A List of Everything That Has Ever Inspired an Air Jordan Sneaker

  • Michael Jordan

    Air Jordan I

    As the first Jordan sneaker ever, Nike broke the mold, creating a sneaker specifically designed for a single, flashy, revolutionary player. Nowadays, that seems commonplace, but 30 years ago things were completely different. No one was ready for the I, least of all the NBA.

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  • Air Jordan II

    Air Jordan II

    Because it was a sneaker that didn’t sell well and because MJ wasn’t a huge fan and because it was shoehorned between the revolutionary Jordan I and the incredible Jordan III, the II gets a bad rap.

    Designed in Italy, giving it a luxury feel, the shoe also featured faux lizard skin along the panels. Sometimes inspiration can come from the weirdest places…

    via Pascal/Pinterest

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  • Elephant

    Air Jordan III

    Jordan had actually been asking for animal print to be incorporated into his sneakers for a while, so that was one of the first changes Tinker made in the first sneaker he worked on for the NBA’s most exciting player.

    The Jordan III had to be perfect, or else Jordan might’ve left the company, so Tinker went out of his way to appease the star. It worked, too, as the III and elephant print are defining characteristics in the greatest sneaker line ever.

    image via Donna Brown/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Hard work

    Air Jordan IV

    Whereas the last two pairs of Jordans were all about luxury, unique features, and animal-printed skins and patterns, Tinker took it back to the basics with the IV. He knew Jordan had become a father and he knew how hard he worked at improving his game. For Hatfield, that was inspiration enough. He dove into the sneaker tech and worked to advance the shoe in subtle ways that would appeal to MJ’s will and determination and competitiveness, on and off the court.

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  • World War II P-40 Warhawk
    World War II fighter planes

    Air Jordan V

    Tinker once said of the V, “He [Michael Jordan] would be floating around the edges of the game and come out of nowhere and attack…As I worked through the design of the shoe, I thought I’d make it look a little bit like a fighter plane.”

    It makes sense. Just check out those teeth.

    image via Cliff/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Porsche

    Air Jordan VI

    That rear heel tab? Yep, inspired by the Porsche. It was also put in the Jordan VI because MJ was having a hard time getting in and out of his sneakers. Every little thing helps, right?

    image via The Car Spy/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Air Jordan 7
    West African tribal art and music

    Air Jordan VII

    The VII featured a number of vibrant colors along the sneaker, especially on the tongue and outsole. It also was one of the first sneakers in the line to do unique and different colorways, and all of that ties back to the inspiration behind it all: West African tribal art and the music behind it, Afropop.

    image via Complex

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  • Michael's off-court life

    Air Jordan VIII

    The VIII is still one of the most different Jordans of all time, as it was super heavy and a little clunky. But with MJ rising to heights no athlete had seen before–and it was weighing on him, too, as he’d retire after the season for the first time–Hatfield used Jordan’s actual life away from the court to create something wild and intricate. There was a cross strap across the laces, a weird, chenille logo on the tongue, and then an odd color scheme on the side paneling.

    Everything about this sneaker was just different…even the colorways and commercials.

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  • Baseball cleats

    Air Jordan IX

    No surprises here. The IX has always been undervalued because it released while Jordan was away on his minor league baseball sabbatical, and then by the time he came back in March of 1995, the X was already out.

    image via Eric Richardson/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Air Jordan X
    Michael Jordan's accomplishments

    Air Jordan X

    The X was meant to honor Jordan, listing many of his accomplishments on the outsole while also being worn by many players throughout the league. But because Mike came back to play in March, the ceremonial love was short-lived. So was the sneaker, as well, as Jordan started playing in the XI as soon as he could.

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  • Lawnmower

    Air Jordan XI

    This definitely has to be one of the weirdest sneaker inspirations we’ve ever heard of, especially since it helped design one of the greatest shoes ever, shoes that are routinely worn at formal occasions like weddings and proms. But Tinker made it work by keeping the lawnmower’s need for rugged edges while also looking good and shining up top.

    image via Michael/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Japanese war flag
    Japanese flag

    Air Jordan XII

    The Japanese war flag is called the “Jyūrokujō-Kyokujitsu-ki” and it depicts a sun with 16 rays emanating out of it. You can really see the inspiration throughout the XII’s upper, and the similarities don’t end there. If you’re going into battle, you probably want to take the XII over every other Jordan. It’s almost a fact at this point that this sneaker was the toughest, most hardened, most battle-ready pair ever made.

    This sneaker also took inspiration from a 19th century women’s dress boot.

    image via futureatlas.com/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Black panther
    Black panther

    Air Jordan XIII

    Those paw prints are incredibly life-like, and that hologram is just a little freaky in the dark. Even if the inspiration for this late-90s classic still wasn’t well-known by now, you’d probably be able to figure it out on your own.

    image via Peter Hopper/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Ferrari F50

    Air Jordan XIV

    This sneaker came full circle earlier this year with the release of the “Ferrari” XIV, a fitting capper for a sneaker released over 15 years ago. Everyone has known since basically the very beginning that this shoe was inspired by the Ferrari F50, one of Mike’s favorite cars. The similarities are too obvious, right on down to the iconic Ferrari shield logo plate.

    image via CarSpotter/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • X-15
    X-15 aircraft

    Air Jordan XV

    One of the most underrated Air Jordans ever made–at least depending on your point of view–the XV took its inspiration from the X-15 aircraft. NASA originally developed this in the 1950s and it was known for its amazing speed. Mike wasn’t too slow, either.

    image via Cliff/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • marching boot
    Marching boot

    Air Jordan XVI

    Featuring a shroud that you could wear off the court and then take off whenever you wanted to play, the XVI still wasn’t exactly revolutionary. It was a popular look at the time, having that shroud that gave a sneaker two different looks. But at least in this case, it also had thermal functionality. And it was pretty stylish, too, which always worked with Michael Jordan.

    image via jamiecat/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • jazz

    Air Jordan XVII

    The inspiration for the XVII was a little all over the place. You had the fine details of the Aston Martin used throughout the sneaker, and the Quail Hollow golf course in Charlotte, North Carolina, was used as a template for the sole of the shoe. But perhaps the largest design element is the incorporation of jazz music.

    Jazz is at its best when it’s improvised and the XVII features molds of music notes, as well as all of the smooth lines of a jazz solo. A little difficult to see all of that here but hey, this was definitely an underrated classic.

    image via Tom Marcello/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • F1 race car
    Race cars

    Air Jordan XVIII

    The shoe designed for MJ’s final season in the NBA helped incorporate one of his newest passions: race cars. This sneaker took inspiration from the sleek racing lines, carbon fiber-based monocoque, and even the racing driving shoes of F1 race cars.

    The outsole was also heavily influenced by Fine Italian dress shoes.

    image via Marc Evans/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Black mamba
    Black Mamba

    Air Jordan XIX

    The lightest Air Jordan to date is definitely not a classic, but it can take pride in using one of the world’s deadliest snakes as inspiration long before Kobe Bryant did. The designers used a material called Material ConneXion that allowed the sneaker to fit snuggly without stretching around a person’s foot, giving it the look and feel of snakeskin. Jordan hates snakes, by the way, so they had to steer clear of using the mamba in advertising. Still really cool, though.

    The shroud gave the shoe almost a scaly feel, and it moved and looked almost like snakeskin.

    image via Ian White/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Bicycle shoes/motorcycle

    Air Jordan XX

    Tinker returned to design the iconic 20th edition in the Air Jordan line, and instead of finding inspiration from MJ himself or something to do with basketball, he came way out of left field by using cycling shoes and motorcycle tires to help him craft this love-it-or-hate-it sneaker. You can see it too. This shoe was built low to the ground and featured not one, but two velcro straps: one across the laces and another to lock the leg in place.

    image via brassynn/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Bentley Continental GT Coupe

    Air Jordan XX1

    Not exactly the coolest inspiration possible, but definitely a super effective one. The sneaker features air grilles just like a car–seriously, the XX1 looks just like the front of this ride–and even features a tenable I.P.S. suspension system that lets the person wearing it make their pick of Zoom or Encapsulated air.

    image via Automotive Rhythms/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • F-22 Raptor
    F-22 Raptor fighter jet

    Air Jordan XX2

    The XX2 featured a very militaristic look, complete with camo patterns on the heel and uniform stripes on the outsole. The F-22 Raptor was equally dangerous whether on the defensive or offensive, and its method of stealth fit Jordan’s game completely.

    The shoe also incorporates air vents similar to the fighter jet, and a lot of the cushioning system incorporated here was made invisible, furthering the sneaker’s stealth aspect.

    image via Michael Pereckas/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • environment

    Air Jordan XX3

    The XX3 was special not just because of the number but also because it was the first basketball sneaker designed within the “Nike Considered” category. All of the materials used within the shoe were from no farther than 200 miles away from a Nike Factory. They also minimized their use of industry glue.

    Of course, you could also say this sneaker was inspired by Jordan’s career, as it featured many unique features central to MJ that you won’t find on any other shoe.

    image via Mohamed Malik/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • MJ's defensive focus and will

    Air Jordan 2009

    Jordan is one of the greatest players in NBA history, and the designers attempted to tap into that for the Jordan 2009. Using his will and determination to never give up as the focus, one of the coolest aspects of the design was the sneaker’s use of Articulated Propulsion Technology, which is most often associated with Paralympians.

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  • Vision and instinct

    Air Jordan 2010

    Designed to pass the torch and heritage of the line onto other athletes like Dwyane Wade, the Jordan 2010 took its inspiration quite literally. Using Jordan’s tremendous instincts and vision on the basketball court–his ability to see through his opponents–the Brand created its first see-through performance basketball shoe. With a transparent thermoplastic urethane (TPU) window, the goal was to help the shoe mimic Jordan’s unique ability to let his opponents know only what he wanted them to know.

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  • dress shoes
    Dress shoe

    Air Jordan 2011

    This sneaker payed tribute not only to dress shoes but also to the Jordan XI, the one shoe from this line that had no problems at all fitting in or even stepping in for wingtips at formal occasions. That affinity for the XI went right down to the popular white/black colorway.

    This sneaker was wrapped in Patina Leather, reportedly hand crafted, with a star-constellation pattern used for breathing holes.

    image via Mark/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Portland's historic "Jumptown"

    Air Jordan 2012

    When Tinker was designing this shoe, he just so happened to be working to refurbish Portland’s historical “Jumptown” area. Back in the first half of the 20th century, Jumptown featured outlandish clothing, jazz music, wingtip shoes, and Fedora hats. It was a cultural epicenter. Jordan loved it, having always been a big fan of dressing in his Sunday’s best.

    Creating a sneaker that was half-performance, half-wingtip was the goal. It’s safe to say they achieved it.

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  • black cat
    Black cat stealth

    Air Jordan XX8

    The most tested and lightest Air Jordan ever, this sneaker took a lot of inspiration from a lot of different clothing styles and high fashion. The 8-inch boot is meant to mimic a boot that can take you into battle while also appearing to be something you could see at a runway show. The shroud is also made of Swiss fabric that’s often used in premium motorcycling jackets.

    “With the ongoing evolution of the game shoe, I encourage our entire function to push the boundary when it comes to design, technology, and performance,” Hatfield said at the launch. “The Air Jordan XX8 shoe really is basketball’s answer to the concept car.”

    But in the end, it was MJ himself who probably gave the shoe its biggest starting point. When Tinker was in the design process, he texted Jordan, asking him what stealth meant to the greatest basketball player ever. Jordan texted back: Stealth is like a black cat. It’s an automatic aircraft. You can’t f*** with an automated aircraft. It’s like my game. By the time you see it, it’s too f****** late.

    image via IvanWalsh.com/Flickr Creative Commons

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  • Air Jordan XX9
    Italian craftsmanship

    Air Jordan XX9

    Featuring the industry’s first-ever performance-woven upper, the shoe takes its cue from intricate designs and building structures that are found only in Italy. Tinker knew he needed structure, support, interior comfort, and exterior abrasion resistance within the shoe, and because of the material used, they were able to do it all in one layer.

    “In the past, we’ve drawn inspiration from myriad places—everything from fighter jets to motorcycles—and have ended up with some pretty fun designs along the way,” Hatfield said at the shoe’s launch earlier this year. “This year, our inspiration and challenge to ourselves was to create the best performance basketball shoe ever—and I think the XX9 and the performance-woven upper pay that off.”

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  • Air Jordan 1
  • Air Jordan II
  • Air Jordan IV
  • World War II P-40 Warhawk
  • Air Jordan 7
  • Air Jordan VIII
  • Air Jordan X
  • Japanese war flag
  • Black panther
  • Ferrari F50
  • X-15
  • marching boot
  • jazz
  • F1 race car
  • Black mamba
  • F-22 Raptor
  • environment
  • Michael Jordan
  • dress shoes
  • black cat
  • Air Jordan XX9

There’s something about the Air Jordan XIII that sets it apart. It’s sleek but not to the point that you can’t wear it with long pants. It’s not exactly minimalistic, but yet the upper feels smooth and elusive and simple. Shoot, the sneaker somehow managed to pull off animal paw prints as an outsole and, unbelievably, a visible hologram on the shoe’s neck. Ninety percent of the time that’s an automatic failure, yet somehow Nike, Michael Jordan, and Tinker Hatfield managed to make it work back in 1997. In fact, it more than works. The XIII is considered one of the greatest signature shoes of all time and if Jordan hadn’t busted out the Last Shot XIVs to officially close the door on his Chicago Bulls career, then these shoes or these shoes automatically become one of the three or four best pairs of Air Jordans ever.

Considering what inspired the XIII, it’s no wonder I love these sneakers so much. The black panther inspired both the paw prints on the outsole–perhaps the shoe’s defining characteristic–and even the hologram. Turn off your lights and shine a light on that ‘gram and it’s supposed to mimic a panther’s eye. Kind of freaky.

Tinker and the rest of the designers who’ve worked on MJ’s line over the years always come up with amazing inspirations, and it works seemingly every time. I don’t know how they do it.

This weekend at Champs Sports, the Air Jordan XIII is returning in a big way with a new “Barons” retro colorway. No, the XIII had literally nothing to do with Jordan’s basketball hiatus but since it’s a white, grey, and black colorway it’s getting that nickname regardless. Either way, the shoe is a killer, with an added dose of patent leather. To celebrate the return of the XIII–and the black panther–we’re breaking down all of the amazing things that have helped inspire Air Jordans. Some of these will amaze you. Here’s A List of Everything That Has Ever Inspired an Air Jordan Sneaker.

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image via Patrick Bouquet/Flickr Creative Commons