It all began in 1984 with the introduction of a young superstar from North Carolina into the NBA, his name, Michael Jordan. Jordan would become a legend in the NBA; winning 6 championships, back to back MVP’s and other countless accolades. There was one thing that made Jordan standout above all of the rest, something that would continue his legacy even after retirement, The Air Jordan Brand. Back in the mid 80’s, companies such as Adidas and Converse dominated the market in basketball footwear, with sponsors such as Erving “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird, who could blame them. Nike had very little representation in basketball as they had branded themselves as a running shoe company with most sponsored athletes being Caucasian. In 1984 however, Nike took a chance with a rookie from North Carolina, who had been drafted into the NBA by the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan.
The first Air Jordan Sneaker was introduced in the 1985-1986 season and was dubbed the Air Jordan I, which sported a majority Black and Red upper. It was most famous for being banned from the NBA for going against color regulations which stated that sneakers had to have at least a majority white coloration and had to match team colors. Nike was issued a $5,000 dollar fine for every game Michael wore the Black and Red Air Jordans. This however, made the Air Jordan I the most desired shoe on the market and the $5,000 fine did not affect Nike’s sales by the slightest. Retailing at $60 a pair, every kid wanted these shoes, Nike was racking in cash and had begun starting to make a name for itself in the NBA and urban street wear culture. A new Air Jordan would be released every season using a numbered system, each shoe with a unique never before seen feature that surpassed the next. Multiple color ways of each Air Jordan Model were released and had started a drive for fans to collect every Air Jordan released due to being unique and revolutionary. Air Jordans had inspired consumers that if they had these shoes they could play like Mike himself, which brings us to the beginning of the Air Jordans impact on the Sneakerhead culture.
The term Sneakerhead, is generally used to describe someone who collects sneakers. To me and many others however, a true Sneakerhead is one who is not only knowledgeable in the history of sneakers, but is passionate about the hobby, and not just in it for the hype. The Air Jordan is one of those sneakers that changed the culture for the better, but wasn’t without flaws and drawbacks.
Let’s start with the positive impact Air Jordans had on the Sneakerhead culture. Michael not only wanted his shoes to be famous on the court, but off it as well. The first Air Jordan to employ this philosophy was the Air Jordan III. Co-Designed by Tinker Hatfield along with Michael in 1988, this Air Jordan is famous for implementing elephant print on a basketball shoe, as well the first Air Jordan to have the, famous Jumpman logo and a visible air unit. This style of design made it so that the Air Jordan would be seen as a shoe that you can wear while playing ball, but also as casual dress wear for the urban kid or teen. This design process would evolve with every new Air Jordan released every season. This always ensured that Air Jordans would always remain in style, as they still do to this day. As new Air Jordans released, more and more collections began to build up and thus resulted in the forming communities of fellow sneaker collectors. Even as more and more sneaker brands made their way into the culture, the Air Jordan remained at the top of the tier in terms of popularity and style. At this time Sneaker conventions also became popular. Fellow Sneakerheads could buy, sell, and trade rare color ways, player exclusives, as well as socialize and interact with the rest of the Sneakerhead community. Air Jordans were the primary showcases at these events and still are. A little under a decade since the release of the Air Jordan I, Jordan Brand released a concept that they called an Air Jordan Retro. These Retros were essentially rereleases of previous, Air Jordan models and color ways. Retros gave collectors the chance to get a pair that they possibly could not get back then as well as kids my age who weren’t old enough to see Jordan in his prime, to own a piece of history. Overall, Air Jordans made one of the biggest positive impacts in the Sneakerhead culture, but as said previously, Air Jordans have had a negative impact on the culture as well.
From then until now, Jordans ranged from about $60 – $200, the high price tag made the desired shoes out of reach for the low income kids that craved them the most. Thus Air Jordans became subject to violence and crime. Around the U.S., reports would come in of kids getting robbed and killed for their Air Jordans. Today, even campouts at Air Jordan release days are dangerous things to attend, forcing stores to employ raffle systems and other means to control crowds of consumers who want to get their hands on the latest Air Jordan. Violence wasn’t the only thing to come out of the growing popularity of these sneakers however. In the more recent years, reselling became popular as Air Jordans became harder and harder to get due to the exclusivity and somewhat limited numbers for some pairs. Resellers are usually looked down upon in the sneaker community as they buy Sneakers by the bulk for retail and resell for double and even triple the original cost. Jordans are the most common sneakers resold due to the reasons mentioned above, and some even say the reason why resellers appeared in the culture. This made it near impossible for true Sneakerheads to obtain a pair they wanted unless they got lucky and were able to get theirs for retail. Even though Air Jordans have made negative impacts on the culture, measures are being taken by the community to ensure that these problems are being noticed and hopefully acted upon.
Now you know a small bit of history of the Air Jordan as well as its impact in the Sneakerhead culture. I can say that Air Jordans have had a big impact on my life as well. My first pair was the Air Jordan X which released the same year I was born and holds a special place in my heart as my favorite pair. My dad and I would always have matching pairs and he was the one who got me into collecting. Some of my closest friends are ones that I met through this hobby, and I enjoy meeting new people who I can share knowledge and stories with. To conclude, Air Jordans have made a significant impact in the Sneakerhead culture and to this day continue to be the inspiration for more and more people to start collecting and become part of the Sneakerhead community.