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GQ Guide to Air Jordans

- Jason Scott

Growing up in Chicago Air Jordan’s were a huge part of my childhood and still are to this day. I have a closet full, some I wear and others are collector items. Here is a look at my favorites from a recent GQ article

BY JIAN DELEON

December 23, 2013

In 1985, one man transformed a pair of sneakers from athletic shoes into a cultural icon. Ever since Michael Jordan's "Air Jordan" series of kicks hit shelves, there's been a growing sneaker culture encompassing diehard basketball fans to stylish guys who dig the versatile, sporty silhouettes. Each time an old model gets the "retro" treatment—that is, re-released as close to the original specs as possible—eager sneakerheads young and old camp outside of shoe stores or wake up early on a Saturday for a chance at snagging a pair online. We could go on and on about the pros and cons of the culture, but instead we're going to break down the significance of each and every model, from the first to the most current. Then we're gonna give you some practical tips on how to wear your Js like a grown man—because you're too old to be matching your T-shirts to your sneakers. This is The GQ Guide to Air Jordans.

Jordan Brand

Air Jordan I

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Air Jordan I

First released: 1985

Original retail: $65

Designed by: Peter Moore

This shoe single-handedly redefined basketball sneakers, and it almost never happened. Initially, Michael Jordan was hesitant to get endorsed by Nike because he wanted a deal with Adidas, and also he was leery on the black and red sketches shown to him by designer Peter Moore—which he referred to as "the devil's colors." Eventually he relented, and when Jordan hit the court in the Black/Red colorway, he got fined a hefty $5,000 per game for violating the NBA's rule against flashy sneakers. Nike gladly footed the bill, earning that classic colorway the "Banned" nickname. It found a second life as a skate shoe, where pioneers like Lance Mountain adopted the Black/Royal Blue colorway, since the shoes provided more padding and comfort than other kicks at the time. The simple silhouette combined with the Air Jordan "wings" logo is as iconic and versatile as the Chuck Taylor All-Star.

Jordan Brand

Air Jordan III

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Air Jordan III

First released: 1988

Original retail: $100

Designed by: Tinker Hatfield

Bruce Kilgore and Peter Moore left Nike, and Jordan's own deal was up in 1988. The two behind his previous kicks tried to get him to leave too, but ultimately Jordan stayed—partly because his father convinced him Nike was looking out for the star player, and partly because of a young designer named Tinker Hatfield. The Air Jordan III is arguably the sneaker that turned Jordans into a full-fledged fashion item. Incorporating a tumbled leather upper with the now-classic elephant print hits on the shoe, it also introduced the Jumpman logo on the tongue (originally the back of the shoes had the "Nike Air" branding). It was also revoluionary because it was the first basketball mid-top sneaker. The midsole was made from scuplted polyurethane, while the visible Air unit in the heel was gleaned from another of Hatfield's controversial sneakers—the Nike Air Max. The Air Jordan III's place in pop culture was cemented by utilizing director Spike Lee as the smart-mouthed Mars Blackmon character from his 1986 film She's Gotta Have It, in which Blackmon always rocked a fresh pair of Js. When people say: "It's gotta be the shoes," these are the shoes.

Jordan Brand

Air Jordan IV

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Air Jordan IV

First released: 1989

Original retail: $110

Designed by: Tinker Hatfield

With Jordan firmly on Nike's squad, Hatfield designed the IV with function rather than form in mind. As such, many people thought the shoe was ugly when it first came out. Building on the visible Air unit in the heel, this shoe traded the tumbled leather of the III for a smooth nubuck, introducing the luxe material into the sneaker world. The contrasting mesh panels provided breathability, and were made using an over-molding process to make them more durable. Nike and Spike Lee's relationship flourished, and in addition to more ads featuring his Mars Blackmon character, the Jordan IV was part of a memorable scene in Lee's 1989 film, Do The Right Thing.

Jordan Brand

Air Jordan XI

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Air Jordan XI

First released: 1995

Original retail: $125

Designed by: Tinker Hatfield

Quite possibly the most iconic Jordan of all time, the XI is a perfect storm of defining moments, design, and technological innovation. That's why every time it comes out, eager sneaker nerds go bonkers. Inspired by (of all things) convertibles and lawn mowers, the XI introduced the formal patent leather to the sneaker world, pairing it with an icy sole and ballistic mesh upper. A padded collar and tongue sat on top of a full-length Air unit and a carbon fiber shank plate to help Jordan with his ups. The shoes also made an appearance in a little film called Space Jam. Given the spectator shoe-like colorway of the black and white versions—and that patent leather detail—it's not surprising that Boyz II Men famously wore them to the 1996 Grammys. Sneakerheads have been rocking them with tuxes ever since.

Jordan Brand

Air Jordan XII

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Air Jordan XII

First released: 1996

Original retail: $135

Designed by: Tinker Hatfield

The Jordan XII built on the XI's carbon shank plate and introduced Zoom Air cushioning and a herringbone sole for added traction—one of its predecessor's weaknesses. Its main inspirations were Nisshoki, the Japanese flag (the lines on the upper are meant to channel sun rays), and a women's fashion boot, as demonstrated by the speed hooks on the upper, the elongated silhouette, and the faux reptile leather on the sides. Jordan won these during the pivotal "Flu Game" of the '97 playoffs, and that exact pair recently sold for over $100,000. More recently, fashion label Public School reinterpreted the silhouette for its latest menswear collection.


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