Drew Hammell, aka @nikestories, takes us through the true stories behind Nike’s Jordan Brand and its catalog of seminal silhouettes. This time, he covers the history of the Air Jordan 2.
“A sneaker that would look great with a tux.”
These are the sorts of things Nike said about Michael Jordan’s second signature sneaker when it hit retail shelves in November 1986. Of course, this Air Jordan looked much different from the first model — and the main question on everyone's lips was, “Where's the Swoosh?”
The clean, primarily white model was stripped of the traditional Nike logo in favor of just the Jordan Wings. The price tag, meanwhile, jumped from the Air Jordan 1's reasonable $65 to an eye-popping $100. There was a reason for that, of course.
Nike’s strategy was to create the most exclusive sneaker with the highest quality materials. The Air Jordan 2 featured a premium leather upper for superior support and comfort with no break-in required. The upper also boasted faux iguana skin for added elegance. Adding to the exclusivity was the fact the Air Jordan 2 was made in Italy and limited to only 30 stores in 19 metropolitan areas for the first two months of its release.
The Air Jordan 2 was understated compared with the Air Jordan 1, coming in two mostly white mid-cut and two mostly white low-cut colorways. By comparison, the Air Jordan 1 came out in more than 20 colors. The Air Jordan 2 with the black midsole and laces was dubbed the “away” version and the all-white model with red trim was known as the “home” silhouette.
The Air Jordan 1 came out in April 1985, at the tail end of Jordan's debut 1984-85 season with the Chicago Bulls, but by fall that same year, the shoe's phenomenal early sales had started to dip. Jordan missed a chunk of the 1985-86 NBA season through injury and, in the meantime, other sneaker brands had started releasing their own red, black, and white imitations of the Air Jordan 1.
It’s unclear whether Jordan’s injury hindered Nike’s plan to release the Air Jordan 2 during 1985-86 or not, but when he came back from his broken foot, he was still wearing the first shoe, with the second model released as the 1986-87 NBA season was getting underway. However, at the time, sports marketers were skeptical of the price tag and design.
The two men responsible for the Air Jordan 2's look were Air Jordan 1 mastermind Peter Moore and Air Force 1 designer Bruce Kilgore. They had their work cut out. To match the success of the Air Jordan 1 would be almost impossible.
Before the Air Jordan 2, they experimented with adding the new Air Jordan 2 sole to the upper of the 1, a hybrid Jordan wore upon his return from injury in 1985-86. Moore and Kilgore also tinkered with a prototype that looked quite different from the final Air Jordan 2 model that came out. A low-cut version of the prototype was actually produced and worn by Bulls cheerleaders, but the final silhouette worn by Jordan was something a little classier.
Aside from the faux iguana skin and quality leather upper, the Air Jordan 2 boasted plenty of other top-of-the-line features. The speed lacing system offered quick and even fit adjustment. There was an extended polyurethane heel counter for improved stability during cutting maneuvers. Finally, the Air unit in the heel and polyurethane midsole provided maximum cushioning.
Jordan first wore the new model in the summer of 1986, filming a Nike commercial produced by Wieden+Kennedy. In the ad, Jordan glides through the air in slow motion performing his “rock-a-baby” dunk, after which the narrator says coolly, “Air Jordan: it’s all in the imagination.” The first time Jordan wore the Air Jordan 2 in public was a player edition in UNC colors at the North Carolina alumni game on September 6, 1986 to dedicate the Tar Heels' Dean E. Smith Center.
A 23-year-old Jordan started the 1986-87 NBA season wearing the new sneaker — laced to the second eyelet from the top, which was how he preferred to lace all his shoes. And with the flashy new footwear came baggier shorts. “Last year, they were 36s,” he told Sports Illustrated at the start of the season. “This year, they’re 34s that are 2 inches longer than normal.”
Jordan was hands-on with the products that bore his name. “He tried on every pair of shoes [Nike] were making," Bulls assistant coach Johnny Bach was quoted as saying in Roland Lazenby's 2014 book Michael Jordan: The Life. "He was very proud of the product. He wanted to make sure he liked what he saw."
In 1986-87, Jordan made up for the time he lost to injury a season earlier. In the first game of the season against the New York Knicks, he scored 50 points, setting a Madison Square Garden record for an opposing player. He became the second player, after Wilt Chamberlain, to score 3,000 points in a season. He averaged a career-best 37.1 points per game and became the first player in NBA history to record 200 steals and 100 blocks in the same season.
He was also made an NBA All-Star, won the Slam Dunk Contest in Seattle with his legendary foul-line dunk, and made the All-NBA First Team. The season would end in disappointment, however, as Jordan and the Bulls were swept by the Boston Celtics in first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.
Jordan primarily wore the two mid-cut “home” and “away” versions in the first half of the season, adding in the two low-cut models during the second half. After the playoffs, Jordan again participated in the UNC alumni game, this time sporting a low-cut UNC colorway.
Jordan Brand and Converse hooked up in 2017 to release a two-sneaker collaboration dubbed “The 2 That Started It All” pack. The Air Jordan 2 and Converse Fastbreak in the pack honored Jordan’s time wearing Converse as a Tar Heel and his appearances at the alumni games. Oddly, the date on the heel of the mid-cut Air Jordan 2 "Alumni Game" is “6/28/87,” the date he wore the low-cut white/Carolina blue model, not the “away” mid-cut model he'd worn at the game a year earlier.
Rumor has it the original Air Jordan 2 molds were destroyed, so when the "away" was retro-ed for the first time in 1995, the mid and low silhouettes weren't perfect matches of the original. The “away” mid was retro-ed again in 2004, along with new black/chrome and white/university blue/maize colorways. The “home” low also got a retro in 2004, along with a white/midnight navy/university blue version. Additional colorways, new and OG, have continued to come out right through to 2018.
While the Air Jordan 2 is one of the more polarizing Jordan Brand models, it can’t be disputed how crucial it was in Jordan’s career. The risks Nike took by radically changing its Air Jordan design after the first shoe's success set the tone for more risk-taking and payoffs to come. The Air Jordan 2 might not be the most popular model, but it was still an important milestone — and it was what was on His Airness' feet as he crushed NBA records. Air Jordan: from imagination to reality.
Notable Nike Air Jordan 2 Releases
OG 1986 Air Jordan 2
Nike Air Jordan 2 White/Red
Nike Air Jordan 2 White/Red Low
Nike Air Jordan 2 Prototype
Air Jordan 2 Retros
Nike Air Jordan 2 White/Black/Red (1995)
Nike Air Jordan 2 White/Black/Red Low (1995)
Eminem x Nike Air Jordan 2 "The Way I Am"
Doernbecher x Nike Air Jordan 2 "Peacock"
Nike Air Jordan 2 "Collezione"
Just Don x Nike Air Jordan 2 "Quilted"/"Bright Blue"
Just Don x Nike Air Jordan 2 "Beach"
Just Don x Nike Air Jordan 2 "Arctic Orange"
Nike Air Jordan 2 "Melo"
Nike Air Jordan 2 "UNC" Low
Where to buy Nike Air Jordan 2
Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers are globally available at select stockists, as well as at Nike stores and online. Key retailers for Air Jordans include the following: