How the Air Jordan 4 became legendary (2024)

On Sunday, Feb. 12, 1989, sneaker history was made in Houston, Texas. Michael Jordan stepped on the court for the NBA’s All-Star Game in a black and red colorway — or “Bred” as it would later be called by sneaker enthusiasts — of the Air Jordan 4 for the first time.

Now, thirty-five years later, Nike is revisiting the moment for this year’s All-Star Weekend by releasing an updated take on the classic shoe called the Air Jordan 4 Bred Reimagined, a newly revised version of the original silhouette.

According to Nike, the Air Jordan 4 Bred Reimagined is a “re-engineered shape, fit, and feel back to the original ’89 specs.” In terms of a revamped feel, Nike swapped the original canvas and nubuck upper with a premium full-grain leather upper to give the shoe a more sophisticated feel. Keeping in line with the “back to ’89” theme, the Bred Reimagined features Nike Air branding on the back heel tab, the outsole, and the shoe’s insoles, which will excite fans of the original and collectors for this release. In honor of Michael Jordan’s 61st birthday, the latest Jordan 4 retro will be released on February 17th.

How the Air Jordan 4 became legendary (1)
How the Air Jordan 4 became legendary (2)

The legacy of His Airness’ fourth signature shoe may have begun in the All-Star game. However, if it wasn’t for a lingering knee injury, the Bred Jordan 4s may have debuted the night before during the NBA Slam Dunk Contest, as MJ was looking to win the event three years in a row. Instead of seeing what MJ would do to top highlights from the previous year, fans had to settle for Jordan delivering a game-high 28 points for the Eastern Conference team.

But what gave the shoe its real legacy would come later that same season.

On May 7, Jordan’s Chicago Bulls faced off against the Cleveland Cavaliers in a deciding game five of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. With the game and series on the line, Jordan hit a jumper over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo in a play that became known as “The Shot.” The play helped fuel Jordan’s quest to become one of the game’s greatest. And the shoes he wore were tied into that story.

How the Air Jordan 4 became legendary (3)

Noted Jordan and Kobe collector Marvin Barias, known by his Instagram handle, MJO23DAN, was old enough to recall watching the Bulls player transform into a star. “The Air Jordan 4 dropped when Jordan was trying to establish himself as a leader and also trying to beat the Bad Boy Pistons, Larry Bird’s Celtics and Magic Johnson’s Lakers. ‘The Shot’ was important because it proved MJ could lead his team to victory in clutch situations,” he said.

Nike has always been great at marketing their products, and in this case, having Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon persona paired with Jordan during a time when both of them were ascending to their respective GOAT status was a match made in heaven. There’s something special about the simplistic nature of the “Can/Can’t” and “No Mars” commercials that gave just enough teases of this colorway to build anticipation. Having Lee be the braggadocious hype man to Jordan, who barely said anything, was the perfect yin and yang pairing. Taking one of the greatest trash-talkers of all time and having him come off as kind and relatable? Genius.

“I first saw the Black and Red Jordan 4s in a commercial with MJ and Spike Lee in November 1988,” said Mark “Jumpman” Bostic, a long-time collector of Jordan footwear. “When the (Air Jordan) 4s finally released in 1989, I went crazy for them. The commercial with MJ and Spike sold the shoes.”

How the Air Jordan 4 became legendary (4)
How the Air Jordan 4 became legendary (5)

The last part of the equation of what makes the Black and Red Jordan 4 special is that there have only been four retros before this year’s release, and only two have featured the original Nike Air branding, a key detail for collectors who desire one-to-one facsimiles of the shoes Jordan wore on the court. Bostic, who owns all of the previous black and red Jordan 4 Retros, can detail the differences between each release and how they stack up to the originals.

Besides the differences mentioned, Bostic cited more specifics on what separates one release from the other: “The 1999 release had nice materials, still had the Nike Air branding, albeit in a different font, and felt close to the original despite there being a change to the toe box. The 2008 pair released as part of the Countdown Pack was a major disappointment. The Jumpman branding on the heel didn’t bother me, but the makeup of the shoe in the form of cheap material, a wide cut, and the heavy feel of the shoe took away from the original and 1999 releases,” he said.

How the Air Jordan 4 became legendary (6)
How the Air Jordan 4 became legendary (7)

“The 2012 release was not much better than the 2008 version, with many of the same problems,” Bostic continued. “The 2019 release was outstanding and closest to the original 1989, with the look and feel superior to the previous two releases. I’m looking forward to the upcoming release because the full grain leather gives the shoe an upgraded look.”

Barias agreed that previous retros didn’t exactly hit the mark. “The 2008 and 2012 releases of the Black and Red Jordan 4s always looked off due to the Jumpman branding replacing the Nike Air branding on the back,” he said. “Hopefully, with the Remastered program and the Reimagined line the Nike Air branding on the heel is here to stay. As collectors, we remember the Nike Air being featured in all of MJ’s moments.”

Jacob DeLawrence is a freelance writer, podcaster and occasional menace to society. When he’s not creating you can find him in a basketball gym coaching the future or arguing about wrestling on Twitter, @_jdela.

How the Air Jordan 4 became legendary (2024)


How the Air Jordan 4 became legendary? ›

The Air Jordan 4's GOAT status had also stemmed from MJ's biting on-court play and the Air Jordan 'Black Cement' was worn by MJ through one of his most seminal court moments - AKA the 'Shot'. It was game 5 of the 1989 NBA playoffs when the Cleveland Cavaliers faced the Chicago Bulls.

How did Jordan 4s get popular? ›

On Sunday, Feb. 12, 1989, sneaker history was made in Houston, Texas. Michael Jordan stepped on the court for the NBA's All-Star Game in a black and red colorway — or “Bred” as it would later be called by sneaker enthusiasts — of the Air Jordan 4 for the first time.

What is the significance of the Jordan 4? ›

The Air Jordan 4 was designed by Tinker Hatfield and first released in 1989. It was the first Jordan shoe to be released globally, marking a significant step in taking the Air Jordan line worldwide. This release coincided with Michael Jordan's rising stardom, firmly establishing both his and the sneaker's legacy.

How did Air Jordan become iconic? ›

Michael Jordan's success on the basketball court helped to cement the Air Jordan brand's place in pop culture. His on-court performance, combined with the iconic design of the sneakers, made Jordans the must-have shoe for basketball fans and sneakerheads alike.

What was the Jordan 4 inspired by? ›

Inspired by the outdoor gear of the '80s and '90s, the Retro 4s were designed as part of the brand's “Tent and Trail” capsule collection.

When did Jordan 4s become popular? ›

1989 was the year the first Air Jordan 4 was released.

Tinker Hatfield, designer of the iconic Air Jordan 3, was commissioned to make an even greater success with the AJ4. The first worldwide release of the Air Jordan 4 OG came out in four different colorways.

Why is Jordan 4 so expensive? ›

The unique design and high-quality materials make it stand out in the sneaker market. The exclusivity created by limited edition releases drives up demand, leading to higher resale prices. Celebrities have also played a significant role in popularizing the Air Jordan 4, turning it into a pop culture icon.

What are some fun facts about the Jordan 4? ›

One of the greatest Jumpman releases of all time, the Air Jordan 4 originally took flight over All-Star Weekend in 1989. It was Michael Jordan's game-winning shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers that launched them into pop culture superstardom, as did that classic cameo in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing (1989).

Who designed Jordan 4? ›

The Air Jordan III and IV were designed by Tinker Hatfield, one of Nike's most legendary designers.

What is Jordans most iconic shoe? ›

Jordan 11 'Concord'

They had a shiny patent leather upper and a see-through sole. Even after more than 30 years, the Concord XI is still considered one of the greatest Air Jordan shoes ever made. And because of the number 45 on the back of the shoe, it has become a highly sought-after item for collectors.

Who made Jordans famous? ›

The answer is Peter Moore, the first Creative Director for Nike who designed the Jordan 1. As the legend goes, in a meeting in Washington with Nike executives, David Falk (Jordan's agent) suggested the name Air Jordan because of Michael's ability to gracefully soar through the air while making his famous dunk shots.

What was the original Jordan 4? ›

Released in 1989, the Air Jordan 4 was the first global release of the franchise, and the first shoe in the line to feature its signature “over-molded” mesh.

How much did Jordan 4s used to cost? ›

Air Jordan IV | Designer : Tinker Hatfield | Released : 1989 | Original Price : $110. Following the success of the Air Jordan III, designer Tinker Hatfield delivered one of the more comfortable Air Jordans in the series, the Air Jordan IV.

What is the significance of the Jordan? ›

Both Jordan and the West Bank derive their names in relation to the river. The river holds major significance in Judaism and Christianity. According to the Bible, the Israelites crossed it into the Promised Land and Jesus of Nazareth was baptized by John the Baptist in it.

What is the spiritual significance of the Jordan? ›

Not only is the Jordan River religiously significant because it is believed to be the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist but both the Old and New Testament also mention important stories that occurred in the area of the Jordan River.

What significance does Jordan have in the Bible? ›

In the New Testament, the Jordan River continues to serve as a territorial marker (Matt 4:25, Matt 19:1, Mark 10:1). However it is featured mainly as the site where baptisms take place, conducted first by John (Matt 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, John 1) and then by Jesus and his disciples (John 3:26).

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