Air Jordans Are More Than A Shoe, They're A Pop-Culture Staple

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Michael Jordan's signature shoes have taken a life of their own.

When Michael Jordan left the University of North Carolina to join the NBA back in 1984, sneaker companies butted heads to see who could land one of the most promising up-and-coming players in the sport. In the end, Nike would emerge victorious, even though Jordan was an admitted Adidas-head growing up. In 1984, Jordan got his own signature shoe which was appropriately called the Air Jordan 1. Unbeknownst to Nike and Jordan himself at the time, the Air Jordan 1 would go on to become one of the most iconic shoes of all-time and remains highly sought after by sneakerheads to this day. 

Every year since 1985, a brand new Air Jordan silhouette has been released, all the way up to the Air Jordan 33. Jordan's signature sneakers allowed him to have his own imprint within Nike called Jordan Brand, and almost every release gets as much hype as the last. Now, Jordan Brand is a billion-dollar company and the Jumpman logo has reached icon status. The success of Jordan Brand mostly has to do with the fact that Jordan is arguably the best player to ever step on a basketball court.  He won six NBA Championships in six NBA Finals appearances, and if it wasn't for his baseball career, he probably could have won eight in a row. If you're a kid who grew up idolizing Jordan, it makes sense that you would have wanted his shoes. 

The court isn't the only place you might see his sneakers. Ever since the late 80s, pop culture has referenced Air Jordans so much that it's almost impossible to not have at least some idea of what they are. In fact, Air Jordans have become as much of a pop-culture staple as they have been a fixture on basketball courts worldwide. With this in mind, here's a look at some of the most prominent references to the infamous Jumpman from over the years.

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Perhaps the first time Jordans really came to prominence on the big screen was in Spike Lee's 1989 classic Do The Right Thing. Giancarlo Esposito's genius character Buggin' Out was rocking a pair of Air Jordan 4's in the film and at one point, they get scuffed up by a disobedient Boston Celtics fan. In true Buggin' Out fashion, an argument ensues as he begs the Larry Bird aficionado to buy him a brand new pair. The argument doesn't really go anywhere but the scene speaks to just how important Jordans were at the time. Spike Lee was a huge fan of the shoe and even has his own Jumpman collaboration called the Spiz'Ike. Years after the film's release, a Do The Right Thing Air Jordan 4 was released which paid homage to the movie's characters.

Moving towards television now, Will Smith's 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air was yet another example of how Jordans had infiltrated mainstream culture. Smith's bombastic character was constantly wearing Jordans, with his favorite being the Air Jordan 5 "White Grape." The Air Jordan 5 debuted in 1990 which was the same year The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air hit the airwaves. At the time, the AJ5 was considered to be a weird shoe thanks to the shark teeth on the midsole, but Smith's character helped normalize the shoe. If you watch old episodes of the series, it's almost impossible not to notices his footwear and the shiny white, turquoise, and purple kicks. 

Last year, Jordan Brand honored the show with a pair of Grape 5s that are actually laceless. This is because Smith always wore his shoes untied, and the brand wanted to stay true to that aesthetic. Another example of how Jordan's influence was able to infiltrate pop-culture, all while pop-culture helped his brand grow.

As we march throughout the 90s, it's impossible not to mention 1996's Space Jam. Four years prior, Michael Jordan celebrated the release of the Air Jordan 7 with the Bugs Bunny-inspired "Hare Jordan" campaign which turned out to be a huge success. This campaign would eventually lead to Jordan's reunion with the Looney Tunes, inspiring yet another classic sneaker.

In the film, Jordan can be seen wearing the Air Jordan 11 in a black and icy blue colorway which would eventually be named the "Space Jam." There have been multiple releases of the shoe with the last one coming in 2016. It's a shoe that gets people nostalgic about the good old days when Space Jam didn't have a sequel and the idea of one was simply laughable. When your shoes are associated with a brand as iconic as the Looney Tunes, you know you have something big on your hands.

In 1998, Spike Lee would show off his love of Jordans once again with the film He Got Game. The movie stars Denzel Washington and came out the same year the Air Jordan 13 hit store shelves. During one scene in the movie, Washington's character goes to a shoe store and tries on a pair of the Jordan 13. Of course, he falls in love with the shoe which features a white upper with black and red accents. Last year, the "He Got Game" Air Jordan 13 was released to the public and fans of the film were quick to scoop up a pair. 

Now that we've touched on movies an TV, it would be wise to switch gears and talk about Jordan references in hip-hop. Basketball and hip-hop culture have had a ton of crossover the years, so it shouldn't be surprising to hear that rappers have been flexing their Jordans since anyone can remember. On Nas' "Street Dreams" off his sophomore album It Was Written, the New York MC spits “The streets raised me up, givin a fuck / I thought Jordans and gold chains was livin it up." 2pac also rapped about Jordan's infamous shoes on the song "Better Dayz," where he says “I’m solo and so broke, savin’ up for some Jordans cause they dope.”

The 2000s have bred a whole new generation of rapper sneakerheads, most notably in Wale and Curren$y. On the song "Space Shuttle," Spitta says “Jordan 3 Cements my secret weapon, dead stock, not bootleg, Nike inspected." Meanwhile, Wale raps “Now Jordan 3 my shoe, double MG my crew, when you do it big as Manute you make it seem minute” on the track "Barry Sanders."

These are only a few of the countless Jordan references in hip-hop, but they demonstrate how much the shoe has transcended the world of sports. You can't consume any piece of media without hearing or seeing at least a reference or two to someone's sweet sweet Js. Even if you tried to avoid mention of the shoe, it's practically inescapable.

Aside from music, television, and movies, you can't forget that artists themselves are getting their own collaborations. This further reinforces the idea that Air Jordans are a staple of pop-culture since some of your favorite celebrities are now putting their own imprint on the shoe. For instance, Drake has had some interesting renditions of the Air Jordan 10, Air Jordan 12, and Air Jordan 8, all while Travis Scott has put his mark on the Air Jordan 1, Air Jordan 4, and the Air Jordan 6. 

If you think the shoe has lost its meaning over the years, there is no denying that it is still as relevant as ever and won't be going away anytime soon. Even if basketball were to cease to exist, you would still see Air Jordans all over your TV, and you'd still hear about them in the music you listen to. By that standard alone, there's no denying that the Air Jordan is a pop-culture phenomenon like no other.

About The Author
Alexander Cole is the current Managing Editor of HotNewHipHop. He started at HotNewHipHop back in 2018 where he began as a Sports and Sneakers writer. During this time, he has shown an expertise in Air Jordans, Yeezys, and all things that have to do with Nike. His favorite kicks are the Air Jordan 1 High OG, the Air Jordan 4, the Air Jordan 6, and the Adidas Yeezy Boost 350 V2 in the "Beluga 2.0" colorway. Although his collection might not be the biggest, he is always looking to add new styles to it. When it comes to sports, Alex has a particular interest in the NBA and the NFL. His favorite teams are anywhere LeBron goes, and the Kansas City Chiefs. As a Montrealer, the Montreal Canadiens hold a special place in his heart, even if they haven't won the Stanley Cup in his lifetime. Alex also works for the Concordia Stingers, where he provides play-by-play and color commentary for the football, hockey, and basketball teams His favorite hip-hop artists are Kendrick Lamar, Playboi Carti, Travis Scott, and Lil Uzi Vert.