10. Air Jordan IV “Royalty”
Here’s a recipe for success: Take a good shoe, make it with good materials, and do it in a colorway that doesn’t suck. That’s what Jordan Brand did with the “Royalty” IV, and the results were great. It was black, white, and gold, a combination that looks good on any sneaker. There’s not much to say other than an Air Jordan IV will always be good and simple color schemes reign supreme. —Matt Welty
9. OVO x Jordan Trunner
Drake’s ongoing collaboration with Jordan Brand has drawn the ire of true footwear connoisseurs, and the Xs and XIIs that he’s slapped with OVO branding are starting to feel really tired. Instead of reworking another silhouette that’s been reworked a handful of times already, Drake and Jordan Brand decided to take a surprise approach with the release of an OVO Jordan Trunner at the grand opening of Toronto’s Jordan Brand store, and it was just what the company needed to break up the monotony of its biggest partnership right now.
The shoe was good for several reasons. If you’re not a fan of basketball sneakers in general, it’s really, really hard to get into the faux nostalgia that helps push Jordan Brand forward. And getting a pair of running sneakers from the brand is like looking for the vegan options at a steakhouse: you’re going to be disappointed no matter what. But the Trunner is something different all together. It’s not trying to be something that Jordan Brand is not — it’s the one training shoe for the person who loves the Jumpman. The black-and-white colorblocking didn’t feel played out on the Trunner, and the OVO owl on the heel was just enough to satisfy Drake fans, especially those who have been into his Stone Island-heavy, European-inspired looks as of late. —Matt Welty
8. Air Jordan IV “Pure Money”
The Air Jordan IV was always more of a technological accomplishment than a design one, as Tinker Hatfield essentially created a lighter-weight version of the Air Jordan III using the best technology available to him in 1988. Mesh inserts both cut weight and provided far better ventilation, while synthetic “wings” provided extra support. Other than that, the sole units and cut were fairly similar, while an ACG-esque spatter treatment on the midsole and “Flight” patch on the tongue did more to separate it stylistically from its predecessor.
The somewhat busy design is perhaps best appreciated in a simple makeup, hence the all-black “Black Cat” and all-white “Pure Money” makeups. Released just in time for the start of summer, the “Pure Money” re-retro features hits of chrome on the lace loops, just enough shine to draw attention but not too much. For a 12-year-old take on a 27-year-old shoe, the “Pure Money” Air Jordan IV still shines. —Russ Bengtson
7. Air Jordan XXX1 “Russell Westbrook PE”
Ever since Michael Jordan retired, Jordan Brand has had to find another endorser to be the primary face of the flagship shoe. For a while it was Dwyane Wade. Now it’s Russell Westbrook, who’s been holding it down since the shrouded Air Jordan 28. As the standard bearer, he’s gotten special makeups of each, some of which have reached the marketplace—remember the WHY NOT? 28s? This year, he got the most special one of all.
Westbrook’s Air Jordan XXX1 PE was more of a XXX.5, the woven upper of the XXX1 paired with the sole unit of the XXX, which Westbrook preferred. It’s not often a hybrid like this gets offered at retail—it took Jordan 30 years to actually release the Jordan 1.5 that Mike wore in ‘86. Inspired by his coveted Air Jordan III PE, Westbrook’s XXX1 featured cement print on the heel/ankle area along with hits of Thunder blue and orange. The ultimate would have been to release it in a pack WITH the III, but alas, we can’t have everything. At least, not yet. —Russ Bengtson
6. Atmos x Air Jordan III
Nike has started to give people what they want, and the brand’s done so in the form of letting its fans vote on which classic Air Max model they want to be brought back each year for Air Max Day. Last year people voted for Atmos’s “Elephant” Air Max 1 from 2007 to be retroed, and Nike kept its promise on making the shoe return. But the brand didn’t stop there, and also let the Japanese retailer also work on the Air Jordan III, outfitting it in a colorway similar to its “Safari” Air Max 1, the first-ever collaboration on the sneaker, which released in 2003. The sneaker was an odd choice for sure. To put it simple: The majority of those who really freak out over Air Maxes typically live in Europe, where Jordans don’t share the same popularity as they do in the States. But for those who are more inclined to basketball sneakers, the Atmos collaboration was just what they were looking for. It came with black suede, Safari print that replaced the sneaker’s typical Cement print, an icey sole, and the icing on the cake: “Nike Air” on the heel.
It was an execution so solid that even Air Max enthusiasts were impressed with the sneaker. And they had to be, because it was only sold in a limited-edition pack with the bringback of the Air Max 1 and came with a retail price of $400. That pack now resells for an average of over $1,000. While the Air Max 1 from the duo is infinitely better than the Air Jordan III, you can’t fault Jordan Brand for trying to bring some much-needed buzz to their brand in the form of an offbeat collaboration. —Matt Welty
5. Air Jordan IV “Do the Right Thing”
As he tells it, Spike Lee wasn’t a huge fan of the Air Jordan IV when he first saw them in the summer of 1988. So rather than wear them himself as Mookie in 1989’s Do the Right Thing, he instead blessed Giancarlo Esposito and his character Buggin’ Out. From that, one of the iconic sneaker scenes in movie history was born—Buggin’ Out’s pristine Jordans marred by a careless pedestrian pushing a bike on a Brooklyn sidewalk. Even worse, a careless white pedestrian, in a Larry Bird jersey, no less. It’s one of the best scenes in the movie, one that effortlessly cut drama with humor, and one that firmly imprinted the importance of sneakers on celluloid.
For the release of the IV-inspired Fly 89 casual runner, Jordan made up a super-limited run of Do the Right Thing inspired white/cement IVs, right down to the NIKE AIR heeltab, the African-inspired wrap on the laces (something Esposito did himself to the pair he wore in the movie), the unconventional lacing, and—of course—the scuff. As movie sneakers go, these might not be as iconic as Back to the Future’s MAGs, but they’re a million times more wearable. And if the scuff bothers you as much as it did Buggin’ Out, well, Jordan provided a toothbrush to take care of that. Or try, at least. If only Martin Lawrence was around to provide commentary while you tried. —Russ Bengtson
4. Just Don x Air Jordan II “Arctic Orange”
The Air Jordan II is by no means the most popular Air Jordan sneaker, but when Don C got his hands on the silhouette, he gave it a new life. Taking a high-end luxury approach, the Just Don x Air Jordan IIs feature suede, quilted leather and leather lined insoles. The silhouette previously released in “Blue” and “Beach” colorways, so for the third installment Don C went in a completely different direction with an “Arctic Orange” colorway—which really looks more like a pale pink.
DJ Khaled was the first person to be seen with the new Just Don IIs, as he rocked them with a pink satin suit to announce the title of his forthcoming album Grateful. Shortly after, his son and fiancee were blessed with pairs, which ramped up hype for the release of the first Just Don x Air Jordan IIs coming in youth sizes. When official released information surfaced, it was announced that the sneakers would be available from toddler to grade school with sizes extending up to 9.5, which left out most guys out of copping a pair. It’s rumored that the “Arctic Orange” Just Don x Air Jordan IIs will re-release in full men’s sizes, but for now DJ Khaled and Just Dons are the only ones with pairs. —Amir Ismael
3. Air Jordan 1 “Royal”
As long as Jordan Brand keeps putting out original Air Jordan 1 colorways, people will buy them and that was surely the case for the “Royal” colorway. Following two of 2016’s Best Air Jordans—the “Black Toe” and “Banned” Air Jordan 1s—the “Royal” 1s came as huge treat for fans of the silhouette. When the sneakers last released in 2013, they were of a much lesser quality when compared to its 2001 predecessor. Still, the shoe sold out and even resold for hundreds of dollars more than the $140 retail price. Despite using a new tumbled leather, this year’s release was a breath of fresh air. The sneakers use a true high-top construction, Nike Air branding on the tongue and insole, and are packaged unlaced with extra royal blue laces, just like in 1985. These are an absolute must-have for any Air Jordan collector. —Amir Ismael
2. Air Jordan 1 “Satin Royal”
A lot of purists will say that making an Air Jordan 1 in satin is sacrilegious, and they have good reason: Making a shoe completely in a delicate fabric is counterintuitive to how you design sneakers. But there was something special about the “Satin” version of the “Royal” Air Jordan 1s.
For starters, Jordan Brand made 700 pairs, so people were going to want them regardless. But they were also following up last year’s “Bred” version of the shoe, which now resell for upwards of $2,000 a pair. Where Jordan Brand nailed it with the “Royal” version was the rollout. Many people will tell you that “Black/Royal” is the best colorway of the Air Jordan 1, and they’re not wrong. So it’s not hard to sell folks on the sneaker, but Jordan Brand decided to only launch them at Walter’s Clothing in Atlanta and Active Athlete in Houston, two old-school, mom-and-pop sneaker shops. It’s those details that elevated these “Satin” Air Jordan 1s to one of the best sneakers that the brand has put out this year so far. Because satin sneakers are stupid, except for these. —Matt Welty
1. KAWS x Air Jordan IV
If you call yourself a streetwear fan and you never were into KAWS, you don’t deserve to have say in what’s cool or not. Or you’re under the age of 15. The man has been at the heart of the culture for decades now, and everyone who’s had an interest in sneakers since the rise of hype culture on the Internet is familiar with his work and past collaborations. It took Jordan Brand sometime, however, to make a project happen with KAWS. And it was pretty damn solid.
The reaction to the KAWS x Air Jordan IV, however, was mixed when it first came to light. There were many who thought it was too simple or past its prime, but the execution on the collaboration was top notch. The suede was through the roof, and KAWS’ “hands” art was stitched throughout the upper. But the most important detail on the sneaker was the replacement of the “Nike Air” on the heel with “XX Air,” a nod to KAWS’ signature style (the same artwork came on the hangtag, too). The glow-in-the-dark outsole with the KAWS hands just added to the project, although an early sample showed that the sneaker first featured the Xs on the sole. When it comes down to it, what makes this sneaker great is that Jordan Brand took one of its best sneakers and made it a bit more covetable. It’s really, really easy to fuck these sort of things up, and KAWS and Jordan didn’t do that. So everyone is a bit more grateful. —Matt Welty