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 4.
After the success of the Air Jordan 3, designer Tinker Hatfield faced a new challenge: how would he follow up one of the greatest sneaker designs of all time, the one that saved Nike‘s Jordan project? The answer was simple: make some alterations but keep the overall design similar.
When Hatfield designed the Air Jordan 4, he kept many elements the same. The “Nike Air” logo again featured on the heel. The Jumpman was back on the tongue, with the addition of the word “Flight.” There was a visible Air unit in the heel and an encapsulated Air unit in the forefoot. And the first two colorways were again white with hits of cement gray and black with hits of cement gray.
Of course, there were clear differences, too. After striving for elegance and sophistication with the Air Jordan 3, Hatfield opted for a more utilitarian approach on its follow-up. To enhance performance, Hatfield added “over-molded” mesh paneling for breathability. The urethane-coated netting was dipped in soft plastic and then air was blown through the mesh to remove the plastic from the gaps in the net. In theory, this new tech let the foot breathe more compared with leather-paneled sneakers.
Also added was a synthetic leather called Durabuck on the upper, which was more cost-effective and animal-friendly. The Air Jordan 4 was more customizable than previous efforts, with multiport lace locks and wings with extra holes on each side of the shoe for a more tailored fit, allowing the wearer to lace the sneaker in different patterns. The words “Air Jordan” were stitched upside down inside the tongue, so if you flipped the tongue down, the text would read right side up.
Although Michael Jordan didn’t debut the Air Jordan 4 until the NBA All-Star Game in February 1989, there was a sneak peek at both the “Black Cement” and “White Cement” models in the Sports Illustrated issue released on November 16, 1988. In a feature about Sonny Vaccaro (whose part in the Air Jordan mythology is detailed here), Nike co-founder Phil Knight is seen sitting on a desk beside the “Black Cement” Air Jordan 4, holding up the “White Cement” version.
At the All-Star Game in Houston, Jordan rocked the “Black Cement” colorway and scored 28 points. Like the previous year, Nike dropped commercials featuring Jordan and Spike Lee (aka Mars Blackmon) during the game. And also as in the previous year, Nike paid for a double-page ad in that month’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
The OG Air Jordan 4 colorways came out that month for $110, $10 more than the Air Jordan 2 and Air Jordan 3. It was the first time an Air Jordan model had been released globally and the shoe became a roaring success.
Adding to the lore of the 4 was Jordan’s incredible 44-point performance for Chicago in game five against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the 1989 NBA Playoffs.
With the series on the line and the Cavs up 100-99 with three seconds remaining, Jordan twisted to the foul line and the hit “The Shot” over Craig Ehlo, winning the series for the Bulls and sending them into the semifinals. Wearing his “Black Cement” Air Jordan 4s, His Airness celebrated by leaping into the air, pumping his fists repeatedly as bedlam ensued all around. It has become one of the most indelible images in Jordan, Bulls, and NBA history.
That summer, a sample pair of “White Cement” Air Jordan 4s appeared on the feet of Buggin’ Out in Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing. With the auteur continuing to connect Jordan Brand to hip-hop and street culture, the foundations were being laid for the rise of sneaker culture in the ’90s and beyond. Two more Air Jordan 4 colorways also appeared in time for the new NBA season: “Military Blue” and “Fire Red.”
The Air Jordan 4 got its first retros after Jordan’s second retirement from basketball in 1999, costing $100, $10 less than the OG. Along with “White Cement” and “Black Cement” retros, Jordan Brand released three new colorways: “Columbia,” “Oreo,” and 2000’s “Bling Bling.” All three featured distinct changes from the OGs, including leather paneling instead of mesh and a Jumpman on the heel instead of the OG “Nike Air” branding.
New colorways came in 2004 — “Cool Grey” and “Classic Green” — with white and black “Laser” models following in 2005. The next year saw retros of the “Fire Red” model, whose Mars Blackmon face on the side and Jumpman logo on the heel frustrated OG heads, and the “Military Blue,” which also added the Jumpman to the heel. Most other models were well received, including the “Black Cat,” “Tour Yellow,” “Pure $,” “Thunder,” and “Lightning” colorways.
After 2006, Air Jordan 4 releases all but came to a halt beside 2008’s “Countdown Pack” version of the “Black Cement.” This model was released alongside an Air Jordan 19 but disappointed hardcore collectors due to the absence of OG “Nike Air” branding on the heel.
In 2010, Jordan Brand released a “Silver Anniversary” Air Jordan 4, a third all-white colorway. Then, in 2011, the Air Jordan 4 received the “Doernbecher” treatment, coming in a bold combination of black, blue, electric green, and white. The “White Cement” and “Black Cement” colorways returned again the next year, alongside their 1989 OG siblings “Military Blue” and “Fire Red.” In 2012, Jordan Brand also released “Cavs,” “Quai 54,” and “Thunder” renditions.
“Green Glow,” “Fear,” and the eye-catching “Toro Bravo” models dropped in 2013. Two years later, Jordan Brand brought back the “Columbia,” aka the “Legend Blue,” along with the “Oreo.” Also released in 2015 were the “Teal,” “Silver Laser,” and glossy “Black” and “Red” 11Lab4 models.
Sneakerheads finally got their wish in 2016, when the “White Cement” returned with OG “Nike Air” branding on the heel. Other notable models in recent years include 2017’s “Motorsport” and “Motorsport Alternate” (or “Motorsport Away”), the “Pure Money” retro released the same year, and 2018’s Travis Scott “Cactus Jack” collab.
Some of the rarest Air Jordan 4s include the 2005 collab with UNDEFEATED, with only 72 pairs made and one pair selling for $18,500 in 2016. Eminem’s 2005 Air Jordan 4 “Encore” was limited to just 50 pairs. The rapper released an even more exclusive retro of the kick in 2017 in partnership with StockX, with just 23 pairs produced. His 2015 three-way collab with Carhartt and Jordan Brand was also extremely limited in number.
In 2017, Jordan Brand teamed up with artist KAWS on a gray suede version of the Air Jordan 4 with a glow-in-the-dark outsole. There was also a Buggin’ Out-inspired friends and family “White Cement” retro in 2017 to commemorate Do the Right Thing, complete with green, yellow, and red lace details and scuff mark on the right shoe (if that sounds confusing, click the Do the Right Thing link earlier in this story). Elsewhere, we’ve seen Air Jordan 4s in premium materials, including 2016’s “Pinnacle” and 2018’s Levi’s collab.
Regarding the Air Jordan 4’s legacy, plenty of sneakerheads would rank it among their top five silhouettes of all time. Jordan the player continued to dominate the game on an individual level while wearing the shoe, being named an NBA All-Star for the fifth year in a row and taking the league’s scoring crown for the third straight year.
The Bulls fell to the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals in 1989, but Jordan was getting closer to the NBA championship his talent deserved. With Phil Jackson becoming Chicago head coach in 1989, the league was on notice.
Notable Nike Air Jordan 4 Releases
OG 1989 Air Jordan 4
Nike Air Jordan 4 “White Cement” (aka “White/Black”)
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Black Cement”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Military Blue”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red”
Air Jordan 4 Retros
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Toro Bravo”
Nike Air Jordan 4 LS “Lightning”
Nike Air Jordan 4 11Lab4 (“Black” and “Red”)
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Black Laser”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Cavs”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Motorsport”
Nike Air Jordan 4 LS “Tour Yellow”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Classic Green”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Fear Pack”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Laser Fire Red”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Black Cat”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Snakeskin”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Pony Hair”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Laser 30th Anniversary”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Green Glow”
Nike Air Jordan 4 LS “Columbia”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Ginger”
Nike Air Jordan 4 LS “Oreo”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Pure Money”
Nike Air Jordan 4 NRG “Raptors”
Nike Air Jordan 4 LS “Thunder”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Alternate 89”
Air Jordan 4 “Doernbecher”
Air Jordan 4 Collaborations
Nike Air Jordan 4 “UNDEFEATED”
Eminem x Carhartt x Nike Air Jordan 4
Eminem x Nike Air Jordan 4 “Encore”
Eminem x Nike Air Jordan 4 “Encore” (2017)
Spike Lee x Nike Air Jordan 4 “Buggin’ Out”
KAWS x Nike Air Jordan 4 (“Black” and “Grey”)
Travis Scott x Nike Air Jordan 4 “Cactus Jack”
Levi’s x Nike Air Jordan 4 (“Blue,” “Black,” and “White”)
Air Jordan 4 Player Exclusives
Nike Air Jordan 4 “UNC”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Marquette”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Oregon”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Duckman”
Nike Air Jordan 4 “Georgetown”
If you want to know more about Jordans, watch the video below.
To stay updated on everything happening in the sneaker world, follow @Highsnobietysneakers on Instagram, check our sneaker release date calendar, and subscribe to our sneaker chatbot on Facebook to receive lightning quick updates to your inbox.