The All-Time Greatest Jordan Brand College PEs
Jordan Brand have made special PE (player edition) sneakers for everyone from NBA All-Stars to NFL Pro Bowlers, actors, musicians, stylists and bombastic social media personalities. Some of their longest-running and richest PE efforts, however, come from the world of college athletics. The Oregon Ducks, University of North Carolina Tar Heels and dozens of other college athletic programs have been bequeathed with team-exclusive kicks, each of which causes a frenzy among sneaker lovers and fans alike, and occasionally appear on the aftermarket for handsome four – sometimes five – figure sums.
Hundreds of college PEs have been released over the years, so we've rounded up the 10 very best pairs for your viewing pleasure below. To borrow a phrase from the famous Beach Boys song and a memorable Nike marketing campaign: be true to your school!
Air Jordan 1 Georgetown University PE
Kicking things off is the earliest collegiate PE that the Jumpman ever made, an Air Jordan 1 sample in the grey and navy colours of the Georgetown University Hoyas. The only direct nod to its inspiration can be seen on the lateral collar flap, where the Peter Moore (RIP)-designed Air Jordan ball-and-wings logo is replaced by a simple 'Hoyas' text hit. The fact that this PE even exists is a bit of gamesmanship and nose-thumbing: Michael Jordan's most memorable accomplishment as a college hooper was hitting a game-winning shot against the Hoyas in the 1982 NCAA National Championship game when he was a member of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. Of course, this PE served as inspiration for the Air Jordan 1 Hi '85 'Georgetown,' which was released in April 2022.
Jordan Jumpman Team 1 St. John's University PE
Though some sneaker lovers may sneer at any Jordan Brand sneaker that's not an Air Jordan (we're not among their numbers), few would turn their lip up at the Jordan Jumpman Team 1. One of the first team-centric Jordan sneakers ever released, the Jumpman Team 1 dropped in 1997, when the University of St. John's Red Storm was a Jordan Brand school along with the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, University of California Golden Bears and North Carolina A&T Aggies. This quartet even predated the UNC Tar Heels, Michael Jordan's alma mater, as a Jordan school – UNC didn't switch from Nike to Jordan Brand until 1999! One of the shoes that JB blessed the Red Storm with during their late 1990s run was a white and black take on the Jumpman Team 1 that looked like a standard team colour sneaker but had one notable difference: an SJU hit on the heel in place of a Jumpman. The pair pictured above was a size 13.5 that was previously for sale on eBay, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that it was made for Red Storm standout/future NBA star Ron Artest!,
Jordan 10/16 University of Cincinnati PE
Though Jordan Brand sponsors a cornucopia of college athletic programs in 2022, they were more focused on their above-mentioned 'Big Four' around the turn of the century, which included the Cincinnati Bearcats. As former Bearcats guard Alex Meacham tells it, Gentry Humphrey himself broke the news to the team that they were becoming a Jordan Brand school back in 1997, leading future #1 NBA draft pick Kenyon Martin and the rest of the team to erupt in excitement. The Bearcats often took the court in various Air Jordan retros, but among their PEs one of the standouts was a Jordan 10/16, a new performance model from the mid-aughts. This 10/16 is a time capsule of what Jordan Brand PEs used to be: instead of the flash, flair and jumbo branded hits we're used to seeing today, it was a general release white and red colourway with a small, tasteful Bearcats logo on its lateral heel.
Air Jordan 13 University of Kansas PE
It's hard to think of the University of Kansas Jayhawks as anything but an adidas program. They've been down with the Three Stripes since 2005, but before that they had a brief dalliance with the Jumpman. Before signing with adidas, Kansas had a Jordan Brand-adjacent contract with Nike in the 2000s: though there were Swooshes on their uniforms, many Jayhawk players rocked models like the Air Jordan 18 on the court, and the Jayhawks were once listed as a Jordan Brand program in the short-lived Brand Jordan Magazine. However, there weren't a ton of PEs crafted for the team, which is what makes the Jayhawks' Air Jordan 13 such a special sneaker. Its blue and red accents pop off the white leather base, and the Jumpman logo on the tongue is moved slightly down to make space for a large embroidered Kansas logo. Rock chalk Jayhawk indeed!
Air Jordan 9 University of California PE
Representing the West Coast in Jordan Brand's inaugural batch of collegiate athletic programs, the University of California Golden Bears got decked out in special Jumpman sneakers for almost two decades before leaving to join Under Armour ... who attempted to terminate their deal after only four years in a cost-cutting move. The Golden Bears got blessed with some truly special PE sneakers during their time as a Jordan Brand program, the very best of which is this Air Jordan 9. Its combo of white leather, blue patent and a few pops of rich gold detail is striking enough, but the embroidered Cal logo on the heel really sets it off! As mentioned above, Jordan Brand were more considered with their PE logo placements in the 1990s and 2000s, and this AJ 9 shows that you don't need to be big, bold and boisterous with branded hits to make a statement!
Air Jordan 3 University of Oregon 'Pit Crew' PE
It would be easy to make this list all University of Oregon Ducks PEs, and Jumpman fans wouldn't even be disappointed by that decision. The alma mater of Phil Knight, Bill Bowerman, Tinker Hatfield and dozens of other Nike top brass over the years, the University of Oregon gets more PEs than any other school, making for a lineup that reads like the track listing on a 'greatest hits' album. For our money, the best of the best is the student section-inspired Air Jordan 3 'Pit Crew' PE in black. We love the white 'Pit Crew' PE and the interchangably-Swooshed Air Jordan 3 'Tinker' created for the Ducks as well, but the black 'Pit Crew' combines the signature shades (and elephant print) of the Air Jordan 3 'Black Cement' with Oregon-specific details like a large O graphic on the tongue, Pit Crew embellishments on the collar, and, of course the duck feet on the heel. These bring a whole new meaning to 'duck walking,' and are one of the most well-known PE pairs ever.
Air Jordan 4 University of Oregon 'Duckman' PE
We were trying our best to keep to a strict one pair per school limit, but when you've got as many PEs as the U of O does you gotta get a little extra love. Besides its hilarious name – earned via the high-flying duck logo on its hangtag and heel – the Air Jordan 4 University of Oregon 'Duckman' PE offers an ultra-crisp look with a white leather base that clears its green and yellow accents for takeoff! Though Oregon's chromed-out black, white and green Air Jordan 4 PEs made a strong case for inclusion on this list, they couldn't soar quite as high as the 'Duckman' did!
OVO x Air Jordan 8 'Calipari' Pack
We're bending the rules just a touch with the OVO x Air Jordan 8 'Calipari' pack, but in the (formerly) under-the-table spirit of recruiting in college athletics that's A-OK. The OVO x Air Jordan 8 'Calipari' pack is two shoes instead of one, and it was made for Drake, not the University of Kentucky Wildcats. However, Drake, who's ever the cultural chameleon has long displayed a strange fondness for the Wildcats - even memorably tossing up an air ball at their 2014 'Big Blue Madness' season tip-off event – and been a friend of John Calipari, their smartly-attired coach. Therefore, we're OK with labeling the two shoes in the Calipari pack Kentucky PEs and including them on this list, even if their association to the program is more intangible than it is direct. Plus, those combos of black/blue and white/blue look pretty damn good as well.
PSNY x Air Jordan 12 University of Michigan PE
PSNY, a New York-based brand founded by Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, are known for their elevated takes on streetwear staples plus a swath of appealing Nike and Jordan Brand colabs, one of which was an Air Jordan 12 created for the University of Michigan Wolverines. Though the colab may have seemed random at first glimpse – why is a New York-based brand helping design kicks for a school in Michigan? – there's actually a deeply personal connection between PSNY and U of M, namely that Chow attended college there. It also doesn't hurt that Michigan's Fab Five had a tremendous influence on hip-hop style in the 1990s, another driving factor behind PSNY's products. The PSNY x Air Jordan 12 University of Michigan PE took the Wolverines' signature navy and maize colour scheme and gave it a lifestyle twist, dressing it in tonal suede and accenting it with bold maize accents, most notable of which was a thick M logo on the tongue.
Air Jordan 3 University of North Carolina PE
It's a Jordan Brand list, so you know we had to get Michael Jordan's alma mater some love on here! The University of North Carolina Tar Heels have an incredibly deep roster of Jordan Brand PEs, and, frankly, are the only other athletic program that can compete with the University of Oregon Ducks' seemingly endless reservoir of special sneakers. Though styles like their Air Jordan 4 and Air Jordan 33 PEs were considered for inclusion on this list, we think their very best PE is this Air Jordan 3 – a style that uses Tar Heel blue as an accent colour instead of a primary shade. It's crisp and clean, with its Tar Heel blue accents and signature elephant print working with a white leather base, but what really sets it off is the thickly-embroidered UNC logo on the tongue! Another piece of this shoe's story is that it got 13 UNC Football players suspended after they sold their pairs to aftermarket buyers! It also looks so good that a GR version of it saw a retail release in 2020, but that iteration swapped out the UNC logos for a standard Jumpman.