Following up the Air Jordan I was always going to be a tough act, even if the wheels were put in motion by an existing partnership. The original Air Jordan has a lasting legacy for a reason–it became infamous for David Stern fining Michael Jordan $5,000 in each game he wore them in for not fitting with the league’s dress code. Happy to eat the fines and garner free publicity, Nike subversively played up their renegade status by turning “Banned” into a marketing tool. (Though the myth surrounding the “Banned” Jordan I actually has real merit.)
What came next was one of the more surprising turns in sneaker history. Rather than doubling down on the “illegal” nature of the original silhouette, Nike decided to do almost a complete 180 with the Air Jordan II, straying far away from the original design and showcasing the experimental nature of the team behind the Air Jordan line.
Designed by Bruce Kilgore, the II zigged where the I zagged. After their initial offering was popularized partly through the now-infamous Swoosh that adorns all Nike products, the Air Jordan II did the exact opposite, removing the Nike Swoosh altogether on the upper. This was an early indicator of the vision Nike and Jordan himself had for his brand; it laid the groundwork not only for Air Jordan and Jordan Brand to stand on their own, outside of the all-reaching arms of their parent company, but also for an entirely new age of sneakers.
The second edition of the Air Jordan had a decidedly more dignified feel compared to the street-centric Jordan I, with Nike going so far as to making the shoe exclusively in Italy. Taking design cues from European fashion–the faux-lizard skin on the upper and inspiration from women’s boots especially–it was a big leap from a shoe for renegades to the second, luxury-conscious edition.
This departure from the original edition of the Air Jordan cut both ways for Nike. While it signaled a future of design boldness and outside-the-box thinking, trying to do something new in a marketplace that often rewards consistency was not without its detriments.
The aforementioned luxurious nature of the shoe was certainly reflected in the price tag; a year after fans initially bristled at paying $65 for the Jordan I–boy, does that feel like ancient history now–the II initially retailed for a whopping $105, lending to the image Nike was going for with the release. Unfortunately, that also made it something of a tough sell for many fans who had to make budgets stretch to justify buying Air Jordans to begin with.
Additionally, unlike in Jordan’s star-making rookie campaign, MJ was a little-seen figure during the 1985-86 NBA season. Breaking his foot just three games into his sophomore campaign, Jordan managed to appear in just 21 games including the playoffs, amassing the lowest points per game average of his Chicago career. Thankfully, he bounced back with a record 63 points in the first round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics and that set the stage for his third NBA season, where he debuted the Jordan II and went on to average a career-high 37.1 points per game.
(Even with so little time, the II was somehow involved in two iconic on-court moments: Jordan’s win in the 1987 Slam Dunk Contest; and that weekend’s All-Star Game when he wore a white and red pair.)
It wasn’t all bad, of course. The Air Jordan II’s cultural legacy remains firm thanks to early appearances on the feet of Dwayne Wayne, the breakout star of A Different World, a series originally spun off to follow The Cosby Show’s Denise Huxtable. Prior to (and following) Lisa Bonet’s departure from the show in 1988, Wayne emerged as an audience favorite thanks to his remarkable sense of style. In due time, fans of the show started paying attention to what he had on his feet, with the Air Jordan II one of the earliest examples of this phenomenon in both the high and low-top editions.
Those appearances are more important than you might think. While the Air Jordan II is often chided as not living up to the legacy of the I and III surrounding it in the timeline, being featured prominently off the court in a cultural entity tied to The Cosby Show in the late ’80s speaks volumes about the gravitas of the line.
More importantly, it signified Nike’s desire for a shoe that could star on and off the court was not misplaced. The III may have been a departure from the Air Jordan II stylistically, but it’s important to note Nike didn’t lose sight of their goal to make Jordan’s line a force across multiple contexts. Nike’s conviction in that belief has paid dividends beyond their wildest dreams, including in the runaway success of the very next sneaker.
Later releases and new colorways–including the “Radio Raheem” edition releasing at Champs Sports this Saturday–have introduced younger fans to one of the hidden gems in the Air Jordan catalog. Whether you’re just starting out collecting or you’re a seasoned vet on the scene, a true sneakerhead’s collection isn’t complete without the Air Jordan II.