MJ Mondays: Nike Air

Time has surely passed since the last iteration of MJ Mondays…however, the first summer installment takes us to the giant elephant in the room. And no this is not a double negative by any means. This past weekend saw the retro release of the ‘Bordeaux’ Air Jordan 7 Remastered, as part of the 23rd anniversary of the Air Jordan 7. But, what separates this retro launch from the first in 2011 is that the new retro is closer to the original in terms of design and features. With the charcoal midsole returning to the model and a certain stamp of approval on the insole…it sets the stage for today’s MJ Mondays topic. Nike Air.

michael jordan in air jordan 1

To properly chronicle the history of Nike Air to the Air Jordan signature line…we must start at the beginning. As it is only fitting. In 1985, Nike launched the Air Jordan 1 to commercial buzz and success. But Nike did something with the Air Jordan 1 that they had not done to that point.

The Swoosh tailored a release to an individual as depicted by the Wings logo on the collar. But what the Swoosh smartly did was give the Air Jordan 1 the validation it needed with the Swoosh and Nike Air branding. After all, Nike was in a sense, betting the house on Michael Jordan. There was a large financial backing behind MJ, and the promise of his own brand. Which we’ll cover later…

But in turn…both the Air Jordan and Nike became household names in tandem. Thanks to the Nike branding and Jordan branding. It was the solidification of Nike as a powerhouse in the athletic apparel industry and the validation of the Air Jordan 1 as a legit player in the performance sneaker market.

The foundations of what would become something unseen and unmatched in the sneaker industry.

With the success of the Air Jordan 1, despite David Stern implementing the uniform policy on Jordan…the success led to Nike taking a calculated risk with the Air Jordan 2.

As the next Air Jordan signature went without a Nike visible Nike Swoosh or any Nike Air branding. In fact the only Nike branding came courtesy of the lone NIKE font on the insole, heel and outsole. But the signature found itself without a Swoosh, something we would see in the future. But it was a short lived practice as Nike Air was reintroduced to the Air Jordan line in 1988 with the debut of the Air Jordan 3. Which Tinker Hatfield returned the Nike Air logo, to a spot we would see across the next four Air Jordan signatures.

As Michael Jordan continued to live up to the hopes and potential Nike saw in him with each passing year…it was no longer the Nike Air giving validation to the Air Jordan line, but the Air Jordan line being the catalyst that drove Nike’s basketball division. In fact; with each moment; each breathtaking, unfathomable leap from the foul line to the rim, or game winning shot to sink Craig Ehlo and the Cleveland Cavaliers or each battle tested encounter with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons…the mystique that Nike Air became grew.

michael jordan in air jordan 4 fire red

And that mystique only expanded exponentially when Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls captured their first NBA Championship in the summer of 1991. And doing so added an aura to those colorways that were worn in those individual and iconic moments. What moment could be greater at that time, than MJ defying gravity once again and switching hands in mid-flight to kiss the ball to the rim against the Los Angeles Lakers. But the very next year…just as the Air Jordan 2, five years prior…the Nike Air vanished and was reduced to the just the insole. A practice that would run another four years and in 1997 disappear as the wholly owned subsidiary of Nike; Jordan Brand was officially born.

1997 – Michael Jordan had etched his name and legacy in the hallowed halls of professional basketball, an in some ways outgrown the shadow and backing of Nike Air. But the Air Jordan 12 came with Nike Air packaging. But even that was short lived as the promise to MJ was fulfilled with Jordan Brand specific packaging for the Air Jordan 13 and beyond.

Michael Jordan himself was the most recognizable face in all of sports in the mid-1990s and his signatures only grew in popularity with each and every Tinker Hatfield design. And at the time…the one thing Jordan had yet to do off the court was sustain its own branding. So away went the visible Nike Air and came Jordan Air. But as we learned in 1999…the mystique of Nike Air to the Air Jordan signature line was very much so appreciated.

And its lasting power can be felt three decades since the launch of the Air Jordan 1. Nike Air serves as a reminder; a nostalgic trigger to some of MJ’s greatest feats and moments. Moments that defined childhoods, captivated audiences and thrilled them. The presence of Nike Air adds that special and unique touch that Jordan Air in ways simply cannot.

A legacy all its own.