When Michael Jordan first signed with Nike back in 1984 it was evident that big things were on the way. The original Air Jordan 1 (designed by the late Peter Moore) remains one of the most popular sneakers of all time and it’s really not hard to see why. However things quickly took a turn for the worst when the follow-up Air Jordan 2 launched in 1986. While it was an initial sales hit, Jordan himself was not a fan of the silhouette and reportedly even considered making the jump to adidas.
Thankfully it never came to that, as sneaker history as we know it today would be entirely different. Tinker Hatfield was enlisted as a Jordan Brand designer for the first time and debuted the Air Jordan 3 in 1988, breaking sales records yet again and reinstating the original hype behind the Air Jordan line. Just when things seemingly couldn’t get any better, Hatfield pulled it off yet again when the follow-up Air Jordan 4 launched in 1989. Join us as we take a deep dive into the AJ4 and how it’s managed to stay on top of the game all the way up to the present day.
From a design perspective, the Air Jordan IV did everything that its predecessor did, but better. It’s stylish, timeless and simply downright cool. Tinker Hatfield had already proved himself as a force to be reckoned with in the sneaker space, successfully launching silhouettes such as the Air Max 1 and the Nike Air Trainer 1, so it only made perfect sense to give him free reign to work his magic once again. He kept plenty of the defining aspects from the AJIII throughout his work on the four, such as the visible Air unit, mid-cut design and overall chunky appearance.
What he did do however was drastically reduce the weight of the AJ4 compared to the AJ3, making it more streamlined and efficient on the basketball court, leading to the shoe becoming one of Michael Jordan’s personal favourites from over the years. Fresh details also emerged in the form of mesh netting across the side panels and the never-before-seen lacing support system now known as the iconic “wings” details.
Michael Jordan wore the Air Jordan IV throughout the duration of the 1988-1989 NBA season, during which he broke all of his own personal records and achieved his best statistical season of all time, averaging at 32.5 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. This was arguably the first season to prove that the Chicago Bulls were becoming a serious force to be reckoned with in the league, with the team making their first ever finals game.
Air Jordan sales were already through the roof, but this impeccable performance from the man himself throughout the season only helped to propel them to an astronomical level, with basketball players all around the world lusting for AJ4s. Throughout 1989 the silhouette was produced in just four colourways, with the Air Jordan 4 OG “Fire Red” (pictured) being the first to hit shelves. It was closely followed by the arguably just as iconic Air Jordan 4 OG “Bred”. Next up came the Air Jordan 4 OG “Military Blue” and the Air Jordan 4 OG “White Cement”, both also remaining legendary colorways in their own right.
Retailing at $100 back in 1989, the AJ4 was one of the most expensive basketball sneakers on the market at the time. While this was a bold move from Nike and Jordan Brand it was also a sign of confidence. Michael Jordan was quickly ascending to be one of the most recognised figures in the world of sport, therefore it only made sense that he wore the best sneakers on the market. If the strong reputation that the AJIV was building on the court wasn’t quite enough (spoiler alert - it definitely was), then things were about to get even bigger as the Air Jordan 4 made an appearance in cult 1989 film Do the Right Thing.
Written and directed by Spike Lee, who was already closely associated with Jordan Brand, the movie features an iconic scene where character Buggin’ Out (played by Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad fame) is involved in an altercation where his brand-new Air Jordan 4s are scuffed by a passing biker, once again solidifying the cool factor behind the sneakers.
By February 1990 Jordan Brand was ready to release the Air Jordan 5, which took flight in its own right and overshadowed the immense hype of the AJ4 once it was eventually pulled from sneaker store shelves in favour of the newer rendition. While this could well have been the end for the AJIV, little did we know that the sneaker had always been ready to make a huge resurgence like it eventually did in 1999. Retro release Jordans are all the rage in the present day, but all the while brand-new silhouettes were releasing on a regular basis this was never really a thing.
Nike and Jordan Brand revived the Air Jordan 4 in 1999, bringing back the original “White Cement” colourway along with a brand-new Air Jordan 4 Retro “Black Cement” rendition and sent shockwaves through the industry once again. A whole new generation of sneakerheads and MJ fans were introduced to the silhouette, propelling it back into the limelight keeping footwear fans on their toes while they lusted for pairs. This was arguably the beginning of the Retro Air Jordan craze, with the label clocking onto the goldmine of revenue behind reintroducing previous big-hitters.
To this day the Air Jordan 4 continues to be one of the most popular silhouettes on the current market, with it being used as the blank canvas for hyped collaborations from the likes of Off-White, Travis Scott, Union LA and more. It’s been reimagined with fresh construction materials, new colourways and it’s even adopted famous Nike colourways from over the years such as the iconic “Neon” combination first seen on the undefined.
If one thing is for certain it’s that the AJ4 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, we can only predict that the hype for retro colorways and rare collaborations will continue to grow, allowing the legendary design to be passed down to future generations of sneakerheads after us. Long live the Air Jordan 4, Tinker Hatfield and of course Michael Jordan!
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