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The Best Jordan 1s In The Sneaker’s 35 Year History

Ask any hypebeast which exact pair of shoes they visualize when they hear the word “sneakers” and there’s a very good chance it’ll be hightop Air Jordan 1s (probably in the famed OG Chicago colorway). Debuting on the court in ’84 and released to the general public 35 years ago on April 1, 1985, the Jordan 1s single-handedly created sneaker culture. That’s no exaggeration. Must-cop colorways, store exclusives, a robust aftermarket with jaw-dropping prices… it all started here, with this sneaker silhouette.

The Air Jordan 1 also set up the foundation that the Air Jordan line would build itself upon for decades to come. Even if it isn’t your personal favorite Jordan, there’s no doubt the familiar shoe is in your top five.

While the Jordan line would go on to be dominated by the innovative and still futuristic-looking designs of Tinker Hatfield, it was Nike’s first creative director, Peter Moore, who was the chief architect of this debut pair. Today, in celebration of the shoe that started it all, we’ve assembled a chronological look at the greatest Air Jordan 1 colorways in the sneaker’s 35-year history.

Let’s jump in!

Air Jordan 1 Royal Blue, 1985

Nike

The very first colorway released to the public, the Air Jordan 1 Royal Blue was Michael Jordan’s personal favorite. Despite not being his team colors, Jordan wore this blue and black colorway in an early ad campaign shot by famed sports photographer Chuck Kuhn.

The image of Jordan wearing Royal Blues in a matching sweatsuit on a remote Oregon airstrip at sunset is as iconic a visual as the very sneaker it’s advertising.

Air Jordan 1 Black Toe, 1985

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One of the debut AJ-1 colorways, the Black Toe remains one of the sneaker’s most iconic and beloved designs. Though hardly worn by Jordan himself on the court, it was the Black Toe that MJ was rocking during the photoshoot that would inspire the now iconic Jumpman logo. For that reason alone, it’ll always be one of the greatest Jordan colorways ever.

The Black Toe has since been re-released in 2013 and again in 2016, which means we’re due for a refresh any day now.

Air Jordan 1 BRED/Banned, 1985

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The BRED or Banned colorway of the Air Jordan 1 is the only sneaker that could be classified as “badass.” This Chicago Bulls-inspired colorway was famously banned for violating NBA league dress regulations, resulting in a $5,000 fine per game every time Jordan rocked a pair.

He did it anyway and Nike gladly foot the bill (or… so the story goes).

Air Jordan 1 UNC/Carolina Blue, 1985

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Not quite as rare as some of the other first-year colorways, the UNC remains one of the prettiest pairs of Air Jordan 1s. Made in tribute to the college colors of Jordan’s alma mater, The University of North Carolina, the UNC pulls together shades of Carolina Blue and white across an all leather upper.

The look of a cloud is a perfect fit for someone nicknamed “His Airness.”

Air Jordan 1 Shadow, 1985

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It’s easy to forget given the insane popularity of the BRED and Royal Blue colorways that the AJ-1’s debut year also produced a fifth classic colorway, the moody black and grey Shadow. While it doesn’t get the same amount of ink spilled over it as those other classics, it’s still, 35 years later, the cleanest the Air Jordan has ever looked.

Air Jordan 1 High Chicago, 1986

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To correct the controversy surrounding the BRED, Nike released this league-approved red, white, and black colorway which quickly became emblematic of the AJ-1 itself. If sneakerheads picture the Air Jordan 1 when they heard the word “sneakers,” then this is the colorway they see it in.

The Chicago, or Varsity Red (as it’s now known), has been re-released several times, and it’s the colorway Virgil Abloh based his updated take on the AJ-1 on from his now-classic “The Ten” collection.

Air Jordan 1 Retro Japan Pack, 2001

Stadium Goods

Nike Japan has a track record of producing some of the brand’s greatest colorways, and that trend started with this four sneaker release. The full Japan pack consisted of Metallic Silver/Neutral Grey, White/Midnight Navy, Black Metallic Silver, and White Metallic silver colorways, with some pairs featuring reflective 3M detailing.

Each sneaker from the collection released in a limited edition suitcase, which was a puzzling move, but hey, who wouldn’t want to keep one of these pairs in a hard-shell under lock and key?

Air Jordan 1 Patent Leather, 2003/2013/2020

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It’s rare that a mid-rise Jordan 1 colorway ever edges into legendary status, but this patent leather iteration of the AJ-1 is impossible to ignore. We mean literally, how can you not see this sneaker when it reflects any light source directly into your eyes?

These feel a little dated by 2020’s standards, but this black and gold colorway remains popular to this day, with a recent re-release in high-top form. The newest iteration is a huge improvement over the original, but we have to shout out the design that started the patent leather look, so we’re showcasing the mid-rise.

Air Jordan 1 XQ, 2007/2013

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Sometimes sneaker brands will do things that seem to go against reason. Surely, Nike loves to make money, why then has there only been one refresh of the China-exclusive XQ colorway? This pair remains one of the most unique in the AJ-1s history, thanks to its star-speckled embossed leather paneling, and unique line detailing.

The sneaker serves as a reminder that Nike is at its best when the brand is playing loose with their design template.

Levi’s x Nike Air Jordan 1 23/501 Denim Retro, 2008

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As part of their first brand collaboration, Levi’s and Nike offered up new takes on their two most iconic products, the Air Jordan 1 and Levi’s 501 jean. Sure, nobody remembers what that pair of pants looked like, but the image of the corresponding sneaker will be burned into every Air Jordan 1 fan’s memory for as long as people keep making lists of the best Air Jordan 1s.

Sporting a denim and leather upper, the 23/501s featured red paneling and a denim iteration of Nike’s famous elephant print.

Air Jordan 1 HARE, 2009

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Sneakerheads rarely go crazy for cartoon sneaker tie-ins but the HARE Jordan 1 — inspired by the Air Jordan 7 colorway of the same name — has managed to carve out a space amongst even the most fashion-obsessed of hypebeasts. That’s probably because this neutral grey on pristine white colorway with red accents manages to look so dope.

On paper swapping out the iconic Jumpman logo for Bugs Bunny sounds like a stupid idea but in practice? Fresh as hell. The HARE colorway has been used on several Air Jordans to date, and it always looks fresh.

Air Jordan 1 High Strap A Tribe Called Quest, 2009

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We debated not even including this pair on this list as only 25 pairs were initially released, but this A Tribe Called Quest-celebrating design — which uses Tribe’s “Midnight Marauders” as inspiration — is just too unique to ignore.

First, there is that black on red on green colorway that is so representative of Tribe, and then there is that strap, a definite anomaly in the Jordan 1 lineage and one we’d like to see a lot more of going forward.

Fragment Design x Air Jordan 1, 2014

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Famed streetwear designer Hiroshi Fujiwara had a simple recipe for this Fragment Design Jordan 1: take two of the shoe’s greatest colorways, the Black Toe and Royal, and mash them together, giving us the Fragment Design Air Jordan 1.

It could be argued that Fujiwara’s design even improves upon those original colorways. In fact, we’ll say that right here, right now.

Just Don X Air Jordan 1 High Strap BHM, 2013

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Released in celebration of Black History Month to benefit the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of America charity, this black and orange pair designed by legendary Chicago streetwear designed Don C features a high top strap and a premium snakeskin inspired leather upper.

It doesn’t look too much like an AJ-1, but it definitely looks fresh.

Air Jordan 1 High Legends of Summer Pack, 2014

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Here is the thing about the Legends of Summer — I happen to think they’re some of the ugliest Jordan 1s ever. Why are they are on this list then? Because all three pairs, the red, the black, and the red and white sell for, easily, above $5K on the aftermarket.

While I don’t think an expensive shoe necessarily makes for a great shoe, to deny the popularity of this pack — which dropped to a limited few in commemoration of Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z’s Legends of Summer tour — would be to ignore a part of Jordan 1 sneaker history.

Air Jordan 1 Shattered Backboard, 2015

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2015’s starfish orange on black and sail colorway, known simply as the “Shattered Backboard” is a modern classic. The Shattered Backboard gets its name and colors from an exhibition game in Italy during Jordan’s rookie year. Wearing an orange, black, and white uniform, Jordan dunked so hard he shattered the backboard, creating history in the process.

30 years later, it would lead to one of the AJ-1’s greatest colorways.

Air Jordan 1 Letterman

Flight Club

Released 30 years after his first appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, this pair of AJ-1s combined Light Crimson and Midnight Navy to create a colorway inspired by the jumpsuit Jordan wore on his first-ever late night tv appearance.

It’s a weird moment to commemorate, but hey, we’re not complaining. We’ll take 10 pairs.

Air Jordan 1 Igloo, 2017

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If the aforementioned Jordan 1 UNC is the sneaker’s prettiest colorway, the Igloo is a close second. Released as an Art Basel exclusive, this mint, black, and white colorway sought to capture the look and feel of Miami’s South Beach waterfront.

Did it succeed? Who cares, it made for a dope-as-hell sneaker.

Off-White x Air Jordan 1 The Ten, 2017

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With this ranking, this will now be the third time we’ve written about this Chicago inspired colorway from Virgil Abloh’s “The Ten” collection. What more can we say about this shoe that we haven’t already? If we had to choose a single sneaker to be representative of Abloh’s entire 10 shoe debut Nike collection, it would be this one.

This design could go on the cover of an entire book about Abloh’s contribution to footwear, and nobody would bat an eye, even Abloh himself.

Union x Air Jordan 1 Black Toe/Storm Blue, 2018

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Los Angeles-based retailer Union has made a handful of Air Jordans and each one of them is a certifiable classic. For their first collaboration, Union took on the AJ-1 and dropped two iterations consisting of the colors of four classic colorways, stitched together with deconstruction inspired zig-zag stitching and sitting atop pre-yellowed soles.

SoleFly x Jordan 1 High Art Basel, 2018

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Another Art Basel Miami exclusive — this time in collaboration with SoleFly — this high top Jordan 1 dropped in a leather and shiny patent leather version, both featuring a University of Miami inspired color combo of orange, white and green.

Air Jordan 1 High Origin Story Spider-Man, 2018

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It shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone that we’re saying this but, Miles Morales is the coolest Spider-Man ever. Peter Parker never rocked a pair of Nikes, and this Chicago-inspired colorway worn by Morales in animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse remains the coolest pair of sneakers a superhero has ever rocked.

A Spider-inspired smash of blue and reflective details set this apart from this familiar AJ-1 color palette.

Air Jordan 1 Pine Green Retro High, 2018

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An expansion of Jordan Brand’s Black Toe line, the Pine Green features a black on sail colorway with a Pine Green toe box. It’s a simple-but-striking colorway that acts as a reminder that the Air Jordan 1s debut colorways still play a major part in influencing future designs.

Travis Scott Jordan 1 High Cactus Jack, 2019

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Travis Scott has produced a lot of solid designs out of his Cactus Jack label but has yet to surpass the perfection that is the Cactus Jack Jordan 1. Featuring a backward swoosh with coffee-colored suede paneling over a white sail upper, the Cactus Jack, alongside the Union LA and “The Ten” AJ-1, will go down as the colorway that kept this iconic silhouette relevant to a new generation of sneakerheads.

Off-White Jordan 1 High White, 2020

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We don’t know if Virgil Abloh will ever design an Air Jordan 1 that reaches the same popularity as his Chicago inspired colorway from “The Ten,” but this all-white iteration is pretty damn close.

Released in March of this year, this iteration of the AJ-1 sold out nearly instantly and still reaches prices as high as $2K on the aftermarket. The design is simple, consisting of deconstructed white leather paneling, mesh, and blue and orange threading that adds a striking yet minimal splash of color. Truly Abloh and the AJ-1 at their best.

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