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Monday, May 5, 2014

The Air Jordan - A Cult Of Product Built On A Subversive Design Aesthetic And Culture

When the Air Jordan 5 was released in 1990 there was a certain feeling in the air about the magic of basketball. Only a few years earlier summer sport was dominated by cricket and more cricket. Basketball had an almost subversive nature about it from where I came from. I can recall being swept up in the moment and finding myself trading basketball cards, hoping to strike gold and find a Michael Jordan hologram number; reading stats about players I never understood on the cards and the prices of them in a Beckett price guide; owning a Larry Byrd Boston Celtics basketball and a Michael Jordan limited edition 23 cap that I lost at Sea World. When you went to your friend’s house he usually had one or more posters of Michael Jordan in some mystical flying pose with the flash bulbs blinging from the sideline as he flew suspended in air, immortalised for all eternity like a modern day Achilles. What a powerful image Michael Jordan held over us.
As I walked along through school one day there was an older boy who was practicing his 3 point shots on a rather makeshift basketball hoop that had been mounted to an old sandstone wall. He was ostensibly in his school uniform but for a breathtaking pair of Air Jordan 5’s in black that somehow he must have got sent from the USA because back in the 80’s it was very very hard for Australians to get a hold of these things. I sat mesmerised by the contours, the textures, the clear bottom soles, the 23 embroidered in the heel, the mesh in the centre of the shoe. There was such a wow factor. He was the perfect guy to have these shoes because every other kid knew him to be the best baller the school had ever seen, notwithstanding that he was caramel in colour and had a huge mound of curly black hair. He not only had the talent, he had the look.

Nike Air Jordan 5's

For years I have wanted to own a pair of these shoes but I could never bring myself to purchase them because I neither had sporting prowess nor did I cut the figure of someone who ought to wear these shoes. By the time I finally got the confidence to wear them the model had changed and when I did get a pair, it was two iterations later and the moment had gone, the design had shifted and the shoes I got were too big for me. Sometimes you either live the moment, or you ought to let it slide.
However, this week I downloaded the EBay app for my phone and over the course of the week I reactivated my old EBay account and I started trawling the site for items I thought I might need. The first thing I could think of was that my running shoes needed replacing as the sole had worn out. But, like all things we set out to do on the internet, I got completely side tracked. I started to get immersed in the world of Air Jordans again, and, albeit long-windedly, I arrive at the reason I write.
Since 1985 the Jordan brand has released a pair of new shoes each year. The genesis of the Jordan styled shoes is the Air Jordans 1 or commonly referred to as J’s. Before they were released, according to one website, all basketball shoes were white. After they were released, the world of basketball shoes changed forever. In fact, it is the one man, Michael Jordan, that is possibly the biggest driving force behind the move from what was a vastly white sneaker shoe world in the 80’s to today’s vivid colours, weaving techniques, fabrication methods and design aesthetics.
When Michael Jordan first walked onto the basketball court in red and black shoes in 1984 (the Chicago Bulls colours) he was in fact fined $5000.00 each and every time he went onto the court as a rookie given that then NBA chief David Stern had banned shoes where there was no white on the shoe. This had then given Nike a great promotional tool in which they made shoes worn by Michael Jordan both subversive and giving an unfair competitive advantage by wearing the shoes. This is perhaps the beginning of the mythos of Michael Jordan.

The Air Jordan 1's, the first production shoe of Nike after Michael Jordan's debut in 1984 with the red and black Air Jordan 1's which cost him a fine of $5000.00 every time he wore them, adding to the subversive culture created around the shoe brand.

Although I once was a major fan of basketball, I must pause at this point to say that I know very little about it anymore nor do I have a lot of information on Michael Jordan, so I do apologise for any information that might be off as we follow into the next part of my diatribe.
Off the back of the success of the Air Jordan 1’s, the Air Jordan 2’s were released in 1986. The difference between ordinary Nike’s and these were that the shoes were made in Italy. This has always been a part of the Jordan products that has set them apart. They were not made with the rest of Nike products and they were never limited as to where they might be produced. Furthermore, according to one website, the Jordan brand is owned and produced by Michael Jordan for the Jordan brand subsidiary of Nike. The line is marketed by Nike and is sold in Nike stores, but the product line is owned separately by Michael Jordan.
The Air Jordan 3 was the game changer for Michael Jordan. Until it’s release Michael Jordan was considering leaving Nike altogether but the new shoe featuring a visible display of air, the new Jumpman logo (which would feature heavily in the models to come) as well as the visible ‘Nike Air’ became Michael Jordan’s favourite Air Jordan and the model would feature heavily in marketing and promotional materials of the time, at the height of Jordan’s notoriety as a basketball player and including the 1988 Dunk Championship which would create iconic images for years to come.

The Air Jordan 3, said to be Michael Jordan's favourite iteration of the Air Jordan series featuring a window to reveal the 'air' component as well as the first iteration to include the Jumpman logo. These shoes, unlike many other models, were made in Italy. They are also featured on Michael Jordan at the height of his fame and are seen on his feet during the 1988 Dunk Championships.

It should be mentioned here that the Air Jordan 3 through to the Air Jordan 15 were designed by one man, Tinker Hatfield. It is Hatfield’s design aesthetic that has carried the shoe through many of its iterations and it has been helped along the way by his original skill set, having a degree in architecture. Having worked with Nike since 1985 he is credited with a variety of shoes to his name including the original Air Max which he designed after visiting the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris, France.

Tinker Hatfield, left, designer of the Air Jordan shoes from models 3-15. He also designed the original Air Max shoe after a visit to the Georges Pompidou centre in Paris, France. 
In February 1990 the Air Jordan 5, my most revered shoe of the Jordan range, was released onto the market, again designed by Tinker Hatfield. This was a complete design shift from the Air Jordan 3 and 4, revealing a new reflective tongue with the Jumpman logo, lace locks, translucent soles of the shoes and a shark bite along the side of the shoe. This was said to have been partially inspired by World War II fighter planes.
It would be remiss of me to skirt over the rest of the oeuvre of Nike Air Jordans and the subsequent 23 models which ended in 2008 but needless to say they have and always will be a dynamo in basketball shoes in terms of innovation, prestige, mythos and technology. Over the years the shoes have garnered a cult like status with customers, industry insiders as well as the media who continue to focus on this one brand of shoe every year. There are even websites dedicated solely to reporting news on the Jordan brand. As the brand has grown, so too have the number of products offered. These days there are spin offs of the Jordan shoes associated with players such as Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. Every season limited edition shoes are created which in some instances are released through stores such as Nike Vault in Los Angeles, some are created for each individual person through the Nike iD service and others are released by Nike stores. The best way to search for them is to follow blogs dedicated to the Jordan brand. One such website is Jordans Daily ( )   .

Air Jordan Carmelo Anthony Model 8, new release models are now made for sponsored players of the NBA. 

Branching out,  the Jordan brand is opening up new channels and a new audience by making branded items such as these running shoes released last week.
As a final point of interest, the Jordan shoe brand is not without its own controversy. Since the cult status developed with Air Jordans in the 1980’s numerous murders, robberies and acts of civil disobedience have been associated with the shoe which is considered to be somewhat subversive owing to its origins aforementioned. One such case was the murder of Michael Eugene Thomas who in 1989 was strangled to death by a basketball buddy in woodlands near his school over his pair of Air Jordans. A month earlier a 16 year old boy in Houston was shot dead because he refused to hand over his Air Jordan high tops. These acts of violence have not stopped and even in December 2012 a man was shot dead in a bungled robbery attempt as he went to claim a voucher for Air Jordans for himself and his 5 year old son.
And when people are not dying to get to a pair of Air Jordan’s there are others who say they suffer to make them. Workers in Indonesia have striked over the manufacturing of shoes whilst others have complained about low wages and terrible working conditions. Parent company Nike often moves production around and stipulates production standards and terms for the contractor but does not take responsibility for the conditions of work that workers must endure.
And whilst these things detract from the prestige of the shoe and cause me to judge my own thoughts when I feel breathless as I stare at the images on EBay, nothing can take away what is a fabulous story of a subversive black and red shoe that appeared on a basketball in 1984 on the rookie Michael Jordan and would eventually become an icon of its time both in its design aesthetic and as globally branded image associated with the pursuit of greatness.

Read More:
Jordan’s Daily:
Every Jordan ever made:
Read about designer Tinker Hatfield:
The Wikipage On The Jordan Brand:
Deaths Associated To Air Jordans:
Nike On Jordan Family:

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