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The All-Time Greatest Air Jordan 1s: Part One

Date: March 03 2019

By: T.S. FOX

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‘Chicago.’ ‘Bred.’ ‘Black Toe.’ ‘Shadow.’ Some of the most iconic sneakers of all-time are Air Jordan 1s, but sneakerheads may be surprised to know that MJ’s first Swoosh signature wasn’t always considered one of the footwear G.O.A.T.s.

First donned by Jordan in 1984 and officially released in 1985, the AJ1 was instantly and infamously mythologised by Nike with the now legendary ‘Banned’ campaign. Despite the campaign, Jordan’s Rookie of Year award-winning debut NBA season, and the ‘Banned’ AJ1’s on-court premiere in the 1985 Slam Dunk Contest, the general lack of sneaker culture and MJ’s disappointing sophomore season – His Airness missed almost the entirety of the 1985/86 campaign with a broken foot – meant that the AJ1 was all but forgotten by the time the Italian-made Air Jordan 2 released in November of 1986.

In fact, the Air Jordan 1 didn’t even return to shelves until 1995, in honour of its 10-year anniversary. Because there was no market for retro footwear at the time, the re-release was a spectacular failure with pairs ultimately hitting sale racks for as little as $20 USD. Thankfully, the Jumpman resurrected the AJ1 once again in 2001 – right when throwback jerseys were at their pinnacle of popularity – and the kicks have been a mainstay ever since.

By now, everyone is undoubtedly familiar with the shoe’s most popular OG colourways. So, with the AJ1 once again thrust into the spotlight thanks to Jordan Brand’s latest collaboration with Travis Scott, we decided to take a look back at 23 pairs (naturally) of our favourite non-OG Air Jordan 1s of all-time.

Check out part one – which kicks off with the aforementioned ‘Cactus Jack’ drop – below and stay tuned for part two soon.

Travis Scott Aj1 Feature

2019: Travis Scott x Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG

First seen on the feet of Scott himself in 2018, the hotly anticipated ‘Cactus Jack’ Air Jordan 1 finally touched down earlier this year to coincide with his performance at the 2019 Grammys. Decked out in white leather with mocha-coloured suede and a black nylon collar, the kicks are highlighted by Scott-specific branding details throughout while reversed Swooshes on the lateral side of the upper make this one of the most unique AJ1s to date.

Shattered Backboard Aj1 Feature

2015: Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG (Shattered Backboard)

Way back in 1985, MJ famously shattered a backboard with a thunderous dunk during a European Nike tour. Thirty years later, the Swoosh paid homage to that slam with a ‘Shattered Backboard’ rendition of MJs first signature sneaker. More or less an alternate take on the classic ‘Black Toe’ design, the release swapped out the usual Bulls-inspired red for a ‘Starfish’ hue – a nod to the orange, black, and white jersey MJ was rocking during that 85 tour.

Xq Aj1 Feature

2007: Air Jordan 1 Retro (XQ)

Originally released in 2007, the ‘XQ’ has long been one of the most coveted AJ1s to ever hit shelves. A Chinese exclusive, these were supposedly limited to just 240 pairs when they debuted over a decade ago and featured everything from embossed stars and contrasting stitching to eye-catching gold accents. Those who missed out on the OG briefly got another shot at the drop with a 2013 retro.

Cyber Monday Aj1 Feature

2015: Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG (Cyber Monday)

The ‘Cyber Monday’ AJ1 is one of the cleanest Jordans to drop this side of the 85 OGs. Released in 2015, these simply opted for a monochromatic black upper as white contrasts took care of the sole unit and the ‘Nike Air’ branding on the tongue. In typical Retro High OG fashion, these sold out almost immediately when they dropped on Cyber Monday.

Top 3 Aj1 Feature

2016: Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG (Top 3)

Three of the most beloved Air Jordan 1 colourways united in a single package in 2016 with Jordan Brand’s release of the ‘Top 3’ AJ1. The asymmetrically colour-blocked kicks brought together panels from the silhouette’s ‘Bred,’ ‘Chicago,’ and ‘Royal’ make-ups while simultaneously paying tribute to MJ’s status as the third overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft.

Off White Aj1 Feature

2017–2018: Off-White x Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG

What is there to say about the Off-White x Air Jordan 1s that hasn’t been said already? By bringing his own distinct design language to one of the most iconic kicks to ever see the light of day, Virgil Abloh transformed the AJ1 into a high-fashion must-have while celebrating his own Windy City roots.

Jeter Aj1 Feature

2014: Air Jordan 1 Retro High (Jeter)

With five World Series titles, a World Series MVP, and countless other awards to his name, Yankees legend Derek Jeter finally called it a career in 2014 after 20 years in pinstripes. The Jumpman marked the occasion with a special iteration of the Air Jordan 1 for ‘The Captain,’ which was exclusive to Foot Action's Flight 23 in New York City and came complete with a navy blue leather upper, pinstriped collar, and metallic gold accents.

Hare Aj1 Feature

2009: Air Jordan 1 Retro (Hare)

First released in 2009, the Bugs Bunny-inspired ‘Hare’ Jordan 1 is arguably one of the most underrated Jordans of all-time. Taking cues from the Air Jordan 7 of the same name, the ‘Hare’ AJ1 combined a grey and white upper with bright red accents and a colourful green and yellow tongue. Jordan Brand even modified the tongue badges to feature a Jumpman-meets-Bugs logo alongside purple ‘HARE’ text. Following the 2009 debut, a retro arrived in 2015 to coincide with a corresponding take on the Air Jordan 29.

Fragment Aj1 Feature

2014: Fragment Design x Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG

The streetwear godfather himself, Hiroshi Fujiwara, got his hands on the Air Jordan 1 in 2014 and combined the classic ‘Black Toe’ and ‘Royal’ looks, swapping out the ‘Black Toe’ colourway’s usual red in favour of royal blue. Naturally, the unmistakable fragment design bolt logo graces these, too. The result is one of the most coveted AJ1s out there and one that still regularly fetches upwards of $2,000 USD.

Gym Red Aj1 Feature

Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG (Gym Red)

The old ‘Red October’ trend may have come and gone, but 2014’s ‘Gym Red’ Air Jordan 1s are still some of the cleanest around. A different take on the countless Chicago Bulls-inspired make-ups to hit the silhouette over the years, these simply coupled a ‘Gym Red’ upper of leather and suede with contrasting white hits to the branding and midsole. Despite the simplistic look, these are harder to come by than you may think: they were exclusive to Europe when they dropped nearly five years ago and never officially launched in other markets.

J2K Aj1 Feature

2010: Air Jordan 1 Retro High (J2K)

Back in 2010, Jordan Brand took cues from the teams MJ faced in the Eastern Conference Finals during his championship run to create a ‘J2K’ edition of the Air Jordan 1. Not to be confused with the black and red pairs that dropped in 2012, these sported a colourful combination of red, green, blue, yellow, and black to go along with prism-like stitching throughout the upper.

Banned Aj1 Feature

2011: Air Jordan 1 Retro High (Banned)

2011’s ‘Banned’ Air Jordan 1 can largely be credited with kicking off the Retro High OG craze that followed. Marked as a defective B-grade and released exclusively at Nike outlet stores in the United States (on a Wednesday, no less), the ‘Banned’ AJ1 returned the silhouette to its ‘Nike Air-branded high-top form and came complete with special packaging, not to mention red ‘X’s on the heels.

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