Ugly Duckling – The Nike Air Jordan 2
For almost a decade, Tinker Hatfield and Michael Jordan created some of the most iconic basketball sneakers the world has ever seen. Working between 1988 and 1996, the pair created sneakers which made Jordan part of the fashion zeitgeist. For the first two years of the Jordan story though, a different design duo kickstarted the entire journey. In that time, Bruce Kilgore and Peter Moore created a pair of silhouettes which sit at both ends of public opinion.
In 1985, Nike released the first signature shoe of their newly signed star athlete Michal Jordan. The model was named simply Air Jordan 1. Designed by Peter Moore – whose resume is so impressive that "architect of the Jordan empire" is just one point on the page – the simple black, red and (sometimes) white uppers created a sensation amongst the NBA's rule makers. The Jordan 1 would go on to become one of the most recognisable, beloved and successful shoes in history. Moore had devised a plan to create a new model every year, so together with fellow designer Bruce Kilgore they devised a plan for Jordan's sophomore season.
Whilst the 'One' was a commercial success and future cultural phenomenon, it wasn't technologically groundbreaking. The leather uppers were essentially a tweaked version of the Air Ship. For the sequel the design team was determined to create something revolutionary – it would be called Air Jordan Imagination...
So obviously the name didn't stick. When eventually launched they were dubbed the Air Jordan 2, but it still came with a completely different approach. Immediately the difference between the two shoes is apparent. The upper of the Two is simpler, with less panels and more swooping lines – different to any other Nike model at the time. Instead of colours and patterns, the panels featured perforations and lizard-like leather more at-home on luxury footwear than a basketball shoe. So simple were the uppers, the shoe was even devoid of the Nike Swoosh. This choice set the tone for the future, as Moore sought to establish Jordan brand as a stand-alone name.
The original releases were much heavier on white, with the AJ2 one of the only Jordans not to feature an OG with black uppers. The biggest change came with the new midsole tooling. Gone was the rubber cupsole of a Jordan 1, in its place a moulded foam midsole encapsulating a full-length Air bubble within. This combo devised by Bruce Kilgore – the 'Godfather of Air' – reduced weight and upped underfoot cushioning. Early samples for the new shoe saw MJ wearing a prototype which resembled a modified Jordan 1 with foam sole, whilst another prototype from the Jordan archives suggest the lightweight midsole wasn't always destined for the AJ2.
With all of these changes, the price was upped to cover the costs. Whereas the AJ1 was $65, the AJ2 came in at a whopping $100 retail – the first basketball shoe to cost so much. But why? Did we forget to mention that every pair of Jordan 2's were made in Italy? Moore wanted to establish this new Jordan as an aspirational product which played off young "Money" Jordan's persona. The newly-crowned Rookie of the Year was to be dashing up the court in luxury footwear.
Dash he did – Jordan played well, scoring 3,000 points in the season and taking two All-Star dunk competitions whilst lacing up the Jordan 2. On the street, Two's were lauded for their aspirational pricepoint, luxury construction and versatile look. Devoid of branding the AJ2 was a perfect casual staple for hip-hop heads.
By 1987 though, the AJ2 would be replaced with a new model designed by some guy named Tinker Hatfield. Together with MJ they would shoehorn Hatfield's baby – the Air Max visible Air unit – into the Jordan franchise, along with a new print dubbed "Elephant". So as the AJ2 rode off into the sunset, it was bookended by two of the most iconic moments in Jordan history...
Time was not good to the Jordan 2 – often cited as peoples least favourite model of the 'golden era' leading all the way up to the new millennium. Only the AJ9 comes close to the AJ2 in terms of divisiveness, and that's mostly down to the fact MJ never played in them!
In some sense, the AJ2's legacy has been hurt by lack of context. When the first retro dropped in 1994 to celebrate MJ's 10th anniversary with Nike, the market wasn't ready to accept re-released sneakers. At one point it looked like the AJ2 would be lost to history forever, with the original tooling completely destroyed in Italy. Over the decades, the Jordan 2 would come around now and then but largely remained under-appreciated. Perhaps if fate had its way originally, we'd be talking about the long-lost Jordan 2 in desperate need of a bringback.
Without the context of a triple-figure price tag and industry-leading technology, the AJ2 doesn't have Air Max bubbles, cement prints or icey soles to fall back on. The appeal of the Jordan 2 has always been much more nuanced. In many ways that's why the shoe remains a connoisseur's choice. If someone rocks up in a pair of Two's, you know they've got taste – in that sense some things haven't changed.
We're excited to share with you the first re-release of the Air Jordan 2 'Chicago' in over a decade. The last time we saw this black-soled colourway drop was 2010 – albeit with incorrect details. You need to go alllllll the way back to 1994 – to the first retro Jordans ever released – for the last time Nike reproduced this AJ2 correctly. For any fan of Jordan 2s, a chance like this cannot be taken lightly as they don't come along often.
The Air Jordan 2 'Chicago' will release online this coming Friday, December 30 at Midnight available in Mens, Womens and Youths sizing.