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Setting Straight the Story of the Nike Air Ship

Nike Air Ship Black Red Banned

The $1.472 million sale of a pair of Michael Jordan-worn Nike Air Ships in late 2021 prompted another spike in intrigue for the mysterious model. A brief stint in these sneakers by the GOAT birthed one of the most persistent myths in sneaker history, which has only been more widely debunked in the past few years. Here’s an abridged explainer of exactly what this shoe is – without sailing away from historical facts.

Rewriting History

Nike’s savvy marketing has always underlined their success. Some of that can be attributed to their penchant for lore and, at times, historical revisionism. The genesis of this legendary storytelling can be traced back to the infamous ‘Banned’ commercial, which perpetuated a tall tale (in the case of MJ, 6’ 5” – or 6’ 6”, depending who you ask) for over 30 years.

In February 1985, the NBA sent a letter to Nike informing them that MJ’s ‘red and black NIKE basketball shoes’ violated the league’s strict uniform rules, ‘on or around October 18, 1984’. The ambiguity of the shoes referenced in this letter allowed Nike to conjure up the ‘Banned’ story – with some creative liberties.

The ‘Banned’ television ad depicts a sweaty MJ bouncing a basketball with the camera slowly panning towards the floor. On his feet was a pair of red and black Air Jordan 1s, which soon had black bars placed over them on-screen, with the voiceover message: ‘Fortunately, the NBA can’t stop you from wearing them. Air Jordans from Nike.’

Thus, the AJ1 became associated with this notorious event thereafter, to the point Nike and the industry at large created a Mandela Effect with the ‘Banned’ story. The brand even released a commemorative ‘Bred’ colourway back in 2011 via Nike outlets – just another layer of white lies.

Come August, Nike finally revived the red and black edition – the true ‘Banned’ shoe. And, in recognition of its historical significance, the stock photos depict double-lacing in the same style as that obscure black-and-white training snap from all those years ago.

Then in October of 2021, the Nike Air Ship worn by Michael Jordan in his fifth-ever NBA game sold at Sotheby’s. Its $1.472 million sale marked a new record for sneakers sold at auction and provided some indisputable concrete clarity on the true origin story of the most storied signature line of all time.

Jordan Brand have also made another concerted effort with the Nike Air Ship in 2023, releasing multiple white colourways with primary accents. There’s also the ‘Every Game’ pack that taps into the story of MJ’s lucky shorts. Suffice it to say; the Air Ship is in full sail.

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