Air Jordans are a line of basketball shoes produced by Nike and endorsed by retired basketball superstar Michael Jordan. Debuting in 1985 with the Jordan I shoe, Air Jordans revolutionized the shoe industry and played a vital role in catapulting Nike to become the world's leading supplier of athletic apparel and one of the most valuable brands on Earth. Today, Air Jordans remain the best-selling line of shoes in the history of shoes.
It may seem like an obvious move to partner with a superstar like Jordan to market shoes, but this was not so obvious at the time. Nike's brilliance was to hitch their wagon to the Jordan star very early on, before it was totally obvious that he would become the greatest basketball player in history and one of the most famous people on Earth. In fact, Jordan began wearing the first model of his signature shoes in his rookie year in 1984, even before they went on sale.
Before Air Jordans, shoes endorsed by celebrity athlethes were virtually unheard of. Basketball shoes were relatively simple affairs that sold for reasonable prices. But as Jordan's fame rose and intense demand that surprised even Nike developed for the shoes he endorsed, Nike was able to sell the shoes for 5 or 6 times the price of comparable shoes. In short, the shoes became a status symbol, valued because rather than in spite of their price.
Other aspects of Nike's brilliant marketing coup included releasing a new signature shoe every year (requiring everyone to buy another pair all over again), claiming that Jordan himself "designed" each shoe, requiring Jordan to wear the shoes in every game on national TV, and releasing the shoes in multiple colors, including "rare" colors to enhance collectability.
In the wake of the success of Air Jordans, every other major shoe company felt compelled to release their own signature athlete shoes, a practice that is still widespread today, but its safe to say that no other shoe has developed anywhere near the cult-like following and near universal cache of Air Jordans.
New Air Jordan models are still being released every year, long after Michael Jordan himself retired (for the third and final time). The "Air" was added beginning with the second shoe, the "Air Jordan II." Thereafter, each year's shoe was named with a roman numeral, up through the Air Jordan XXII in 2009. Beginning with 2010's Air Jordan 2010, the shoes have been named after the year of release. The latest model is the Air Jordan 2012.