In 1985, everything changed. That year, a young Michael Jordan debuted his signature line of Nike sneakers. The Air Jordans, as they were called, would go on to become massively important to the history of Nike, the NBA, and pop culture. Over 30 years later, the line is still going strong, with Jordan now in control of his own brand under Nike that pumps out retro pairs and new designs alike.
The first pair of Air Jordans were a success, although Nike reacted to early sellouts by flooding the market, causing the model to hit sales racks. After the Air Jordan 2 failed to live up to the first, Jordan considered leaving Nike in 1988. However, a fairly new designer with a background in architecture by the name of Tinker Hatfield persuaded him to stick around with another game-changer: the Air Jordan 3. Jordan and Hatfield formed a bond beyond design and collaborated on the line’s most iconic designs. It's moves like this that helped the brand generate buzz to keep our site focused on keeping up with Air Jordan release dates daily.
Now its own brand, Jordan is a multi-billion dollar business that controls a sizeable portion of the basketball sneaker market. The vast retro line has allowed the brand to only strengthen its position with basketball’s most marketable star (and its namesake) now wearing a suit and tie full-time. That’s no surprise to the people who line up every Saturday to buy the newest pair of Air Jordans, some of them too young to have ever watched Jordan play a game live. There’s a nostalgia element in play, but the sneakers are also a modern fashion statement and have been since the beginning.
Which are the Jordans that dominated each calendar year? While there is now a glut of publications breaking down the best releases annually, the line's early years weren't subject to such rankings. And so, we've gone all the way back to 1985 to break down the best Air Jordans of every year. Read below for our selections.