Ever since Michael Jordan sported that first pair of Nike sneakers back in 1984, playing for the Chicago Bulls and just starting to get people’s attention as basketball’s next big star, Jordans have been capturing the imagination of sneaker wearers around the world. No other shoe has the same cult-like status and global following.
Perhaps you’re a total b-ball nerd who’s watched and re-watched every memorable Michael Jordan moment out there. Or maybe everything you know about MJ comes from Netflix’s The Last Dance. Either way, you’ll be aware that (a) the man plays basketball like no one else on Earth and (b) he takes footwear seriously.
Today, there are 35 different Air Jordan models available, not counting countless colorways, collaborations, limited editions, and retro Jordans. From 90s street style staples and on-court speed-optimized kicks to high-fashion collabs, there are Jordans out there for every mood, taste, and event.
We love our Oliver Cabell sneakers for their affordable minimalist style and our Koio sneakers for their timeless Italian craftsmanship. But for pure charisma, sporting legacy, and championship cool, the ball is firmly in the Jordans’ court.
We’ve put together a list of what can be considered the most iconic, popular, innovative, high-performing, and generally best Jordans of all time by release dates. These are the luxury sneakers that have made the footwear line the runaway success it is today. The Jordans that get people excited about Jordans. The Michael Jordan shoes that have basically defined sneakers as we know them in the 21st century.
The 23 best Jordans of all time
- Air Jordan I: Released in 1985
- Air Jordan III: Released in 1988
- Air Jordan XI: Released in 1995
- Air Jordan IV: Released in 1989
- Air Jordan VII: Released in 1992
- Air Jordan XII: Released in 1996
- Air Jordan V: Released in 1990
- Air Jordan II: Released in 1986
- Air Jordan VI: Released in 1991
- Air Jordan XIV: Released in 1998
- Air Jordan XIII: Released in 1997
- Air Jordan XVI: Released in 2001
- Air Jordan VIII: Released in 1993
- Air Jordan XVIII: Released in 2003
- Air Jordan XV: Released in 1999
- Air Jordan IX: Released in 1993
- Air Jordan XVII: Released in 2002
- Air Jordan XIX: Released in 2004
- Air Jordan X: Released in 1994
- Air Jordan XX8: Released in 2013
- Air Jordan XX3: Released in 2008
- Air Jordan XX: Released in 2005
- Air Jordan XXXV DNA: Released in 2020
Air Jordan I: Released in 1985
The OG Air Jordan, this was the very first Nike shoe to be sported by MJ on the court and the only one you’ll find with the Nike Swoosh—two reasons why it’s indisputably one of the best Jordan shoes in existence.
The Air Jordan I is the shoe that not only started the obsession with Air Jordans that continues today but also created major controversy when its black and red color combination broke the NBA’s 51% white regulation regarding sneakers.
A top pick if you’re all about the authentic details, this model is also available as a pair of low-top Jordans.
Air Jordan III: Released in 1988
The Air Jordan I might take pride of place in any sneakerhead’s collection but the Air Jordan III is pretty revolutionary too. This was the first design by Tinker Hatfield, athlete and architect turned sneaker taste-maker.
Hatfield started as he meant to go one with this eye-catching sneaker, dropping the Nike Swoosh logo and adding elephant print panels, black and white uppers, and, of course, the now iconic Jumpman Logo. The sneaker felt fresh and futuristic when it was first released in the late 80s and continues to be at the vanguard of sneaker design today.
Air Jordan XI: Released in 1995
Another game-changing, risk-taking, and ground-breaking design, the Air Jordan XI found its way onto the court back in May 1995 as part of the NBA playoffs and quickly became a pop culture favorite after starring (alongside MJ) in the cult classic sci-fi animation Space Jam.
Its release in the black-and-white Concord colorway infamously led to fights and riots across America as people tried to get their hands on a pair. Proof, if you needed it, that this is one of the most popular Jordan shoes ever. The model is also available as a pair of low-top Jordans.
Air Jordan IV: Released in 1989
Another pair of Air Jordans to feature on the big screen, the Air Jordan IV starred in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.
What makes the IVs some of the best Jordans of all time? Lots of things but mostly the lacing support system, known as ‘wings’, which can be customized according to the wearer’s specific preferences.
These were the first pair of Air Jordans with a global release, cementing the shoe’s superstar status. The Pure Money all-white colorway, in particular, was one of the most popular Jordan shoes ever when it was released in 2006.
Air Jordan VII: Released in 1992
This was the first J to be released as part of the Jordan brand rather than Nike (hence the lack of exterior Nike branding and Air window). It can be seen to symbolize the start of MJ’s career as a businessman as well as being the world’s best basketball player.
With these Air Jordan VII sneakers on, MJ repeated as an NBA champion, Finals MVP, and MVP, and helped the USA secure gold at the 1992 Barcelona summer games. The Black Infrared colorway, in particular, is one of the most popular Jordan shoes ever released.
Air Jordan XII: Released in 1996
All Jordan shoes are associated with grit and perseverance thanks to the man behind the brand, but none more so than the XIIs.
These are the sneakers Michael Jordan wore during the famous 1997 Flu Game where he managed to score no less than 38 points while suffering from a bad case of flu. No wonder these are considered some of the best Jordan shoes ever made.
One of the standout features is the ribbed quilted panels on the upper, inspired by Japan’s Rising Sun flag, as well as the pebbled rather than patent leather. The XIIs are also available as low-top Jordans.
Air Jordan V: Released in 1990
Taking inspiration from a WW2 Mustang fighter jet, the Air Jordan V is as fierce, determined, and uncompromising as MJ himself. The sneaker features smooth leather and nubuck, mesh side panels, and shark-tooth shapes on the midsole.
The fact that these sneakers were worn by Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air probably also contributed to making them fan favorites and some of the most popular Jordans around today.
Air Jordan II: Released in 1986
Consider the elegant Air Jordan II one of the line’s most luxurious models. It was the first of all Michael Jordan shoes to use deluxe details such as faux-lizard skin, for example, and features brogue-like perforations and Italian craftsmanship, lending it some serious upscale panache.
With these nods to high-end fashion (and a higher price tag), this exclusive sneaker was one of the first to straddle the worlds of sportswear and the red carpet. The Air Jordan II can definitely be worn with a tux and is also available as a pair of low-top Jordans.
Air Jordan VI: Released in 1991
The Air Jordan 6 is all about speed and superlative performance. Every detail has been considered for game-optimization, from the two grip holes on the tongue for easy entry to the neoprene sleeve lining, boosting comfort and minimizing the risk of blisters.
Apparently, the sneaker was inspired by Michael Jordan’s Porsche 911 and the star won his first championship title with a pair of these ultra-cool creations on his feet, making it hands-down one of the best Jordan shoes of all time.
Air Jordan XIV: Released in 1998
Perusing this list of the world’s best Jordans, you’ll quickly discover a common theme. Fast cars. Many of the best Js were inspired by top-of-the-range vehicles, including the Air Jordan XIV, which draws on the shape and style of MJ’s Ferrari 550M. Also, look out for the Jumpman logo which appears 14 times on this sneaker—a reference to this being the 14th in the Jordan series.
The most popular colorway of this model is the Last Shot, a black-red combo immortalized when MJ wore them for his winning shot in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.
Air Jordan XIII: Released in 1997
If you’ve watched Netflix’ The Last Dance, then you’ll definitely recognize the Air Jordan XIIIs—the shoes Michael wore for most of the 1997-1998 season.
The sneaker looks indisputably and unashamedly luxurious—appropriate, really, given it was worn by Jordan at the apex of his fame. The inspiration comes from a panther—an allusion to Jordan’s dexterity and predator-like reflexes on the court, as well as his ‘Black Cat’ nickname.
Indeed, the outsole resembles a panther’s paw and there are holograms on the bottom and ankle that represent a cat’s glinting eye.
In the black and red Bred colorway, in particular, the XIII is one of the most popular Jordans ever. There are also low-top Jordans available in this model.
Air Jordan XVI: Released in 2001
The most notable and intriguing feature of the XVI is the removable gaiter, lending these Michael Jordan shoes a vibe that is at once technical and trendy, fashion-forward and functional.
With Michael Jordan now President and part-owner of the Washington Wizards, the XVI was specifically conceived of as a sneaker that could be worn both on the court and in the boardroom.
Air Jordan VIII: Released in 1993
One of the most characterful sneakers in the Michael Jordan shoe line-up, the VIII is chunky, defiant, and daring. With a chenille tongue graphic and twin straps that cross over the laces, the AJ VIIIs are most definitely a 90s-style sneaker and a winning choice for anyone seeking something a little different. Look out for the low-top version of the VIII, released in 2003.
Air Jordan XVIII: Released in 2003
One of the most traffic-stopping and attention-grabbing sneakers of all times, the XVIII was worn by Jordan during his final farewell in Washington in 2003. It featured a driving shoe heel—another reference to the star’s penchant for ultra-fast cars—and came with a towel, brush, and driver’s manual.
Then there was the vamp cover—more like something you’d find on a deluxe Italian dress shoe. Definitely a pair of sneakers that no one will forget for a while.
Air Jordan XV: Released in 1999
It was around this time that the Air Jordan style took a turn towards the kooky and quirky, drawing on all sorts of offbeat and bizarre references. We’re not complaining. We love the unique and high-impact aesthetics of the XV, which was inspired by NASA’s X-15 fighter jet while the high cushioned collar takes its lead from (rather surprisingly) moccasins.
The XV was the last sneaker to be designed by Tinker Hatfield and while MJ never actually wore it on the court, it remains a notable addition to the footwear line.
Air Jordan IX: Released in 1993
The AJ IX was released during a period when MJ was taking his first of three breaks from basketball, trying his hand at minor league baseball instead. As a result, this sneaker resembles a baseball cleat.
It also references MJ’s growing global influence, with different languages—including Japanese and Swahili—on the outsoles, and words such as dedicated, independence, freedom, and force—all part of the Michael Jordan ethos.
Air Jordan XVII: Released in 2002
Created to mark the much-anticipated return of MJ to basketball for the 2001-2002 NBA season as part of the Washington Wizards, the AJ XVII initially made waves on the sneaker scene for its elevated price tag—the highest of all Jordans ever.
But the cost wasn’t the only noteworthy aspect of the sneaker. It was also inspired by jazz music, drawing parallels between the genre’s improvisational qualities and MJ’s own ability to ad-lib on the court, and originally came in a metal briefcase with a CD-ROM.
Air Jordan XIX: Released in 2004
All Jordan shoes are known for pushing the boundaries of sneaker design with creative and innovative spins on what we all thought a basketball shoe should look like.
The XIX is case in point, with its radically unusual silhouette. Apparently influenced by the black mamba snake, it’s definitely got one eye on the style horizon with its braided sleeve in place of laces. There’s also a carbon fiber support shank and full-length Zoom Airbag with a traditional Air unit in the heel, making these some of the most comfortable and best Jordan shoes around.
Air Jordan X: Released in 1994
Released in celebration of a 10-year partnership between MJ and Nike, as well as commemorating MJ’s temporary retirement from basketball to join the MLB, the AJ X is notable for its lightweight and clean-lined design and combination of leather, nylon, and Zoom Air cushioning. 10 lateral stripes along the sole remind people of the sports star’s illustrious first 10 years breaking basketball records.
Air Jordan XX8: Released in 2013
A newer but no less celebrated edition to the AJ line, the XX8 was endorsed by Russell Westbrook, the basketball superstar known for his flashy dunks and explosive style.
This is a show-stopping sneaker that takes no prisoners style or function-wise with its never-before-seen boot-high casing or ‘shroud’ (partly inspired by military combat boots) and responsive design with a flexible yet supportive upper and solid traction.
Air Jordan XX3: Released in 2008
Given that it was the same number he wore on the court, the 23rd model in Michael Jordan’s shoe line was always going to be extra special. And the XX3 truly is a masterpiece.
The ultimate sneaker for die-hard MJ fans, the stitching is meant to represent Michael Jordan’s DNA pattern and you’ll also find the player’s thumbprint embossed on the rear and his autograph on the toe.
As part of the trend for more eco-friendly sneakers (with Allbirds leading the way), the XX3 is also made using as little toxins, waste, and bi-products as possible.
Air Jordan XX: Released in 2005
Designed to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Jordan Brand, the AJ XX represents nothing less than MJ’s life story in sneaker form. An ambitious goal and one that designers Tinker Hatfield and Mark Smith have pulled off with characteristic verve.
There are over 200 symbols etched by lazar into the upper, summing up the sportsman’s entire biography, including Michael sitting in the backseat of a 1976 Chevrolet Monte Carlo with his mum, Deloris. 69 dimples along the side spoke are references to his highest-scoring game.
Air Jordan XXXV DNA: Released in 2020
The final sneakers on our list are also some of the wackiest, weirdest, and most memorable Michael Jordan shoes of all time, somehow evoking both the spirit of a fighter jet and 90s retro Jordans at the same time.
The XXXV DNA features the brand’s exposed Eclipse Plate 2.0, which extends up into the shoe’s upper, offering energy return, stability, and cushioning. A partially exposed Zoom Air bag in the heel helps with responsiveness while high-end materials like nubuck and suede mean this sneaker wouldn’t look at all out of place with a suit for a smart-casual look.
Buyers guide: how to choose a pair of Air Jordans
Before we explore the question of which Air Jordans are best for you, first a bit of background information on this oh-so-famous sneaker.
Air Jordan history
The first-ever pair of Air Jordans were released to the public on April 1st, 1985, following a partnership between Nike and now world-famous basketball icon Michael Jordan.
Despite the fact he was just a rookie at the time, Nike offered MJ an impressive 5-year deal. While at this point the brand was better known for making track footwear, they were also exploring new running shoe technology and the first pair of Jordans made their debut on the court in 1984, named the Air Jordan 1s, and were game-changers from the get-go.
The sneaker featured the classic Nike Swoosh logo alongside the Wings symbol. And, as the story goes, they were banned by the NBA for being red and black rather than mostly white as per regulations. Nike had to pay $5,000 per game for breaking the rules but the publicity was worth it, establishing the sneaker’s risk-taking and non-conformist reputation that endures to this day.
In 1986, the Air Jordan II was released, followed by the III in 1988, at which point the Nike Swoosh was replaced with the Jumpman logo—Michael Jordan, airborne.
Today, you can pick up a pair of Air Jordans for around $145 on average. But you could easily pay a lot more. MJ’s first-ever Air Jordans sold for $560,000 at auction in 2020, for example. The most expensive Jordans ever, however, are Drake’s custom OVO X Air Jordans, made of solid gold and worth $2 million.
Air Jordans: design and signature style
What makes Air Jordans so unique? What specific details make all Jordans iconic and recognizable?
Some of the features that have contributed to making Air Jordans such a pivotal part of sneaker culture include the Jumpman logo, a silhouette of Michael Jordan leaping through the air. There’s also the clear rubber sole, as originally found on the Air Jordan V, and the loop at the back of the shoe that makes it easy to get on and off.
Patent leather is a common addition to many Jordans, a feature specifically requested by Michael Jordan himself. He wanted a shoe he could wear with a suit as well as on the court.
Nike’s Zoom Air technology is also found in most Jordans, boosting responsiveness, decreasing pronation, and offering that quick-off-the-ground feel that top basketball players depend on.
The plastic lace lock found on Jordans is another notable feature—designed to keep laces in place during jumps and dunks.
Other features you might find on Jordans include a removable shroud or gaiter—used to conceal the laces for a dressier vibe—and a carbon fiber shank plate for support and stability.
How to choose a pair of Jordans
With so many models on offer, it can be hard to choose the right pair of Air Jordans. There’s the question of aesthetics, of course, but also athletic performance.
How technically advanced do you want your Michael Jordan shoes to be? Or are you more interested in retro Jordans with cool vintage flair?
If you want something you can wear to formal occasions, seek out collaborations between the Jordan brand and high-fashion houses, such as Off-White, LA men’s boutique Union, or fashion stylist and blogger, Aleali May.
If you want a pair of authentic and old-school Jordans, look for retro variations on the classics, such as the Air Jordan 1 Retro Chicago or 5 Fire Red Retro OG.
The most high-performing Air Jordan at the moment is the Jordan 35, featuring the latest sneaker technology, such as an eclipse plate for high energy return, as well as a Zoom Air sole.
Frequently asked questions about Jordans
The most popular Jordans are the Air Jordan 1s. The original sneakers in the line. They were the first to become a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. With their straightforward yet iconic styling and superlative functionality, they’re real winners.
The top-selling Jordans include the Air Jordan 1 ‘Black Toe’, the Air Jordan 1 ‘Chicago’, the Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG Bordeaux, and the Air Jordan Mid Bred 1, a mid-top in a black and red colorway, originally banned by the NBA.
The best Jordans to buy right now include the Air Jordan 35, introduced in 2020—a serious high-performing basketball sneaker. For street-style appeal, the best Jordans include fashion collaborations such as the Off-White x Air Jordan 4.
MJ’s favorite Jordan shoe is the Air Jordan 11 Concord. The shoe is known for its innovative aesthetics, including patent leather that meant MJ could wear it for formal occasions. The sports star wore it for the entirety of the 1995-1996 season.
There are many different Jordan 1 colorways on the market now and all have the same high quality as the original Jordan 1s, made from full-grain calfskin with extra cushioning and support. One of the best colorways is the Air Jordan 1 Black Toe.