A History of Air Jordan Lows

The Air Jordan XI might be the most famous and recognizable basketball sneaker ever made, the magnum opus of the famed Air Jordan line that basically started all of us down this path. So, in a way, it makes sense that the sneaker within Michael Jordan‘s signature line with the greatest low-top legacy is, once again, the Air Jordan XI.

Jordan hardly ever played ball in low-tops — though he did suit up in the “Bred” XI Lows for a short time during the 1996 NBA Finals — but despite that many of them created legacies of their own. As for the XI, not only did it see some court time against Seattle for the ’96 chip, Jordan also attended that summer’s championship parade in “Concord” lows. Five years later, the retro would return in a number of different low-top colorways, including an especially memorable “Zen Grey” all-white quickstrike. Over the last few years, the patent leather lows have caused many release day headaches for sneakerheads, coming out in classic colorways like the “Concord” and the “Infrared,” and this Saturday at Champs Sports will be getting our first Air Jordan XI low-top dose this year in the form of the “Georgetown” version.

There were also the IE Lows, which didn’t sport patent leather and yet had more of a historical imprint on MJ considering he actually played in them a handful of times, often sporting them during the 1996 Playoff run. When they first released, they actually weren’t even called an official low-top XI but considering they sported many of the same design elements, the label was attached over time.

While seeing low-top colorways release in 2015 is commonplace, it’s an underrated aspect of the Air Jordan line that’s been there from the start. Both the Jordan I and II had initial low-top colorways release and many still regard the low edition of the Air Jordan II to be the superior shoe.

The low would return with two women’s retro colorways for the V, and continue in both men’s and women’s sizes with the VI. However, outside of the XI, it was the XIII that took full advantage, dropping in memorable colorways like the original Chutney and in 2005 by using extreme colors like varsity maize and ceramic.

Air Jordan 19 Low White/Cement

In later years, we even saw several lukewarm signature models receive popularity boosts through low-top versions. Both the XIX and the XX1 took clunky mid-cut originals and freaked them, saving the design while also helping make the shoe more versatile. This was especially true with the Air Jordan XIX, a sneaker that was just too cumbersome and awkward to look good anywhere off the court, no matter what you were wearing. When the low-top dropped — especially in a few classic colorways — it suddenly had a place as a nice change of pace for the spring/summer look.

Outside of silhouettes like the Jordan XII and the Jordan VIII (I’d also include the XX3 here but that’s not necessarily a wide-held opinion), most Jordans hold up pretty well under the change. And perhaps the greatest Jordan low to ever release was the XVII, a vastly underrated classic that Michael Jordan often wore during his final years with the Washington Wizards. The lows were just as hard and featured a stellar player exclusive colorway that included a sky blue that was slightly darker than the University Blue edition originally released to the public, as well as a “23” in copper. Jordan also wore a classic “Lightning” colorway during the 2002 NBA All-Star Game, a shoe released to much fanfare among the public.

Low-top Jordans will never receive the same “grail” status many of their cousins sport but that doesn’t mean they aren’t crisp, especially now that the summer is around the corner. This weekend’s “Georgetown” XI Low releasing at Champs Sports is inspired by the school’s longtime association with the Jordan Brand, dating all the way back to Allen Iverson in the mid-90s. If you don’t own any lows, now is the perfect time to start.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney