A Brief History of the Air Jordan 4

Air Jordan 4 Red Thunder

How do you follow-up one of the greatest hoop sneakers of all time? Tinker Hatfield and his team had their work cut out for them when they began work on the Air Jordan 4, the fourth signature sneaker in the Jordan line and the sequel to the highly acclaimed Air Jordan 3.

Teased in ‘Black Cement’ and ‘White Cement’ colourways in Sports Illustrated in November 1988, the Air Jordan 4 finally made its much-anticipated debut at NBA All-Star Game in February 1989 – where Michael Jordan laced the ‘Black Cement’ and dropped 28 points!

The AJ4 roared into the market that same year, marking the first-ever global release of an Air Jordan sneaker. Despite the initial mixed response and steep price tag ($110 was $10 more expensive than its predecessors), the winged Jordan soon soared to unimaginable heights. To celebrate the release of the upcoming Air Jordan 4 'Red Thunder', we took a look back at the flight path of one of MJ’s most beloved silhouettes.

Air Jordan 4 Sketch

Material Matters

Tinker Hatfield’s sophomore sneaker for Michael Jordan, the AJ4 boasted a mid-cut silhouette that came in at a lighter weight to the AJ3. Once again emblazoned by a visible Air unit, the AJ4 digressed aesthetically from the previous Jumpman renditions which favoured lifestyle and luxury characteristics.

This time, performance took centre stage. Introducing the synthetic leather Durabuck to the line, Hatfield's performance-oriented material was a more lightweight option designed to be durable for high-octane endeavours. Fortunately for Nike, Durabuck was also more cost effective and animal friendly than similar material counterparts.

The Air Jordan 4 also added a molded layer of urethane-coated mesh (manufactured by dipping the mesh in soft plastic and blasting air through to clear it out), with the central aim of making it more breathable. The most salient design choice, however, was undoubtedly the legendary ‘wings’, allowing the wearer to customise their Jordans with 18 different lacing options!

'The Shot'

The moment that forever immortalised the Air Jordan 4 was undoubtedly ‘the shot’. Rocking the Air Jordan 4 ‘Black Cement’, Michael Jordan delivered a dagger to the heart of Cleveland fans on May 7, 1989, the Chicago Bulls eliminating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the first-round NBA playoffs series. With the series locked 2-2, both teams needed the win to advance in the best-of-five series.

Hitting the foul-line jumper over the outstretched Cleveland guard Craig Ehlo, Jordan etched himself – and his shoes – into the history books. Jordan finished the game with 44 points on 17-for-32 shooting.

‘Get the ball to Michael and everybody get the [expletive] out of the way!' Chicago Bulls coach Doug Collins said of the last play.,

'This you can buy… you can’t do this'

After the eye-watering success of the Mars Blackmon x Air Jordan 3 campaign, Spike Lee reprised his role for the Air Jordan 4 rollout. Debuted during the All-Star game in Houston, the commercial again had eyes glued to the screen, with Spike Lee’s idiosyncratic She’s Gotta Have It (1986) character detailing what sneakerheads can and cannot do in the new Air Jordan 4.

The Air Jordan 4 would also feature in Spike Lee’s auteur tour de force Do the Right Thing (1989). Another slam dunk for Nike, Lee's film and commercials laid the groundwork for one of the most culturally dominant sneakers over the next three decades.

Check out all the Air Jordan commercials from 1986-2020 above, with the Mars Blackmon x Air Jordan 4 featuring at the 2.55 mark.

KAWS x Air Jordan 4
Union x Air Jordan 4
Air Jordan 4 OVO
Eminem x Carhartt x Air Jordan 4

Killer Colabs and High-Flying Retros!

Ten years after its initial release, Nike retroed the AJ4 for the first time – coinciding with Jordan’s second retirement. The original ‘Black Cement’ and ‘White Cement’ made an appearance alongside the all new Retro+ concept, which introduced new colourways alongside some tweaks to the model. Since then, we’ve had mountains of maiden mainline colourways and throwback retros to sink our teeth into!

The Air Jordan 4 has also had some monumental collaborations as part of its long legacy.

Eminem, Travis Scott, KAWS, and Drake are among some of the more high-profile names that have recently revisited the model, with all collaborations appearing on the ever-growing resale market. It’s safe to say all of these pairings appear for well over the AJ4’s initial price tag from 89, the Eminem x Carhartt x Air Jordan 4 averaging around $20,000, while the highly-limited UNDEFEATED colab (the first boutique to work on the model) still sells upwards of $50,000!

The Travis Scott Friends and Family AJ4 and Drake’s extremely rare OVO x AJ4 ‘Splatter’ can sometimes be found for around $30,000. More recently, sneakerheads have climbed over one another for a chance at Union’s heavyweight link-up, and mainline releases like the ‘Red Thunder’ and ‘Lightning’ continue to create a storm online.

It’s safe to say Michael Jordan’s buzzer beating AJ4 will stay ringing in our ears for many, many more years.

Keen for more Jumpman history? Check out the brief history of the Air Jordan 14!

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