How Nike’s Air Jordan 1 Became The Most Precious Athletic Shoe

Nike will release the Air Jordan 1 Chicago “Lost and Found” on Saturday. Some collectors consider them the “most iconic sneaker of all time.” This is how Nike kept the Jordan 1 relevant for nearly four decades. Loading Something is loading.

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Michael Jordan first wore the Air Jordan 1 nearly four decades ago, an eternity in the fast-paced world of sneakers and fashion.

On Saturday, Nike will re-release the shoe in the infamous colors of the Chicago Bulls. And even though Nike is releasing 500,000 pairs, they’ll likely sell out in minutes.

“The Air Jordan 1 is the most iconic sneaker of all time,” said Jordan Geller, a sneaker collector and former owner of ShoeZeum, who in 2020 sold a pair worn by Jordan for a record $560,000. “White, black and red shoes are instantly recognizable and part of American pop culture.”

Shoe collectors, analysts and industry observers said the shoe’s rich backstory, Nike’s ability to manage shortages, recent successful collaborations and “The Last Dance” documentary have kept the shoe on top. off the sneaker lover’s wish list.

More than a third of trades since October 1 on Tradeblock, an app that allows collectors to trade sneakers, have included a Jordan 1. Tradeblock members’ closets contain more than 250,000 pairs of Jordan 1s, according to the company. .

On eBay, sneaker collectors searched for Jordan 1s this year, on average, more than 100,000 times a day, an 11% increase over 2021.

The “Lost and Found” is already on track to also be one of the best-selling Jordan 1s of the year on StockX, even though demand is softening for some aftermarket colorways of the shoe.

The silhouette was “essentially a lock to sell in any colorway in 2019, 2020 and early 2021,” said Dylan Dittrich, head of research at Altan Insights and author of the book “Sneakonomic Growth,” which tracks sneaker growth. as an asset class.

“That has been less the case this year, as several releases no longer sell out immediately, and some secondary market pricing reflects weakness.”

The “Lost and Found” colorway of the Air Jordan 1 Chicago will prove to be different.

“The demand for the Chicago colorway on a Jordan 1 will always remain for some because it’s a true grail pair that outclasses all others,” said TJ Keasal, a digital sneaker and sportswear creator.

weird shoes

A vintage 1985 Air Jordan 1 Chicago from the Rares Collection.

Courtesy of Rare

“An Instant Hit”

While Michael Jordan’s Nike deal is the gold standard for athlete endorsement, it didn’t start out that way.

“Initially, there were far more critics than enthusiasts of Nike’s decision to give Michael Jordan a great deal on shoes before he played a single game in 1985,” said Tradeblock co-founder and CEO Mbiyimoh “Beems” Ghogomu.

As Jordan soared on the NBA courts, his first signature shoe took off. Nike released the shoe nationwide in March 1985. It sold $130 million in the first year. Had the footwear and associated apparel been a separate company, it would have been the fifth-largest sneaker company in the world, the Washington Post reported in a sweeping story about Jordan’s deal with Nike in 1992.

“They were an instant hit,” Geller said. “One thing about the shoes that makes them so iconic is that they were released in a variety of colors. Before the Air Jordan came out, most basketball shoes were very plain. They were usually black and white, white and navy blue or white and gray. .”

Michael Jordan with the Air Jordan 1 in 1985.

Michael Jordan with the Air Jordan 1 in 1985.

Focus on sport/Getty Images

The Jordan 1 also helped stop a rare fall for Nike. By the mid-’80s, Nike had smelled the aerobics boom and had fallen behind Reebok.

“By the spring of 1984, things were going to hell,” co-founder Phil Knight said in a 1993 Harvard Business School case study.

By the late ’80s, Nike had introduced a full suite of Air products, including the Air Max, and the Jordan brand continued to grow. Between 1988 and 1991, Nike averaged a 36% annual sales increase. Nike also regained the industry lead from Reebok, a lead it has never lost.

“The rise of Jordan fueled the Air Jordan 1, resulting in nationwide demand and making the shoes a must-have for sneakerheads,” Ghogomu said. “The silhouette further exploded in the market when it went from being seen as a shoe for basketball players to an everyday shoe once skateboarders had it.”

Since then it has become a fashion staple, appearing on red carpets, the feet of NFL football players, musicians and celebrities. When it launched in stores, long lines formed outside Foot Locker, Champs Sports, and boutiques with sneakerheads desperate to grab a pair.

A line outside a Nike store

A 2011 lineup outside a Nike store.

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Scarcity, storytelling, collaborations and the “Last Dance”

After 1985, the Air Jordan 1 was not re-released to original specifications until 1994. Nike would not introduce the shoe again until 2015, although a near-original version was released in 2013.

“All of those releases are coveted by sneaker collectors and the ‘Lost and Found’ Air Jordan 1 will be too,” Geller said.

“Nike has approached the Chicago colourway a bit differently with much less throwback releases, which adds to the appeal of owning a rare piece of sneaker history tied directly to GOAT itself,” Keasal added. “Nike maintained demand in two ways: scarcity and nostalgia.”

While the shoe will sell out instantly, Wedbush Securities analyst Tom Nikic said the drop is “less about what this launch does for the actual (profit and loss) of the company and more about what it means for the company.” the health of the brand.

Nike has continued to lean on storytelling around footwear. This year’s version comes with a “Lost and Found” theme that harkens back to the early days of sneaker collecting, when prized shoes could be found in the dusty back rooms of sporting goods stores. The “Lost and Found” even comes in an aged-looking box with a handwritten receipt.

In recent years, Nike has collaborated with some fashion and music icons on limited-edition versions of the Jordan 1, including Virgil Abloh and Travis Scott. Nike even released a “Trophy Room” version in 2021 in partnership with Marcus Jordan, one of Michael Jordan’s sons and a sneaker boutique owner.

Abloh’s Off-White “Chicago” was released in 2017. It last sold on StockX for $4,335.

Air Jordans on display at the Pop Culture auction at Bonhams auction house in 2020.

Air Jordans on display at the Pop Culture auction at Bonhams auction house in 2020.

AP Photo/Alastair Grant

The final piece of the Jordan 1’s continued success is the 2020 documentary “The Last Dance,” which introduced Jordan to a new wave of sneaker collectors.

“The documentary ‘The Last Dance’ comes into its own for today’s generation,” Keasal said. “Younger collectors or Air Jordan fans have never seen Jordan play live, but throw in the perfect storm of this larger-than-life viewing experience with the world essentially reliving the best to play with an intimate look we’ve never had before. viewed. “

The “Last Dance” push even caught the eye of Nike CEO John Donahoe, who mentioned it on a June 2020 earnings call with stock analysts.

“The Jordan brand resonated deeply in (the quarter) with the broadcast of the ESPN documentary The Last Dance,” he said. “The response we saw from the cultural conversation surrounding each episode to the rapid sale of AJ5 Fire Red demonstrated the love for the Jordan brand around the world.”