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Air Jordan, Retro 1 took flight in a whole new direction

Sometimes the beginning doesn’t quite start at the beginning.

In the case of Michael Jordan’s legendary status as the biggest sneaker icon in the history of ever, the original Air Jordan gets all the pub. But only the truest sneaker historians will recall that the Nike Air Ship was the first shoe he wore on the professional courts, in the fall of 1984.

It was followed soon after by his own signature model, of course, what’s come to be known as the Air Jordan I, which debuted later in that 1984-85 season. And what followed was something the sneaker world had never seen.

Such was the popularity of the AJ 1, it became one of the first models that Nike would re-release in 1994. That’s when the Swoosh began to realize the nostalgia that had cropped up around its biggest star, who was in a brief retirement from basketball but would return in March 1995 to remind us all that he was still very much in his prime.

Designing a legend

That Air Ship bears a remarkable resemblance to the AJ 1, but what set it apart was the singular branding of the Wings logo. Designer Peter Moore sketched out the iconic logo on a napkin by while on a plane. He’d seen a child wearing small plastic wings and quickly made a connection between Michael Jordan and the aspirational dreams of human flight.

The original Air Jordan released on April 1, 1985, for $65. With leather overlays serving as reinforcement in key areas, the shoe was practically built for colorblocking. That was no accident, as Moore stated that applying multiple colors to a shoe was one way to make it stand out in an era when they rarely had even two.

Once and again

The original Air Jordan dropped in a number of colorways, not just the Black/Red that we see so often. It also released in a White/Black/Red and a White/Blue during MJ’s first season. Nike even began flexing some creativity, dropping a White/Dark Powder Blue and a White/Metallic Orange when Jordan wore it to start his second season, both of which strayed significantly from his traditional on-court colors.

The Jordan Retro 1 has reflected that mix of interesting looks, incorporating everything from pewter to metallic silver in combinations on retros since.