Rare Air. It’s a phrase that not only rolls off the tongue easily, but accurately describes the limited availability of some of the most desirable Air Jordans in Michael Jordan’s signature shoe collection.
There’s been an element of exclusivity built into the Air Jordan series since its inception in 1985. It started when Nike produced Air Jordans built to the performance specifications of “His Airness.” It took on new meaning when Jordan Brand began collaborating with outside brands to design colorways in smaller quantities that weren’t readily available on sneaker store shelves.
Whether it be an unreleased player exclusive colorway or obscure collaboration, people have always wanted the Air Jordans they couldn’t easily get their hands on.
Our Stadium Goods Hall of Fame is where you can locate some of the rarest Air Jordans in existence. Sourced from all over the world, these legendary colorways each have backstories as to how they obtained their lofty status. Follow along as we discover what makes these 10 “Rare Air” Jordans some of the most valuable shoes on the planet.
Derek Jeter’s retirement ceremony drew a sold out crowd at Yankee Stadium in the Summer of 2017. Flanked by a smattering of New York Yankee legends, “The Captain” officially closed out what many consider to be the greatest playing career of any modern Yankee. Jordan Brand, who signed Jeter in 1999 to become the imprint’s first signature athlete outside of basketball, celebrated the occasion, too. A special edition Air Jordan 11 dressed in luxurious navy suede was produced in Jeter’s honor and released via a lottery scratch-off system at a pop-up shop near Yankee Stadium on the day of his retirement ceremony. Jeter’s number “2” is embroidered in white on the heel. Even more impressive is the fact that only five pairs of the shoe exist.
Did you ever think that DJ Khaled’s “We the Best!” phrase would be printed on the back of an Air Jordan 3? Neither did we. But that’s what makes his Jordan Brand debut collaboration one for the ages. And his fingerprints are all over the design. Dubbed “Grateful,” the mostly-red leather upper of Khaled’s Jordan 3 is as bold as his outsized personality. Khaled kept the classic elephant patterning on the toe and heel, but opted to add his trademark catchphrase to the heel and layer a Jumpman over it because, why not? Jordan Brand and Khaled ran it back with another Air Jordan 3 in 2018 in honor of Khaled’s son, Asahd.
By now, enough has been said about Off-White and Nike’s “The 10” collection of footwear classics from 2017. But the story of its success never gets old. Particularly, how the Off-White x Air Jordan 1 “Chicago” of the collection became the most hyped sneaker collaboration of all-time. Virgil Abloh, the mastermind behind Off-White, had the whole thing mapped out like an elaborate heist. Seeding celebrities sample pairs of the deconstructed “Chicago” colorway early in 2017 only stoked demand. That Summer, anticipation boiled over. When the shoe officially released in the Fall, everyone tried everything in their power to get a pair. Few were successful. There was a glimmer of hope that things would be salvageable when Off-White and Jordan Brand double-backed and dropped off a white monochromatic colorway based on the “OG” look, but that shoe was given a Europe exclusive release. Now? Good luck getting your hands on either pair.
A pivot from producing limited runs of luxurious snap backs to full-on apparel collections served Just Don well in the early part of the last decade. Don Crawley’s high-end streetwear line quickly gained attention for its use of premium materials and overtures to classic sportswear aesthetics, and Jordan Brand came calling to collaborate in 2013. To honor Nike’s Black History Month initiative that year, Just Don produced an early version of the lifestyle-oriented Air Jordan 1s that have proliferated sneaker culture in recent years. Reptile textures, gold hardware, and a new ankle strap around the collar were all new to Michael Jordan’s first signature shoe at the time. The Just Don x Air Jordan 1 was released via an eBay auction benefiting the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America non-profit organization.
A very rare sample pair of Air Jordan 1s from 1985 almost became a reality when Jordan Brand released this “Black/Gold” colorway ahead of the Jordan Brand Classic basketball tournament in 2013. Nearly identical to the design that it is styled after, this black and gold patent leather Jordan 1 differs from the “OG” colorway in that it adds a glitter sole. As far as the original goes, there’s rumor and innuendo that a “Black/Gold” Jordan 1 was given to friends and family of Nike and Michael Jordan in 1985. Supposedly, someone spotted a pair in a vintage store for a mere $10 around 2017. Truthfully, both “Black/Gold” colorways have sort of a mythical vibe about them. The modern iteration was given a very limited production run. Select New York City sneaker boutiques received a handful of pairs, underscoring its obscurity.
“For Promo Use Only” used to be the work-around for getting mixtapes with copyrighted beats circulated on the internet. That’s not really how it works for sneakers, since Jordan Brand was in cahoots with Public School New York when it came to producing this Air Jordan 10 Promo. But like those underground mixtapes, this rare colorway was never given an official retail release. Instead, this red-leather-based Air Jordan 10 was used for the upscale streetwear brand’s New York City fashion show in 2015, and was only dished out to friends and family of the brand.
“Alternate” Air Jordans, which reverse or rearrange the color scheme of classic looks, have become a hit in the sneaker community. We’re not saying the Air Jordan 5 “Shanghai Shen” is the root of this practice, but there’s some truth in the statement. Jordan Brand gave a major salute to the bustling city back in 2013 by taking the classic Air Jordan 5 “Laney” colorway and mixing up its color block. The resulting “Shanghai Shen” has been called the “Black Laney” by some and is one of the most sought-after Jordan 5s ever due to its added tradition medallion on the heel and limited availability. Few pairs of the design exist. Many of which reside in China, where the shoe was exclusively released.
Michael Jordan boarded a flight out of Europe, Italy to be exact, in the Summer of 1985 completely unaware of the fact that in 30 years, we would all be going crazy for a shoe that was inspired by a pretty meaningless exhibition he just played in. The Air Jordan 1 “Shattered Backboard” pays homage to the time when Jordan reduced a glass backboard to shards following a particularly vicious slam dunk. To celebrate and bring light to the footnote-like accomplishment in Jordan’s career, Jordan Brand produced a “Shattered Backboard” in the colors of the Italian basketball team’s jerseys. And they didn’t skimp out on supplying the shoe with some of the best leather this side of the original Air Jordan 2. Spinoffs of the “Shattered Backboard” colorway have appeared on other Jordan 1s, but the original look remains the most desirable.
Artist KAWS is an equal opportunist when it comes to using mediums to display his artwork. Paintings, vinyl toy figures, sweatshirts, and pretty much anything else worthy of occupying space in your residence have all been used as a canvas for Brian Donnelly over the course of his legendary career. Did we mention that he has a pretty rare Air Jordan 4 collaboration, too? The somewhat reclusive figure was commissioned by Jordan Brand to design two hairy suede Jordan 4s in 2017. Seen here is the “Cool Grey” number that comes optioned out in everything you’d ever want from a KAWS x Air Jordan collaboration. Hand graphics are etched into the upper, as well as on the matching hang tag. There’s a glow-in-the-dark sole, and KAWS’ “XX” signature styling on the heel. It’s a certified classic.
The Air Jordan 5 had quite a run in 2013. That year, the Air Jordan 5 “Doernbecher” was released. And it’s one of the top colorways of the Doernbecher Freestyle Collection since Jordan Brand and the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital began letting young patients design an Air Jordan of their choosing. Patient Isaac Arzate is behind the creation of this sleek and stylish Jordan 5. It was his vision to show love to the two sports that he and Michael Jordan loved most: baseball and basketball. Isaac’s baseball number 9 is embroidered on the left shoe, and his basketball number 31 is stitched onto the right. Like Isaac, Mike liked to rock his personalized version of the Jordan 5 in similar fashion. Only Isaac took it a step further by giving the sole a unique glow-in-the-dark treatment.