Air Jordan & Air Max: How these Nike brands helped define the sneaker industry

Nike released two shoe collections in the mid-1980s that over the years redefined the face of the sneaker culture and industry. 

The Air Jordan and Air Max sneaker lines are known for their innovative designs and color schemes and became two of the most sought-after shoes on the market, making billions in annual revenue for Nike while creating a cult following of shoe enthusiasts willing to stand in line for hours to be the first one to have the latest pair. 

Michael Jordan helped catapult the Nike brand to notoriety more than 30 years ago when the burgeoning basketball legend signed an endorsement deal with the company as a rookie with the Chicago Bulls.

Nike gave Jordan a signature line of shoes and clothes in 1984 and a five-year deal with a base pay of $500,000 annually, which was among the highest of any other NBA sneaker deal, Forbes reported. 

Air Jordan sneakers debut in 1985


Detail of the "Air Jordan" Nike shoes worn by Chicago Bulls' center Michael Jordan during a game against the Washington Bullets at Capital Centre circa 1985 in Washington. (Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images)

The Air Jordan 1 launched on April 1, 1985, and went on sale for $64.99, with Nike expected to sell 100,000 pairs in its first year. However, in its initial release year, the Air Jordan 1 generated $130 million in revenue, according to the market research and data company Gitnux.

But the Air Jordan 1 was banned by the NBA because it didn’t meet the league’s color standards. Nike paid the fine and capitalized on the moment with an iconic 1984 commercial. 

Air Jordan sneaker sales by the numbers through the years 

The early financial success of the Air Jordan 1s in 1985 was only the beginning for the brand, which amassed billions in shoe sales through the years. 

One of the sneaker line’s most popular shoes, the Air Jordan 11 Retro "Win Like ‘96," first released in 1995, was the top-selling shoe in 2017 and sold 989,566 pairs in the U.S.

In 2019, the Jordan brand earned nearly $3.14 billion in revenue for Nike, with almost 40% of men in the U.S. ages 18 to 34 purchasing a pair of Air Jordans that same year, according to Gitnux. 

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Looney Tunes were a key part of Nike's ubiquitous Air Jordan commercials in the early 1990s.

The Air Jordan 4, first released in 1989, was one of the top-selling sneakers in 2019 and raked in sales of nearly $4.7 million in 90 days in the U.S. market.

Two years later, eight pairs of Air Jordan shoes surpassed $1 million in resales the first year they were released in 2021, with the Air Jordan 1 "Banned" retro sneakers selling more than 500,000 pairs that year. 

Nike Air Max launch


A Nike Air Max shoe on sale at a Detroit-area Foot Locker in 1987 (FOX / file)

Nike released the Air Max 1 running shoe in 1987 and the Oregon-based sneaker titan touted the product to consumers as providing more cushion and comfort than other running shoes on the market. 

Back then, shoe stores had trouble keeping the sneakers in stock. Air Max 1 retailed for $75 in 1987 and sold well and was slightly cheaper than Air Jordan sneakers, which were $100. It would become one of the most iconic designs in Nike's history.


Nike's Air Max TV commercials, like this one from 1987, stressed the innovative cushioning (FOX / file)

Another iteration of the sneaker released in 1990 was called the Air Max 90, a design inspired by the 1987 Air Max and 1989 Air Max Light. 

The Air Max 90 was originally known as the Air Max III until 2000 when it was reissued (taking a new name from the year of its launch). The original shoe’s radiant shade of red would later become known as "infrared." The color remains synonymous with the Air Max 90 today.

Air Max sneaker sales by the numbers


Sneaker choices in 1987 (FOX / file)

The Air Max line includes classics going back decades, like the Air Max 1, and newer versions that boosted sales when they were released, including 2018’s Air Max 270, and high-profile collaborations like the Virgil Abloh-designed Off-White Air Max 90 and the Air Max 270 React. 

Three of the top-performing Air Max sneakers — the 200, the 270, and the 720 — were released in 2023 alone, and another three — VaporMax, Air Max 270 React, and ZoomX — have brought in $2 billion in retail revenue since their release in 2017.


Sean Wotherspoon Air Max 1/97, one of the most popular and expensive pair of Nike sneakers, for $1,100 at Cool Kicks, on Melrose Avenue, photographed Monday, Oct. 16, 2023, in Los Angeles, CA. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Of all the limited releases in the 35-year history of the Nike Air Max, the Nike Air Max 90 Off-White White was reselling at $1,293 on average in 2019, according to online sneaker marketplace

Air Jordan shoe release events lead to violence

Fans eager to be the first to grab a pair of Air Jordan shoes would stand in line for hours to get them, and in some instances, shoe enthusiasts clamoring to get the sneakers were prone to violence. 

During the release of the retro Air Jordan 11s on Dec. 24, 2011, violence erupted nationwide to get the popular black and white kicks that sold for $180 that year.  

RELATED: Man sentenced to life without parole after killing over Air Jordan shoes

In Richmond, California, an Air Jordan sale was canceled after a gun went off outside the mall on Christmas Eve 2011 and the 24-year-old shooter was arrested. Authorities said the gun possibly discharged accidentally. 


Customers wait in line in an attempt to purchase limited-edition Air Jordan IV sneakers outside the Levi's store in the SoHo neighborhood, January 16, 2018 in New York City. A pair will retail at $225. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Crowds became unruly at a Jordan sneaker release event in Seattle as police used pepper spray to break up fights between customers. 

According to the Associated Press, at least four people were arrested in a mob scene at a suburban mall in Atlanta. Approximately 20 police cars responded to the scene, and crowds broke down a door to enter the mall before it opened.

Cops had to smash the windows of a car to get two toddlers out after a woman had left them there while she went to buy the shoes. She was taken into custody when she returned. 

In Florida, police used pepper spray on unruly consumers trying to get sneakers, and there were fights reported in Kentucky, and glass was shattered at stores in North Carolina.

Years later in a separate incident in Houston, a man was sentenced to life in prison in 2016 for killing another man over his Air Jordan sneakers, FOX 26 in Houston reported.

Air Jordans sneaker popularity skyrockets after MJ’s retirement

To date, Jordan’s line of sneakers for Nike remains the most coveted by collectors and typically fetch the highest price at sneaker auctions and sales.

After Jordan retired in 2003, his sneaker and apparel brand gained even more popularity with generations of shoe fans since the basketball legend left the game. 

In 2023, the Air Jordan 13 ‘The Last Dance’ became the most expensive auctioned sneaker ever. It fetched a whopping $2.2 million in a Sotheby auction in New York, according to the sneaker review site RunRepeat.


The Air Jordan "Bordeaux" colorway, seen in the famous 1992 Looney Tunes commercial. (FOX / file)

RELATED: Nike to release self-lacing Air Jordan 11 

Next in line is the Air Jordan Retro "Kobe Pack" which was sold for $800,000 in 2020. 

The most expensive Air Jordan 1, and the third most expensive on this list, is the 1985 "Shattered Backboard" sneaker, which was valued at $615,000 in 2020.

In 2023, a pair of Jordan’s most popular sneakers, the black and red Nike Air Jordan 12s, worn during one of his most iconic games could become the most valuable sneakers ever sold at auction.

The NBA champion wore the kicks in 1997's miraculous "flu game," where he led the Chicago Bulls to a stunning game 5 win over the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals despite being severely ill.


Rare Air Jordans, dropped in Oregon donation bin, sell for $50K at auction

The cash from the rare Nike Air Jordan 3s will benefit the Portland Rescue Mission, which has served people struggling with homelessness, hunger and addiction since 1949.

FOX Business reported in 2023 that the autographed shoes were on the auction block for the first time in 10 years and were expected to fetch over $3 million, according to Goldin Auctions founder Ken Goldin.

In March 2021, a pair of the 1985 Nike Air Jordan 1s were auctioned for $560,000, setting a new record.

FOX Business contributed to this report. This story was reported from Washington, D.C.