The (Humbler?) Beginning Of Air Jordan

 At the start, Air Jordan 1 was not the light-coloured shoe that the Air Dior is, nor as madly hyped

 

Air Jordan 1 MidNike’s most popular shoe right now: Air Jordan 1 Mid

By Ray Zhang 

Trending last week was the reveal that Virgil Abloh had gifted Kim Jung Un’s friend Dennis Rodman with a pair of customised Off-White X Air Jordan 1 sneakers. This generous act could be the result of the current obsession with the shoe named after another basketball star that was co-created by Mr Abloh’s colleague Kim Jones. I do not know what was the occasion that required a gift—and a customised one—to be offered to Mr Rodman, thought to be an “informal basketball diplomat of sorts”, but it sure did direct another spotlight on a shoe already enjoying dazzling exposure. Hot cakes really can’t get hotter than this. And more so, after the broadcast of the Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, in April.

No matter the iteration, Air Jordan 1 attracts many who feel deeply connected to the OG. Despite the designer name now associated with it, the AJ1 did not boast a bombastic design (not, at least, by today’s standard) at launch. I can’t say later versions of the shoe kept to the simple lines and graphic composition of the very first. Collaborative ______________(choose your favorite name) X Air Jordan 1s tend to up the game by adding superfluous elements to an already handsome shoe, such as Virgil Abloh’s take (including a Swoosh cut-out, bar-tacked to the upper, as well as some charm-like danglies), which Mr Rodman now has and, probably, will wear.

Air Jordan 1 lowThe Air Jordan 1 Low, although more comfortable for our weather, is not considered less OG than the mid

The early history of the AJ1 is rather shrouded in mystery. There were no 5 million desperate people showing their covetous interest online, mostly just the followers of NBA games, in particular those that Michael Jordan had played. They did, of course, eventually buy a lot of AJ1s. But the unanswered question till today is, did he or didn’t he or, perhaps, did they or didn’t they? I am no basketball player and I do not follow the NBA, so what I know is what have been said. And a lot have been uttered, and they depend on who did the uttering. Even staunch basketball watchers can’t entirely agree on what actually happened. And Nike was happy to not stop the myth-making in its track.

The AJ1s were apparently banned at its debut. Nothing works better for a marketing department than a ban. As the story goes, Michael Jordan wore the shoes and was immediately told not to as the colours—red and black—went against the league’s uniform rules. But he endured, and every time he wore them, a reported USD5,000 fine was imposed on him. Nike, it was said, happily paid for those fines. The league apparently even wrote to Nike in 1985 to explain that those colours were prohibited. “Banned” was good for the AJ1, and in particular the offensive red, which led to the nick name “Bred” Jordan 1, a moniker that added to the forbidden-fruit allure of the shoe.

Farfetch ad

Farfetch ads that disrupt social media news feed showing the ridiculous prices (in USD) of Air Jordan 1 Low in various colours

What made everything more confusing is that there have not been any photo posted showing Mr Jordan in the said colourway during an NBA game of those early years. Some speculated that he was wearing the similar-looking, little-known, hence grailed, Air Ship. To add fuel to that speculation, veteran sports agent Aaron Goodwin posted his pair of the black and red Air Ship from 1984 on Twitter in April, after the broadcast of The Last Dance, encouraging the believe that the sneaker that kicked off the red/black colour craze was possibly another shoe altogether. That’s hard to follow, I know.

Whatever the truth, including the alternative, Air Jordan 1 in the “banned” colours started what we today surrender to and know as hype. No to be outdone—although in less striking colours—was the recent launch of Dior’s take on it, conceived by Kim Jones. I suspect that the drastically toned-down colour story of the latest, luxury version is deliberate, so as to create the kind of madness the brash OG did back then. It is doubtful that anyone who bought the Dior version of the kicks care about the backstory of the original AJ1, but with the hype machine cranked up, hypebeasts would lust after them. To me, the Air Dior, to call it by its official name, built on the solid design of the first version and did little else. Even if money was no issue, I’d stick to the OGs. Better value, too.

Air Jordan 1 Mid P2The Air Jordan 1 Mid is now the sneaker to be seen in

I have never been big on basketball kicks. In fact, the only ones I own have been the older Air Force 1. But I am now looking at the Air Jordan 1 with renewed interests. This could be due to a desire to return to more streamlined footwear after the ridiculous dad shoe craze of the past seasons. In fact, when Nike re-issued the Daybreak a year or more ago, and with this season’s Killshot, I sensed that sneakers closer to the shape of our feet will be making a huge comeback. Back in the early ’80s, the AJ1s were probably Nike’s first colour-blocked sneakers, therein lies their appeal to me. Sure, colour-blocking is no longer special now, but back then, when sneakers were either white or black, or grey, the AJ1 colours were a symbol of defiance, or as they like to say now, attitude.

If you look at the later Air Jordans of the last ten or so years (34 versions and counting!), attitude meant bigger form factors and bolder colours. In fact, admiring the AJ1s now, it is hard to believe that they had, in fact, a far less bombastic design language than today’s wearers are used to. The ‘1’ was a rather simple, sneaker-looking shoe, not the ship-load that it became in later iterations, which may explain their appeal today. People could simply be sick of wearing sneakers that scream for attention for the sake of screaming for attention. The irony is that the AJ1, with its past-era simplicity and innocence, now garners attention for its clean-cut looks. In the present, I am not shouting, and certainly, not my kicks.

Air Jordan 1 Mid, from SGD179, and Air Jordan 1 Low, from SGD159, are available at select Nike retailers. Photos: Zhao Xiangji

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