The History of the Air Jordan 4

Following up a legend is nearly impossible. From the pressure to the expectations to the hype to the fact that everyone in the world is keyed in on your every move is normally a recipe for disaster. Somehow, though, Tinker Hatfield and Nike not only avoided the pitfalls that popped up upon designing a shoe to replace the Air Jordan III, they enhanced the sneaker and created yet another classic.

The Air Jordan III was the shoe that saved Nike, in a sense. (And kept the dream of the Jordan Brand a reality.) Michael Jordan wasn’t satisfied with his signature line after the Air Jordan II and was thinking about jumping ship to adidas or Converse, two companies he had longstanding ties with and a loyalty that was unwavering. (He was willing to do just about anything to sign with one of them out of North Carolina. He almost ended up at Nike by default.)

But then the III hit, complete with upgraded sneaker tech and elephant print details, something that Michael — always the revolutionary and forward-thinker — wanted for years. During the work on his first sneaker for the burgeoning icon, Tinker obliged, and Mike responded by turning the basketball world on fire that season.

To follow it up, Hatfield didn’t want to reinvent the wheel or change what made the III so successful. That sneaker perfectly toed the line between on-court performance and style off of it. So he went with a somewhat traditional route, actually drawing inspiration from Jordan’s work ethic. Knowing Michael had recently become a father and was learning to juggle that responsibility with what he felt on the court going up against an entire league, an entire fanbase, that thought he was nothing more than a high-scoring loser, Tinker thought it was the perfect remedy for a basketball shoe.

The IV carried over the same mid-cut of its predecessor, as well as the same sculpted midsole. In addition to those characteristics, the visible Air unit and padded tongue and collar were all from the III as well. However, the shoe differed and improved in subtle ways. The IV introduced nubuck leather and mesh for the first time in Jordan’s signature line, and the Jumpman logo that debuted in the previous year’s model was updated to include the word “Flight” on the tongue.

The result was a shoe so hot that even Chicago’s assistant coach Phil Jackson — he’d be elevated to the head spot during the offseason — had to rock it during games.

To his credit, Jordan did more than his fair share to market the shoe. He had his best all-around season ever, averaging 32.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.0 assists per game. He produced a ridiculous 15 triple-doubles that year, including a streak where he played point guard and rang up 10 in 11 games and seven in a row. He cemented his place as the best all-around player in the NBA, then took the Bulls to their first Eastern Conference Finals of that era. It was in that series that he blitzed Detroit with his best playoff game ever against the Bad Boys during Game 3. And, of course, we all know about “The Shot,” the jumper Jordan made in the Black/Cement IVs over Craig Ehlo to win a playoff series against Cleveland.

All of this came together to create a near-perfect sneaker, and its place in a growing sneaker culture was confirmed through Jordan’s partnership with Spike Lee. That year saw the continuation of the Mars Blackmon theme in Nike Air Jordan commercials, and Lee got them back by featuring the sneaker during his movie, Do the Right Thing, perhaps the most iconic sneaker scene ever in a major motion picture.

In the end, the sneaker became one of the line’s most beloved silhouettes ever and was fittingly the first retro Jordan to really sell well. During Michael’s baseball hiatus, most of the initial Air Jordan retros sat on shelves for weeks. For some reason, people weren’t down for the cause yet, even if Jordan was “retired” and the shoes were a great way to commemorate his unbelievable career. But in 1999, 10 years after the initial release, the first crop of retro IVs became the blueprint for every retro release from that point forward. Fifteen years later in 2013, the Jordan IV became the sneaker world’s unofficial MVP with retro colorway releases like the “Toro Bravo,” the “Thunder,” the “Green Glow,” and the “Fear.”

This weekend, a “remastered” version of the Air Jordan IV is dropping at Champs Sports, and considering its heritage, you won’t want to miss it. The “Columbia” colorway hasn’t seen the light of day since 1999. Already a classic sneaker that needs to be in everyone’s collection, the Air Jordan IV goes to another level when it gets laced with a colorway like this. Trust us, between the shoe’s history, the additional quality, and that beautiful blue, this release is going to have us all reminiscing.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney