Up Next

MJ changed the game when he first took flight in Air Jordan 1s

An ode to the Air Jordan 1


Straight from another planet, in 1985 they landed …

The shoe was black, with red accents. Who wore black shoes? Nobody since the ’60s and ’70s with Chucks and Pro Keds. Nobody in the NBA, which had rules demanding conformity and reflexively banned the unorthodox footwear. “It doesn’t have any white in it,” young Michael Jordan explained. So Nike adjusted the color, creating the red, white and black design now recognized the world over. The first Air Jordan sneaker had arrived, unlike anything that came before.

On the feet of a baller who defied Earth’s gravity.

At first, people said the kicks were ugly — even Jordan himself. “Garbage,” wrote the sneaker connoisseur Bobbito Garcia in his definitive history “Where’d You Get Those? New York City’s Sneaker Culture 1960-1987.” But on Jordan, scissor-kicking skyward en route to dunks never seen before, the shoes looked incredible. The new-wave sneaker became inseparable from the new-age talent. Before long, the image of Jordan’s silhouette would replace the original winged-basketball Air Jordan logo. Man and shoe were one.

He said, come fly with me. Come get fly with me and change everything from now on about hoop shoes.

Air Jordan 1s landed in 1985 and were unlike any sneaker hoops fans had seen before.

Air Jordan 1s landed in 1985 and were unlike any sneaker hoops fans had seen before.


Jordan revolutionized shoe marketing. Before Air Jordans, basketball sneakers were a subculture, worn almost exclusively by basketball players and youth from the germinating hip-hop culture. Sneaker companies barely advertised on television. Reebok briefly became the biggest shoe company in the world selling women’s aerobics sneakers. Then came Jordan, and his commercials, which popularized kicks for the masses and cemented an intergenerational brand loyalty that Jordan-slash-Nike has yet to relinquish.

Yeah, aiight, it wasn’t the first pair of kicks to take fashion flight.

We used to rock Walt’s Clydes and Kareem’s shell toes to the jams at night.

Larry and Magic was reppin’ in the Weapons, but this dude? Game changer. Game plan rearranger.

Let’s not mistake the first Air Jordans for the first basketball kicks to be hot in the hood. City kids had a long history of cherishing sneakers. What made Air Jordans different was Michael Jordan the baller. After he scored 63 points in a playoff loss to Larry Bird’s Celtics, whose shoe would you choose? After he took off from the free throw line and swam sideways through the air to win his first dunk contest, we knew. He was the One.

The perfect player with the perfect shoe, at the perfect time.

A time when sports, culture and commercialism combined.

Jordan’s ascension coincided with the mainstream’s growing tolerance of black culture. The explosion of rap music, the resurgence of black cinema heralded by Jordan pitchman Spike “Mars Blackmon” Lee, the advance of black characters on hit network TV shows, new communication tools spreading American entertainment and products around the globe — all of these developed in tandem with Jordan’s career. His global brand, now worth billions, was launched by that first pair of Air Jordans — the most influential shoe ever.

Who knew, back in ’85, what was to come?

Who knew we were witnessing the Greatest of All Time ballplayer and sneaker introduction?

But that’s what it was.

Air Jordan. One.

This story is featured on ESPN.com

Jesse Washington is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. He still gets buckets.