper. The 2010 showcased tech from running trainers in the form of an independent forefoot, giving more natural movement.
The pièce de résistance on this design was the powerful, inspirational quote from Michael Jordan himself, inscribed on each midsole: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that’s why I succeed”. We’re not crying, you’re crying!
2011 Nike Air Jordan 2011
Tom Luedecke was brought in to work on this design, he cited Michael Jordan’s elite athleticism as his inspiration for the work he did. The 23 and ‘Jumpman’ sit proudly on either tongue.
The most innovative inclusion on the AJ 2011 edition, was Nike’s first interchangeable midsole unit. Wearers could choose between a blue Zoom Air, or a red Encapsulated Air. Luedecke was quoted as claiming this was like “choosing your weapon before heading into battle”.
The AJ 2011 featured a total of 10 unique releases over its lifespan. We’re looking forward to the retro releases, that’s for sure.
2012 Nike Air Jordan 2012
Borrowing from a history of legendary NBA players, not just His Airness, the 2012 sneaker was also inspired by Portland, Oregon. Home of Nike HQ.
Keeping with the 2011 idea of interchangeable technology, the Hatfield/Luedecke duo came up with several configuration options. Three removable booties, two inner-sleeve and three midsole choices in total.
The midsole options were ‘Quick’, ‘Air’ or ‘Explosive’, to suit a range of playing styles. The insoles gave low flexibility or high support. Too much choice? Never.
2013 Nike Air Jordan XX8
Now this is where things get really annoying for us OCD folk. Half Roman numerals and half normal?! Come on. Yes, Nike switched back to the original naming convention but it looks like they couldn’t figure out this: XXVIII.
Stalwart of design Hatfield partnered up with another newbie, Josh Heard, on this one. Almost like a concept car, the look was extremely futuristic. A zip front revealed a shoe which was highly responsive and lightweight.
The style gave opportunity for a huge amount of twists, 32 unique versions of the shoe were announced in 2013/14. It turns out, there is someone for everyone. That someone is the XX8.
2014 Nike Air Jordan XX9
Woven and animal print. We’re pretty sure those words only ever come in sentences related to poor interior choices. Somehow, it worked perfectly on the AJ XX9.
It seems as though our old friend Tinker, having been around for about 1000 years at this point, wasn’t going to be told he was losing his cutting edge. A reengineered Flight Plate, Nike’s original technology was added for maximum performance.
More unique tech, in the form of FlightWeb helped to lock down the middle of the foot. Add in regular and low-cut versions and you’ve got a hit which could grace everything from catwalk to hardwood.
2015-16 Nike Air Jordan XXX
Rejoice! We’re back to Roman numerals. Kind of makes the last 6 names silly now, doesn’t it Nike? I’m sure they’re not too bothered after counting their annual sales on those models. 30 versions means it’s tough to keep up innovation, but they did it.
Sticking with the Flyknit of the running shoe, a woven upper, this sneaker used dynamic lacing for the most comfortable fit possible. A star constellation was added to the upper design, a celebration of MJ’s ‘out of this world’ talents.
The silhouette of the XXX used an entirely different traction plate, sticking to the heart of what Air Jordan was all about: performance on court. And we think Michael did OK in them?
2016 Nike Air Jordan XXXI
Tate Kuerbis was solely driving this design, with the legendary Hatfield stepping away… for once. Kuerbis saw the 30 years of AJ as a massive accomplishment, meaning he would weave some DNA from the Air Jordan I into this creation.
The leather upper made a comeback after the previous two models. The ‘Wings’ logo even made a return alongside the oversized ‘Jumpman’, showcasing the heritage of the man and the brand perfectly.
It had been 24 years since Jordan sported the AJ VII and his ‘Dream Team’ won gold at Barcelona ‘92. It wasn’t too late for the USA team to wear their own bespoke XXXI colourway on the way to gold at Rio ‘16 though. Amazing grace.
2017 Nike Air Jordan XXXII
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That’s the old adage, right? Well it certainly worked for key parts of Kuerbis’ second design in a row. He stuck with the ‘Wings’ motif and only slightly scaled down the ‘Jumpman’ on this model.
Digging into the vault and using the Air Jordan II in his ideation, this silhouette is the balance between saluting the past and nodding to the future. FlyKnit upper, FlightSpeed tech and integrated lacing. It’s all there.
Still performing firsts as a brand, after 30 years, unbelievably this was the only time that Nike had released both high and low-top versions of a model at the same time.
2018 Nike Air Jordan XXIII
Kuerbis has established himself as Nike’s senior designer by now. And it’s clear to see why he deserves it. Laceless was a technology which was toyed with back on the XIX, now it was time to do it properly with the XXXIII.
FastFit gives the ultimate feel for the wearer. Mix in a knit textile mesh upper, toss in a FlightSpeed plate with a Zoom Air Unit and you’ve got one hell of a sneaker recipe.
That oversized ‘Jumpman’ is beginning to become a kind of signature of Tate’s, for us, they can both stay as long as they like.
2019 Air Jordan XXXIV
The roots of Michael Jordan are entwined with the Jordan brand; always striving for excellence. The trainers that host the name of the one of the greatest sports players of all time, keep getting better.
The XXXIV is the lightest ever model at just 13oz (368.5g), with the addition of the brand new, transparent Eclipse Plate, replacing the Flight Plate of previous designs. With 2 fresh colourways on launch and a Herringbone traction shape, this shoe is a sight for sore eyes.
There is one final touch on this design, which we’d be crazy not to mention. The whole reason why this brand is where it is today. Michael Jordan’s no.23 can be deciphered from the Morse Code on the vamp. A fitting tribute to a true legend.