The Air Jordan Generation: Remembering 25 Years of Sneaker Power

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On September 15, 1985, Nike introduced the Air Jordans. They turned out to be, to say the least, quite popular.

Sneaker culture exploded out of the post-war era, when American consumers were confronted with extraordinary new hours of leisure time and realized they needed to wear special shoes to take part in the activities this new free time afforded. The key shoe in these early years was the Adidas Superstar, the first to spread from the feet of NBA stars to those of kids on the street.

But the arrival of the Michael Jordan-endorsed Nike Air Jordans in 1985 changed everything. Featuring a bold-for-the-time red and black color scheme, the shoes were banned by the NBA for being too outrageous (only white shoes were considered acceptable.) Jordan, the best basketball player in the world, was fined $5,000 by the NBA every time he stepped onto the court in them — a fine Nike happily paid.

The ban turned sneakers from just something people wore on their feet to something illicit, something dangerous — a status symbol. From there, stores would sell out of limited-edition shoes instantly, rappers would make tracks dedicated to their kicks, pundits would spin stories of children being shot for their sneakers, and designers would make shoes into haute couture. But it all started with these Air Jordans.