When Nike sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield set out to design the Air Jordan IV he had something he didn’t have when designing the III — the luxury of time. It made all the difference. Don’t get us wrong, we love the Jordan III and true Jordan heads could make the case for it being the best Air Jordan of all time, but the III was made in a mad dash. The shoe combined ideas that Jordan I and II designer Peter Moore had already been toying with and featured remnants of the II (faux animal skin, a cushioned midsole, the leather), slapped together quickly in an effort to charm Michael Jordan into staying with Nike and not fleeing to Moore’s fledgling sneaker brand, Van Grack.
The move worked. Mostly thanks to Hatfield’s masterstroke of putting the Jumpman logo on the tongue of the III, where the Swoosh had traditionally been. From that point forward, Hatfield and Jordan collaborated (yes, Jordan’s opinions were taken into account by Hatfield, unheard of at the time) on some of the greatest sneakers of all time. But unlike the III, the IV was wholly Hatfield’s design and it looks more assured than the III.
The general shape introduced with the III was retained, but the IV cut off a considerable amount of bulk, swapping out some of the leather for a breathable mesh material on the upper with plastic netting, giving it a lighter feel to speed up Jordan’s game as well as a new semi-customizable lacing system to give the wearer the perfect fit. Nike must’ve recognized the appeal of the new design because it was the first pair of Jordan’s to launch to a global market, landing in 1989 in a worldwide release.
If the design wasn’t enough, the Jordan IV was also introduced with yet another Spike Lee-directed ad campaign, appeared in the famous sneaker scuffing scene in Lee’s Do The Right Thing, and was the pair of shoes Jordan was rocking when he made “The Shot” — a buzzer-beating play that gave the Bulls a last-second win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which has gone down as one of basketball’s greatest moments. Within a year of their launch, the IVs were unimpeachable.
In honor of one of the greatest Jordan silhouettes of all time, we’re running through the greatest Jordan IV’s ever released in the sneaker’s 32-year history.
Air Jordan IV (Black Cement) BRED, 1989
One of the Air Jordan IV’s debut colorways, the legendary BRED was on Jordan’s feet when he scored “The Shot” at the 1989 playoffs. The design features a nubuck black upper atop a white midsole with an exposed air unit, grey accents, and a red sole.
It’s a straight-up classic but let’s be real, it’s kind of a tired colorway and it looks weaker on the IV than any of the other single-digit Jordans. It’s certainly not our favorite Air Jordan IV but to not include it would be blasphemous — we recognize it’s one of the greats.
Still, when it comes to the four debut colorways, it’s easily our least favorite, “The Shot” aside.
Air Jordan IV White Cement, 1989
Like the Air Jordan III, the IV dropped in a White or Black Cement color and while those two colorways are generally interchangeable in the world of Jordans, the White Cement really takes things to the next level thanks to its black speckled detailing over a Tech Grey wing flap.
This design is sleeker than the BRED, featuring a pure white upper with black accents and a University Red Jumpman logo at the tongue, with black detailing throughout.
Air Jordan IV Fire Red, 1989
What else needs to be said? Just about every Jordan looks good dressed in white and red. Unlike the Cement colorways, the Fire Red features a white cage net over a contrasting black mesh, which adds a lot of depth to the design and helps it pop against its white leather upper, Fire Red accents, and a black wing flap.
It’s probably the most balanced the Fire Red colorway has ever looked, the black triangle piece looks great attached to the Fire Red lace cage, and as a backdrop for the branding at the heel.
Air Jordan IV Military Blue, 1989
We’ve saved our favorite Jordan IV debut colorway for last, 1989’s Military Blue. This design features a slightly altered off-white leather upper with Military Blue accents at the heel, midsole, and lace cage, with some blue peeking out behind the cage net, tied together with some cool grey accents.
It’s not the most iconic pair, but it’s one of the best.
Air Jordan IV Oreo, 1999
It took Nike a minute to start playing with the construction of the Jordan IV and 1999’s Oreo colorway is a good display of some of the minor changes that sneaker would go through in the future. For the Oreo, we have a tumbled black leather upper with perforated quarter panels taking the place of the plastic netting and mesh construction.
It gives the sneaker a more chunky design, and that speckled Cool Grey midsole really helps recall the cookie the colorway is named after.
Eminem Air Jordan IV Encore, 2004
We were really torn about including this one. On one hand, there were only 25 pairs made, on the other hand, look at them! This is probably the most iconic Jordan IV colorway to ever release. So… we’re including it, despite its insane rarity.
Made in celebration of Eminem’s fourth studio album Encore, this colorway sports a dark navy upper with a red Jumpman logo, and charcoal grey and black accents. It’s probably about 50 times better than the album it was released alongside (sorry Em), but low point in Eminem’s career aside, that doesn’t take away from how truly great this pair is.
Air Jordan IV Cool Grey, 2004
The Cool Grey is one of those legendary Jordan colorways that has graced multiple pairs — achieving iconic colorway status again and again — because it’s pretty much impossible to hate this smokey design, which looks sleek on every pair.
The Cool Grey features a nubuck leather upper with a white midsole and a Varsity Maize tongue patch that brings just a little bit of brightness to contrast this moody design.
UNDEFEATED Air Jordan IV, 2005
Back before retailer sneaker collaborations became a weekly thing in the sneaker space, it was an incredibly rare occurrence. That all changed after Los Angeles-based retailer and label UNDEFEATED teamed up with Nike for this MA-1 flight jacket-inspired colorway.
Featuring an olive nubuck upper with festive black and orange accents on the tongue and Jumpman logo on a Velcro-patched tongue, the original release was limited to under 100 pairs, which sold out via in-store raffle in a full-size run.
Air Jordan IV Laser, 2006
One of the weirder Air Jordan IVs out there, the Laser featured a laser-cut motif on a white leather upper, with a Fire Red-resembling colorway featuring padded black triangles, red lace cages, and a Fire Red lining.
The laser-etchings depict several other Air Jordan models, together with its reiteration of a classic colorway, it’s very much a celebration of the whole Air Jordan lineage.
Air Jordan IV Black Cat, 2006
Named after one of Jordan’s more fear-inducing on-court nicknames, the Black Cat features a completely monochromatic black suede upper that sits atop a matching midsole with graphite lace cages and a matching Jumpman logo on a woven tongue tag. We’re going to go ahead and call it, this is the best triple black Jordan of all time.
It’s incredibly sleek, with a luxurious presentation, and was most recently retroed in 2020, with a release that sold out nearly instantly. The retro release dropped right before the pandemic hit, so we’ve yet to see these out in the wild. They’re out there though.
Isiah Scott Doernbecher Nike Air Jordan IV Superman, 2011
Nike has a long-running history of teaming up with OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, and the collaborative designs that come from the children are consistently great. This Jordan IV design was designed with help from Isaiah Scott (of Alex’s Lemonade Stand) and features a black nubuck upper with comic book-inspired blue and green accents, an arrow motif, and a Superman “S” on the tongue.
To round out the design, a silhouette of young Isaiah’s face graces the inside heel.
Air Jordan IV Fear, 2013
A sort of cross between the Black Cat and Oreo colorway, the Jordan IV Fear features an upper of Pure Platinum, Cool Grey, and black atop a black speckled midsole that resembles a starry sky.
The Jordan IV Fear dropped as part of the Fear pack, alongside similar iterations of the III and V all featuring this black on grey colorway, but the IV’s are distinct due to the prominent use of white and stand as the only sneaker from the pack to get the speckled midsole treatment.
That makes them the most iconic of the three, though the entire Fear pack is worthy of GOAT status.
Air Jordan IV Toro Bravo, 2013
It’s hard to improve upon the Fire Red colorway, but Nike managed to pull it off with this Toro Bravo colorway that looked to 2009’s Jordan V Raging Bull Red Suede for inspiration.
The Toro Bravo colorway works better on the IV than it does on the V, that red netting over black mesh really breaks up the design visually, offering a nice bit of contrast. The design flips the Fire Red color scheme of the OG by replacing the white leather with a red suede upper with contrasting Cement grey and black accent work along with a white Jumpman logo.
Air Jordan IV Ginger Wheat, 2016
Every Jordan at some point receives a colorway that removes the design completely from its basketball roots and gives us something more luxury-focused. For the IV, its 2016s Ginger Wheat.
Featuring a premium leather upper with matching laces, perforated midfoot panels, and a gum outsole, the Ginger Wheat looks like a rich person’s sneaker, like something DJ Khaled would rock as he walks from his expensive house to his expensive car.
Luckily since these babies are from 2016, they’re not a rich person’s shoes, hovering between $200 and $400 on the aftermarket.
KAWS x Air Jordan IV, 2017
Made in collaboration between Jordan Brand and Brian Donnelly, better known as the Brooklyn street artist KAWS, this Jordan IV takes the Cool Grey colorway and spreads it across every panel and detail of the silhouette and dresses the whole thing in premium suede.
Dropped as part of a raffle along with a capsule collection that included a coaches jacket and other streetwear essentials at the London-based store Patta, the KAWS Air Jordan IVs inspired such an insane level of hype, police were required at the scene to keep sneakerheads cool.
We think this is dope — though maybe not riot-inspiring. Still, four years out it endures as a must cop.
Travis Scott Nike Air Jordan IV Cactus Jack, 2018
Not only is this Travis Scott’s best Nike collaboration (yes best, take that Jordan I) it’s probably one of the best colorways of the Air Jordan IV to ever drop. Inspired by Scott’s hometown heroes the Houston Oilers, this Durabuck leather Jordan features a powdery blue upper with red, white and black accent work, with Cactus Jack branding on the left heel.
Our favorite detail is easily the black triangle and lace cage, which are adorned with a blue speckled panel, which is criminally underused by Jordan Brand. Use more blue speckles Nike!
Air Jordan IV Raptors Drake OVO, 2019
Remember when Drake kept showing up courtside at Raptors games and trolling the cameras by being way too into the game? It got so bad the NBA had to tell him to chill. But if we didn’t have Drake’s insane passion for the game, we would’ve never got these Air Jordan’s from Drake’s October’s Very Own label in the Toronto Raptors’ colors.
Based on an early ‘90s colorway of the same name used on the Jordan VII, the Raptors IV features a nubuck upper with black, red, and purple accents, and a speckled midsole. The original VII had some grey paneling which was ditched for Drake’s release as the original was never named after the Toronto team. The Toronto Raptors didn’t exist in 1992.
Off-White Nike Air Jordan IV Sail, 2020
We’ve already spilled a lot of ink about these shoes — originally limited to a WMNS-only size run, sneakerhead dudes made such a stink about this release that Off-White had to go back and deliver an expanded size run to satiate all the whining babies out there.
It’s a great reinterpretation of the IV, featuring Virgil Abloh’s signature deconstructed elements with a full-grain leather upper, mesh, and semi-translucent TPU detailing. Because Abloh’s gotta be Abloh, it also says “Air” on the heel, which in 2020 was already starting to feel pretty tired.
UNION LA Air Jordan IV Off-Noir, 2020
In 2018 streetwear retailer and label UNION LA linked up with Nike and delivered one of the most beloved Air Jordan Is ever, and in 2020 the two forces linked up for another collaboration which included this Off-Noir colorway of the Air Jordan IV.
Featuring a black suede upper with black and blue mesh detailing, a semi-translucent closed-triangle piece, contrasting molded red eyelets, and a padded tongue. UNION LA used Tinker Hatfield’s original concept sketches for this iteration, which is what led to the closed triangle piece, and folded tag tongue.
Our only gripe is that artificially aged yellowed midsole. Artificial gaining never looks quite right, an off-white midsole would’ve made this sneaker perfect. The UNION LA Nike collaboration also led to a pink-toned colorway with the same detailing called Guava Ice. Somedays, we prefer that to the Off-Noir, but today we’re filling this darker take.
Do The Right Thing Nike Air Jordan IV White, 2020
Spike Lee’s masterpiece film Do The Right Thing was many people’s introduction to this classic silhouette, so it’s only fitting that we close out this list with a sneaker inspired by the film.
The Air Jordan Do the Right Thing pack featured a black and white iteration (we like the white) of the Jordan IV with Gorge Green and Varsity Red details inspired by the Sal’s Pizzeria boxes Mookie delivers in the film. The pack proved popular and a WMNS-exclusive release followed which featured a heavier dose of Rasta-inspired color.
Scuff a pair of these and you’ll have the whole neighborhood chastising you.