In these times of uncertainty, one of the few steady ships in 2020’s restless waters was Jordan Brand. On any given week, the line His Airness built filled up the sneaker release calendar with heat.
In February, Jordan Brand kicked off yet another promising year by paying tribute to… you guessed it… Michael Jordan. The “New Beginnings Pack” was released during NBA All-Star Weekend (which was held in Chicago of all places) and included an original colorway of the seldom-seen Nike Air Ship and an Air Jordan 1 in a color block influenced by an even rarer Player Exclusive version of the shoe Mike wore during his rookie season. Next came Virgil Abloh and Off-White’s collaborative tear-down-and-rebuild of the Air Jordan 5 to celebrate the shoe’s 30th anniversary. Jordan Brand was just getting warmed up.
In the midst of the pandemic in the spring, ESPN began airing episodes of “The Last Dance” well ahead of its planned release, and everyone gained a newfound appreciation for the late model Air Jordans that filled up episodes of the docu-series. In the spring and early summer, you couldn’t find two hotter pairs of shoes than the Air Jordan 12 and Air Jordan 13. The hype surrounding the Jordan 12 “University Yellow” and Jordan 13 “Flint” can attest.
Where did JB go from there? So many places. There are too many collaborations, new colorways, and returning “OGs” to name in the intro alone. So instead, let’s just cut to the chase. You probably want our list of the 15 Best Air Jordans of 2020, and we won’t keep you waiting any longer.
In no particular order, these are the very best Air Jordans released in 2020.
When you have a good thing, you don’t want to mess it up. Original colorways of the Air Jordan 12 like the “Flu Game” and “Cherry” are nearly perfect. So for the “University Gold” colorway of the Jordan 12 released in July, Jordan Brand simply applied the same two-tone color block and, what do you know? It was a home run. That it looks a lot like a Player Exclusive colorway worn by Gary Payton with the Los Angeles Lakers back in the day doesn’t hurt its popularity, either.
When Jordan Brand wanted to fully embrace the lifestyle movement happening all around sneaker culture, it turned to Virgil Abloh to create “The 10” collection. When it came time to roll out the red carpet for the Air Jordan 5’s 30th anniversary this year, Jordan Brand once again turned to Virgil Abloh. The Windy City native has been studying the intricacies of Jordans as a designer for the last few years and wearing them to show support to his hometown hero for even longer. Ironically enough, the Air Jordan 5 was the first Jordan model purchased by Abloh as a teen way back in the day. Although unlike the “Black/Metallic” colorway Abloh likely wore into the ground in the ‘90s, his Off-White rendition of Mike’s fifth signature shoe features innovative design elements like die-cut circular patterns placed randomly on the upper and a pre-yellowed sole for an already-worn aesthetic.
We didn’t really appreciate the Air Jordan 3 “Mocha” like we should have when it came out in 2001. At the time, we, the sneaker community, wanted to wear the original Jordan colorways that Mike wore with the Bulls or the new Jordans done up in the Washington Wizards’ blue and white. Long removed from those days now, a shoe like the Air Jordan 1 High “Dark Mocha” owes some of its success to the original coffee-influenced design that paved the way for it and many other lifestyle-based Jordans to exist.
There are Air Jordan 1 collaborations, and then there is the Dior x Jordan 1. It isn’t so much a shoe as much as it is artwork that happens to be in the form of something you could wear on your feet. It’s $2,000 retail price, a first for any Jordan model, underscores its made-in-Italy, high-fashion origins. As do the “Dior Grey” leather overlays, dual-branded Dior and Nike Air nylon tongue tag, and embroidered monogram Swoosh detailing on both sides of the upper. A regular Jordan 1, this isn’t.
In the 2000s, Jordan Brand used to honor some of Michael Jordan’s greatest on-court accomplishments by releasing “Defining Moments Packs” consisting of two classic Jordan shoes in new championship inspired colorways. The idea was quietly dropped somewhere along the way, but the “DMP” collections are remembered fondly by collectors for their unique packaging, retooled colorways, and exclusivity. Few were more sought after than the gold-accented Jordan 6 and Jordan 11 tandem that celebrated the kicks Mike had on his feet during his first and fourth NBA championship victories. The Air Jordan 6 “DMP” dressed in all black with gold accents received a standalone release for the first time this year. And it looked every bit as regal as we remember the OG design being in the aughts.
The Bulls have been wearing road red team uniforms since Jerry Sloan and Artis Gilmore were members of the team. So it’s curious as to why more original Air Jordans didn’t come in a red leather base. The Jordan 3 “Red Cement,” released by Jordan Brand in February over All-Star Weekend in Chicago, imagines what an original red-based colorway of the iconic shoe might have looked like had it been around in 1988. Dressed with a red tumbled leather upper, elephant print on the toe and heel, and an embroidered Jumpman on a cement grey leather tongue and “Nike Air” on the back, the “Red Cement” is as OG looking as any of the four pioneering Jordan 3 colorways.
Originally, Hiroshi Fujiwara, not Virgil Abloh, was supposed to have his own collection of Nikes and Jordans called “The 10.” That’s if you believe the rumors that have been circulating since 2017. While it’s never been confirmed by Nike, Abloh, or Fujiwara, there’s reason to believe there’s some truth to the idea. Just this year, Jordan Brand and Fujiwara’s streetwear label, fragment design, released an Air Jordan 3 that was supposedly part of the scrapped collaboration. The look is vastly different from Abloh’s vision of “The 10.” Clean white tumbled leather combines with a smooth black leather mudguard for a less-is-more approach that draws comparisons to the elegant styling of the Air Jordan 11 “Concord.” We may never get to see a fragment x Nike x Jordan Brand “The 10,” but if this Air Jordan 3 is any indication, there’s plenty of room in the sneaker universe for two “The 10” collaborations to live.
One of the greatest original Air Jordan colorways ever worn by its model’s namesake is the Jordan 5 “Fire Red - Silver Tongue.” Flashy with the innovative performance chops to match, some of the most memorable moments of Michael’s career occurred while wearing the fierce-looking Jordan 5 “Fire Red.” On March 28, 1990, Michael scored a career-high 69 points on the Bulls’ division rival and perennial nemesis Cleveland Cavaliers while wearing the colorway. When it came time to celebrate the Air Jordan 5’s 30-year anniversary this year, there was only one logical shoe for Jordan Brand to bring back to life as a one-to-one remake that hadn’t already been its proper “true-to-original” just do: the “Fire Red - Silver Tongue.”
While we can all agree that the Air Jordan 4 is one of the greatest sneakers of all-time, it’s not perfect. No shoe is. There isn’t a pair of sneakers on the planet that fits everyone’s foot the same—that’s why medium and wide sizing exists, after all. In terms of design, though, the Jordan 4 is a masterpiece from every angle. But even that is subjective. Union LA’s Chris Gibbs has been enamored with the silhouette since forever, but always found the height of its tongue to be too tall for his liking. So he set out to change it. The Union x Air Jordan 4 in both the “Guava Ice” and “Off Noir” features a stitched down tongue (the wearer has the ability to remove the stitches to obtain the traditional Jordan 4 look) that don’t get in the way of pants or exposed ankles. The result is a little less chafing and a whole new look for a timeless icon.
From sample to sold out, the Women’s Off-White x Air Jordan 4 “Sail” has lived an eventful life. Last year, in 2019, the cream-based monochromatic Jordan 4 appeared as merely a prop on a shelf at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Figures of Speech” exhibit honoring Virgil Abloh’s career. From there, well, you know what happens next. A proper retail release turned the clean, cream-colored shoe from a dream into a reality for sneakerheads.
Far removed from the “shrink-it-and-pink-it” era of women’s sneakers, new colorways, like the Women’s Air Jordan 3 “Laser Orange,” speak to the kind of shoes women have always wanted to wear. The Jordan 3, in particular, has become a go-to for female sneaker collectors ever since Anna Wintour and Jordan Brand teamed up in 2018. The “Laser Orange” isn’t as ambitious as Wintour and Vogue’s multicolor tweed “AWOK,” but it makes use of a timeless Jordan 3 design—tumbled leather, elephant print, and a secondary accenting color to bring the look together.
A few of Nike and Jordan Brand models celebrated a milestone this year. As previously mentioned, the Air Jordan 5 got the red carpet treatment for its 30th anniversary—Nike had a similar rollout for its Air Max 90, which also turned 30-years-old in 2020. Another classic shoe in the Nike pantheon also had a special birthday recently, too: the Air Jordan 11. Originally released in 1995, the classy design is now 25-years-old, and Jordan Brand wasn’t going to let this accomplishment go unnoticed. Colorways like the Women’s Jordan 11 Low “Concord Sketch” and the Jordan 11 “Jubilee” bring to life early design concepts sketched by the shoe’s designer, Tinker Hatfield. The “Concord Sketch” had a moment in the summer when it was released and remains a super clean look for the Jordan 11, but the “Jubilee” is more in the way of some of the models iconic colorways like the “Space Jam” and “Bred.” Its unique “JORDAN” detailing on the side of the eyelets is supposedly how Hatfield intended for the shoe to look before he did away with it for the final product. With slightly more pairs in circulation thanks to its full family sizing release, the “Jubilee” is our pick as the year’s best Air Jordan 11 25th anniversary design.
Patience is a virtue. Jordan Brand sure likes to test that premise. With all due respect to the retro Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red” from 2012 (and one “Mars Blackmon” and one “Laser” colorway from the mid-2000s that are based on the OG “Fire Red” look) that have been released, worn, and enjoyed by sneaker collectors, it always felt like something was missing with those shoes. A nagging feeling. The new “Fire Red” 4 absolves the sensation. Now, for the first time since the model’s original release year, 1989, a “Fire Red” colorway exists with “Nike Air” on the back. Like the remastered “Bred” before it, the updated-for-2020 “Fire Red” is as close to the original style, shape, and materials used by Nike all those years ago.
The Air Jordan 1 Mid had its biggest year ever in 2020. It’s no coincidence that the silhouette has been one of our best sellers of late, too. The Jordan 1 model is the people’s shoe, and the inclusive Jordan 1 Mid is an ever-popular choice for people just dipping their toe into the hobby of sneaker collecting and aficionados alike. Colorways like the “Disco Ball” live harmoniously with high-profile collaborations like Melody Ehsani’s watch-clad design in the Jordan 1 Mid’s world, as do looks that honor the silhouette’s heritage, like the “Chicago Black Toe.” The medley design combines the original “Chicago” and “Black Toe” colorways for a style that is both familiar and refreshing.
Does J Balvin ever do anything quietly? That’s a rhetorical question, because we all know the answer is a resounding no. You won’t find the Colombian-born reggaeton superstar’s face next to the word “bashful” in the dictionary any time soon, and the word certainly can’t be used to describe his “Colores Y Vibras” take on the Air Jordan 1. An explosion of color and vibes as its nickname translated to English suggests, the look is all show with the go to match. Jagged panels in a rainbow-like assortment of colors combine with the artist’s smiley face logo on patches on the heel. Then there’s the dual branded tongue tags, the pink sole, and frayed canvas overlay on the toe. The first Air Jordan 1 designed by a person of Latin descent, J Balvin’s collaborative “Colores Y Vibras” is definitely one of the best non-original looks of the iconic shoe ever made.