Possibly the world’s biggest all-time shoe brand, Air Jordans is a highly-successful brand of basketball shoes, athletic wear, and casual wear. It’s even reported that the best Air Jordan shoes amassed about $3.1 billion in sales for Nike in just a year.
Back in 1984, when Nike was struggling to sell running shoes, the company wanted to rebrand into something that appealed to the sports world. Micheal Jordan was recruited to partner with Nike on a shoe line. At that time, Jordan was a rookie NBA player for the Chicago Bulls with impressive winning streaks.
The Air Jordan brand came to life after Micheal Jordan agreed to the deal. Nike revolutionized the marketing and shoe design with the guidance of Jordan and shoe designers.
Today, there are 35 Air Jordan sneaker models on the market. Each model has different limited-edition collaborations and reissues. As new styles continue to be introduced into the collection, we rounded up the 15 best Air Jordan sneakers of all time:
1. Air Jordan 1
Air Jordan 1 created a sneaker culture that took the world by storm. While many may argue whether this is a fact, it’s important to consider the sneaker’s design. The Jordan one came with a revolutionary air cushioning and wings logo.
The sneaker’s wings logo represented Michael Jordan, who was a high-flying rookie at the time. The Jordan one continues to be among the hottest collector items for sneakerheads.
Nike exclusively produced the original Air Jordan sneaker (Jordan 1) for Michael Jordan back in 1984. After they gained critical acclaim, the company released them to the public on 1st April 1985. Since then, there have been several reissues and limited-edition collaborations for this sneaker.
The Jordan 1 sneakers caught the attention of the NBA, who deemed the black-and-red colorway illegal. Nike was forced to pay fines when Michael Jordan wore them to his game. Kanye West is one of the celebrities who made Jordan one sneakers cool again when their popularity was diminishing.
2. Air Jordan 11
The thrilling story behind Air Jordan 11 began back in 1995 when Michael Jordan achieved worldwide success. Jordan had initially had a 2-year stint in the MLB before returning to the NBA in true form. He was later named MVP after winning his fourth NBA championship title.
Jordan became an iconic figure in pop culture, and the sneakers he wore at that time added a flair to his entire appearance. He wore Air Jordan 11, a basketball shoe that came with black patent leather mudguards, a translucent outsole, and webbing lace loops. The sneakers inspired many wanna-be basketballers to achieve their dreams.
The Jordan 11 sneakers are undeniably the shoes that marked Jordan’s peak as an athlete in the 90s. They combine elite performance with a neck-snapping style. You would believe that the shoes were made from another galaxy with the patent mudguard added to them.
Thanks to their less stretchy and lighter design, Jordan 11s sold out in retail stores. Part of the shoe’s lasting appeal is because Mike wore it on Space Jam.
3. Air Jordan 4
As one of the best looking Air Jordans, the 4s were the first sneakers in the collection to feature on the silver screen. Sneakerheads became more interested in the shoes in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing following their worldwide release. The shoe builds upon the forward-thinking design elements its predecessor had.
Jordan 4s featured an eye-catching lacing support system (referred to as wings) designed by Tinker Hatfield. They also come with mesh netting on the side panels and tongue. The sneakers were purposefully designed to be lighter to emulate the feeling of flight.
Though they were released when Air Jordans were deeply ingrained in the sneaker culture, Jordan 4s still managed to turn heads. Jordans 4 made their debut in February 1989 during the NBA All-Star Game held in Houston. They got a global release and popularized the use of nubuck leather on basketball shoes.
4. Air Jordan 3
When Tinker Hatfield was designing the Air Jordan 3, he decided to go with a swoosh-free design. He also introduced spectacular elephant print panels onto the white or black uppers of the sneakers. The shoe’s design was architectural and phenomenal to the world of sneaker design.
As Mike’s third signature basketball shoe, the Jordan 3 ranks among the most sought-after sneakers of all time. They came out back in 1988 in four colorways of black, white, blue, and red.
Jordan 3s introduced Mike’s gravity-defying silhouette (also referred to as Jumpman) as the logo. It is the sneaker that elevated Air Jordan from a basic basketball shoe line to a pop culture phenomenon. More people started lining up for, writing all-time sneaker lists, and debating over Jordans after this shoe’s release.
The design on Jordan 3 sneakers feels futuristic, timeless, and retro all at once. OG colorways of the shoe became a staple in sneaker culture. Plus, it’s reported that Jordan 3s are Mike’s favorite Air Jordans ever.
5. Air Jordan 5
The Jordan 5’s design drew inspiration from World War 2-era fighter planes. Tinker Hatfield wanted the shoe to have the feeling of Mike soaring through the air. He playfully used nubuck and smooth leather onto the mesh side panels.
Released back in 1990, the Jordan 5s came in four colorways. Mike wore them for the first half of the 1989-1990 NBA season. He also wore them during the All-Star Game back in February 1990.
Jordan 5s feature a shark-teeth design on the midsole and a translucent sole. It’s the first sneaker in the collection with a translucent sole, which inspired future models.
The shoes were among the popular Air Jordans after featuring in Will Smith’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It was evident that the shoes borrowed various elements from Jordan 4, including a mix of smooth leather and nubuck. Mike even wore these shoes when delivering his career-high points (69) when playing for the Chicago Bulls against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
6. Air Jordan 2
Jordan 2 became a success in the sneaker world due to the design elements that the shoe put forward. The sneaker was the first of its kind to use luxurious details such as faux-lizard skin and made-in-Italy construction. Though it didn’t feature the infamous Swoosh, the shoe paved the way for the design of the Jordan 3.
As one of the most underrated shoes in the Jordan collection, the Jordan 2 is a fashion staple. The shoe tried to bridge the worlds of high fashion and sportswear. It featured minimal Nike branding and an understated silhouette wrapped in luxe materials.
As Mike’s second signature model, Jordan 2 made its debut in November 1986. The first Jordan 2 colorway came in 1986, while the other three arrived in 1987. Today, the shoes are a cult favorite and have been reimaged through prolific collaborations.
7. Air Jordan 12
The Jordan 12 sneaker represents MIke’s perseverance and commitment to basketball. Even when he was sick (from food poisoning), he still managed to score 38 points in Game 5 of the 1997 finals. The shoe’s design reflects a new dawn and features quilted bursts on the uppers.
Jordan 12s were the first sneakers in the collection to debut under the Air Jordan banner. Before their release, all shoes in the collection were technically branded as Nike shoes. The sneaker’s design drew inspiration from the rising sun on the patriotic Japanese Flag.
Creating a follow-up to the 11s wasn’t an easy task for Tinker Hatfield. He had to tweak the dials by replacing the flashy patent with cascading quilted panels and subtle pebbled leather. Performance-wise, the shoe ranks as the most durable and sturdy on-court Jordan ever.
8. Air Jordan 10
Jordan 10 marked 10 years of partnership between Nike and Michael Jordan. The sneaker celebrated Mike’s premature basketball retirement as he was headed for the MLB. Today, Jordan 10s serve as a lasting reminder of Mike’s first impressive 10 years, creatively captured by the marks on the sole.
Mike got out of the premature retirement and wore the 10s in a couple of games. Jordan 10s paved the way for cult-loved 11s and 12s. The shoe has had several reissues and limited-edition collaborations over the years.
9. Air Jordan 6
The Jordan 6 sneakers pushed athletic performance to the limit with their flexible design. Its rubber tongue comes with two grip holes that you can easily slip into the shoe. The neoprene sleeve lining and angles on the shoe drew inspiration from Mike’s favorite sports car (Porsche 911).
Even better, Mike won his first-ever NBA championship ring wearing Jordan 6s. Originally debuted in 1991, Jordan 6 sneakers were Mike’s sixth signature shoe. They feature a sleek, aerodynamic look with a less bulky upper and sole compared to previous Jordan models.
10. Air Jordan 14
Jordan 14’s design borrows from the design of Mike’s Ferrari 550M. The shoe was released before Mike bid farewell to his team (the Chicago Bulls) and the NBA. It featured a Jumpman logo plastered 14 times (seven on the right shoe and seven on the left shoe) to honor Mike’s 14-year partnership with Nike.
The Jordan 14s go down in history as the basketball shoes Mike wore during his infamous “Last Shot.” Surprisingly, he won the 1998 NBA Finals, giving his team the second 3-peat. The sneaker came with a sleek silhouette, ventilated medial hole, and a Ferrari-shaped Jumpman jewel logo.
11. Air Jordan 7
With a striking resemblance to the Jordan 6, Jordan 7 features jagged edges on the midsole and geometric paneling on the uppers. It features a minimal design that mirrors Tinker Hatfield’s shoe design principles. The shoe debuted in 1992 and helped Mike win his second consecutive NBA Championship.
All lines on the sneaker drew inspiration from West African tribal patterns. Mike wore the shoes during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. At this time, Nike made a special colorway (Olympic) and a number 9 jersey instead of 23.
12. Air Jordan 16
Despite being released during one of Mike’s many basketball hiatuses, the Jordan 16 debuted on Mike’s birthday. It came in four colorways and featured unorthodox and futuristic elements.
Jordan 16s got their inspiration from Mike’s transition from being a player to a business executive. The shroud on the shoe mimics the classic dress shoe. When worn without a shroud, the sneaker becomes an athletic accessory.
Footwear designer Wilson Smith was in charge of the shoe’s design. It debuted back in 2001 and became the first signature sneaker in the collection after Jordan 3 which wasn’t designed by Tinker Hatfield.
13. Air Jordan 13
Michael Jordan wore the Jordan 13 sneaker in the 1997-1998 NBA season. At this time, he was already a global icon with endorsements from multimillion brands. The shoe’s design mirrors Mike’s wealthy and famous status and features luxe, vaguely organic, and textured elements.
Jordan 13’s design (spearheaded by Tinker Hatfield) got its inspiration from Mike’s Black Cat alias. The shoe’s outer sole mimics a panther’s paw print, while the back heel has a hologram representing a cat’s glowing eyes. One of the Jordan 13 tips you’ll learn is that the sneaker combines technology and aesthetics for performance.
14. Air Jordan 18
Mike wore the Jordan 18 sneaker during his final NBA season ever. Its design (overseen by Tate Kuerbis) mimics the design of Formula 1 race cars. The shoe comes with a carbon fiber that supports the midsole for comfort.
Jordan 18s also draws inspiration from luxurious Italian dress shoes, packaged with a brush and hand towel for proper upkeep. They debuted in 2003 and featured a mix of suede or leather and removable shrouds.
15. Air Jordan 8
Back in 1993, Michael Jordan became the first player in the world’s basketball history to win Finals MVP three consecutive times. Jordan 8s came out that year, featuring a mix of Zoom Air, cross straps, and leather.
The 8th Air Jordan model caught sneakerheads by surprise. It came with a breathtaking strappy design and vibrant colorways. To date, it remains one of the revolutionary sneakers of the decade and a collector’s favorite.
Best of Luck Finding the Best Air Jordans
The legacy of the Air Jordans has played a major role in sneaker culture for more than three decades. There’s a lot to be said about Air Jordans, from their revolutionary designs to cultural prominence.
This guide ranked the best Air Jordans based on their pop cultural footprint, on-court performance, and look. It is also considered the nostalgia the shoes bring every time someone mentions them.
Check out our Fashion blog category for more insightful posts about the best shoes.