Whether you love basketball or not, everybody needs at least one pair of Air Jordans in their lives. Stepping out in a pair of these historic kicks is a magic feeling. Emphasis on the “feeling” more than the “magic” though. A pair won’t give you MJ’s unshakable confidence, tenacious work ethic, and unmatched skill. But they can provide your wardrobe with a cool factor. Start a conversation. Enhance your vibe a little.
Simply put, the sneaker world will probably never see a phenomenon quite like the Air Jordan ever again. Scores of basketball players have gotten their own sneaker silhouettes since Jordan paved the way, but none enjoy the type of singular branding and worldwide renown of the Air Jordan. Nike literally created a whole company just to dress Jordan’s feet. Even Kanye West couldn’t get that level of respect from the Swoosh.
As if his fame needed a boost, ESPN’s docuseries The Last Dance thrust MJ back into the middle of the cultural conversation — which might have left you itching for a fresh pair of fresh airs. But where to start? There are 34 different Air Jordan silhouettes, and they aren’t all great. So we narrowed it down to the 10 best silhouettes in the 35-year history of the brand. Remember, we’re not talking about shoes for hooping, we’re talking about wardrobe-essentials. Ankle support is not a parameter.
Before we jump in, a quick pause for props to sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield. Hatfield is a legend in the world of sneakers, and aside from being the lead designer of every Air Jordan from III to XV (then returning for XX, XXIII, and XXX), he continues to serve as the Vice President For Design and Special Projects at Nike. Not every sneaker to make this ranking is designed by Hatfield but he definitely gets a lot of love.
10. Air Jordan VIII — Black And True Red
The last design worn by Jordan before his first retirement, the VIIIs signal the beginning of the drastic change in design that would eventually lead to the legendary Air Jordan XI Concords. The general utilitarian shape is there, but the VIIIs are a far cry from the sleek elegance we’d see when Jordan eventually returned to the court in the mid-90s.
A departure from the VII Cardinals, the VIIIs are cool if perhaps too maximalist for their own good. Especially if you’re picking shoes to step out in. The chenille tongue, the straps, the overly busy graphics near the midsole — it’s all a little extra.
The best colorway of the Air Jordan VIIIs is the Black and True Red makeup (readily available on StockX) worn by Jordan in the 1993 NBA Finals. During the All-Star Game, MJ wore a purple and teal version that are so tacky they feel offensive.
9. Air Jordan X White Black
Michael Jordan returned from his first retirement in ’95 rocking a fresh pair of Air Jordan Xs emblazoned with his temporary number 45 on the side. He didn’t shoot well but scored a cool 55 points in his first game back, which has since been dubbed the “double nickel” game. The most distinct design flair of the Xs is the sneaker’s tiger-striped sole, which features 10 stripes meant to represent each yearly milestone of MJ’s then 10-year career.
Released in 1994 (while Jordan was out of the game), the Air Jordan X is notable as the first model not directly approved by its namesake, leaving the design entirely in the hands of Tinker Hatfield and Nike. If you’re looking for a pair, the Air Jordan X Retro Red Steel colorway best resembles the pair Jordan could be seen in during the early 95 season and is readily available on aftermarket sites for a modest markup.
These are certainly distinctive and wear well if you rock the sweatsuit look. They’re probably a little clunky for a club.
8. Air Jordan XII — Flu Game
It’s a little tough to improve upon near perfection, but that’s just what Tinker Hatfield and MJ shot for with the release of the followup to the Concord Jordan XIs with the release of the ultra-durable Air Jordan XIIs. The most distinct design flourish here is the quilted leather panels that drape across the entire upper.
Were they able to improve upon the Jordan XIs? Definitely not. But the XIIs hold their own special place in history as the pair that Jordan wore during his infamous Flu Game (Bad Pizza Game), in which a visibly ill Jordan still managed to score the game-winning basket in game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
The black and red Flu Game colorway are still readily available on aftermarket sites for a slight markup. You’ll sometimes see these getting worn with jeans (sort of works) or suits (sometimes works). With a sweatsuit, they’re bold enough to draw a lot of eyes.
7. Air Jordan XIII — BRED
I’ve you’ve spent any time with The Last Dance you’ll recognize these kicks instantly. Worn during Jordan’s 97-98 season, the Air Jordan XIII continues the chunky shape movement started by the XIs and improves upon the XII greatly by swapping out the quilted leather for a more textured and punctured patent leather look. One of the classiest Tinker Hatfield Jordans, the XIII sees the designer operating at the top of his game, matching Jordan in skill and very much the product of someone with undeniable vision and confidence.
The Air Jordan XIII was designed with Jordan’s “Black Cat” alter ego in mind, and the texture of the upper along with the holographic heel accent is meant to resemble a panther’s paw and eye, respectively. The BRED colorway can be found on aftermarket sites for a slight markup from the retail price. This is another pair that’s sleek enough to be worn when you’re dressing up, but you might just want to play off the variety of textures with a little velour loungewear.
6. Air Jordan II — White Red
It’s easy to forget all about the Jordan IIs because they are bookended by arguably better — and certainly more recognizable — designs by way of the debut pair and the legendary IIIs. But don’t pass these up, the IIs attempt to combine sportswear with high-end fashion 20 years before people like Kanye made the practice cool. They’re sleek with a low profile silhouette, adorned with faux lizard skin and luxurious accents, and have the benefit of being not nearly as popular as other classic Jordans, meaning you’ll be stepping out looking slightly different from the rest of the pack, which is never a bad thing.
The OG Air Jordan II White Red colorway sells on aftermarket sites for just above $200 (more for the larger sizes). They are almost unarguably the second-best pair of Jordans to wear with jeans.
5. Air Jordan VII — Cardinal
The Air Jordan VII Cardinal was all over the courts in the 91-92 NBA season, worn during Jordan’s second championship win and most famously during the Olympics when MJ led the Dream Team to a Gold medal. Notably, the VII’s make use of Tinker Hatfields Nike Huarache technology, which stripped down the silhouette to its bare essentials, added straps for increased stability, and a neoprene sock-liner for increased comfort and cozier fit.
The Huarache style still enjoys popularity today and can be considered the first example of sneaker deconstruction, a trend started by Hatfield and continued through Virgil Abloh in his Nike “The Ten” collection. The most recent reissue of the VII Cardinal colorway dropped in 2011, but aftermarket prices remain fairly low on this one. These are probably (this is speculative, but trust us) the third most common Jordan to see wedding parties wearing. And they can definitely work with dressy clothes.
4. Air Jordan I — Chicago
Does it get any more classic? There is a reason the Air Jordan 1 gets re-released in this original varsity red, black, and white colorway on a regular basis — the sneaker and colorway are entirely emblematic of Jordan Brand. When someone says “Jordans” this is likely the sneaker that comes to mind (especially after this silhouettes strong resurgence through rereleases). Mike famously rocked this colorway when he scored 63 points in a single game against the Boston Celtics on their home turf in 1986.
The colorway gets its name from Nike’s attempt to deliver a sneaker that met court regulations at the time, after the original black and red colorway (BREDs, another great colorway) Jordan wore angered the NBA and broke uniform regulations. Prior to the Air Jordan 1’s debut, Michael Jordan also rocked a black and red pair of Nike Air Ships, which influenced the Air Jordan 1s design heavily.
Because of The Last Dance, the popularity of this colorway has skyrocketed and now sells on aftermarket sites like StockX for close to $1,000. That’s too high — don’t buy those. Wait it out and Nike is sure to drop the popular colorway again soon. Unless they don’t want to make money, which, c’mon.
3. Air Jordan XI — Concord
The legendary Concord Air Jordan XIs are a pair of shoes that come freighted with so much hype that they can cause sneakerheads to salivate, regardless of where their brand loyalty lies. They’re about as legendary as a sneaker can be, and are hands down Tinker Hatfield’s greatest contribution to sneaker design. Famously debuted in Space Jam in an all-black colorway, Jordan wore the XIs often when he returned from retirement during the 95-96 season.
Design-wise there’s a lot to love here — the high profile silhouette, the shinning patent leather against the white upper, the icy translucent sole, and the elegant Jumpman branding on the upper heel speak to his Airness’ court royalty. They feel like a sneaker fit for a legend, and their own legendary status in sneaker circles proves that they’re fit for kings.
The latest reiteration of the Jordan XI Concords hit retailers in 2018, so pairs are still readily available for a small markup on StockX and aftermarket sites. These shoes legit work as dress shoes, whereas many of the others on the list are sort of “if you can pull it off”-type margin calls.
2. Air Jordan III — Cement
The Air Jordan 3 began the Tinker Hatfield era of Jordans (he’d worked on the 1s with other designers) and is the first Air Jordan to feature the now iconic Jumpman logo. The III featured closer input from MJ himself and included a marketing campaign that would give fans a more intimate look into Jordan’s personality (with an assist from Spike Lee). Depending on who is making the case, the III could easily be considered the definitive Jordan behind the debut pair and marks the moment when Jordan as a brand truly became its own thing, separating itself stylistically from Nike.
The Cement colorway tones down the red in favor of a mostly white leather upper that is accented by elephant skin paneling that helps to make the pair instantly recognizable. As far as the resale market, the original Cement colorway is on the expensive end, hovering around four to five hundred. A black iteration dubbed the “Black Cement” is more readily available at about half the price. We’d suggest waiting it out until Nike releases a refresh.
Stylistically, this is the most versatile Jordan cut by a mile. They can be worn with jeans, a suit, casual clothes… they just sort of work.
1. Air Jordan V — Fire Red
A favorite amongst sneakerheads for the 30 years nowt, the Fire Red Air Jordan 5 was rocked by Jordan while he played one of the greatest games in his career. In a matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1990, MJ would claim a career-high of 69 points in a single game. The Fire Red colorway gets its name for its crimson fire-like midsole accents and matching red collar and branding. Rounding out the design is a strikingly stark black midsole that contrasts nicely with the pure white leather upper.
We’re going to give the Fire Reds the top spot here, not just because they’re incredibly pretty (yes I know we’re talking shoes here) but because Nike just dropped a rerelease of the colorway just last week, which mean they’re readily available for you to pick up for a cheap price. You step out in these, people know you’re wearing Jordans right away. But you’re also repping the 90s and making a statement. They may not be as versatile as the IIIs, but they’re even more eye-catching.