Jordan Brand is dead they said. Yeezy jumped over the Jumpman they said. Well, 2016 proved them all wrong. This was a year where Jordan Brand pulled out all stops. The brand gave everyone what they wanted and created enough product to make the public happy. This year saw the re-release of “Space Jam” XIs, “Black/Red” 1s, and “White/Cement IVs.” And that was only a small portion of the heat that came out over the past 12 months.
Aside from all the retro product that Jordan Brand made in 2016, there was also something a little more important: The XXX1, the best new Air Jordan model in a very long time. It not only proved that the company could produce sneakers that give us nostalgic goosebumps, but they were also invested in making basketball sneakers cool again. Will the trend continue into 2017? We’ll have to wait and see, but 2016 was solid and here are the best Air Jordans from this past calendar year.
It’s really hard to mess up a black sneaker with a white midsole. Like, really, really hard. And Jordan Brand executed its “Cyber Monday” Air Jordan III to perfection. The sneakers didn’t actually release on Cyber Monday, but they mimicked the colorway of the Air Jordan 1s that came out last year. These black-and-white Jordans were great, but the oddest thing about them is that they sat on shelves. But, as we all know, the best shoes don’t have to be the most hyped, and those who wanted to get these “Cyber Mondays” could always secure a pair. —Matt Welty
The first Air Jordan III to return with Nike Air branding was the “White/Cement” III, and it was an event. It released on the exact anniversary—at the exact time—of the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest and sold out immediately. The True Blues received no such fanfare. Well, they dropped amidst a massive amount of fanfare, actually—but the fanfare was for the “Space Jam” XI, returning for the first time since 2009. The “True Blue” III, a colorway Jordan never wore with the Bulls but an original all the same, released quietly, and as of this writing was still available at retail in plenty of sizes. Wake up. —Russ Bengtson
The “Black/Metallic” Air Jordan V has been retroed quite a few times since its original 1990 release—four times including this year—which may seem like a lot. It is. But there have been differences: The first, in 1999, was a true-to-the original drop, while the next two featured a previously PE-only embroidered 23 on the outer heels and a Jumpman on the back in place of the original Nike Air. For 2016, Nike Air was back on a more substantial, remastered V, complete with the shiniest, “reflectiest,” 3M-iest tongue ever. One hopes that other Vs will receive the OG treatment sooner rather than later (Grapes, please), but this was a great start. —Russ Bengtson
In 1985, the Air Jordan 1 started it all for Michael Jordan’s ongoing line of signature sneakers. They released in three Bulls colorways (black, red, and white) and while they’ve dropped multiple times in different variations over the years, Jordan Brand’s Remastered brought them all back in OG form. Following the best Air Jordan release of 2015, the “Chicago” Air Jordan 1, and this year’s “Banned” Air Jordan 1, the “Black Toe” was the last of the three OGs to release. When the brand said Remastered, they meant it—the sneakers’ high top cut, unlaced packaging and simple black and red Nike box make these feel straight out 1985. These are a must-have for any Air Jordan 1 fan. —Amir Ismael
Some of the best—or at least the best-loved—original Air Jordans are ones that are tied to significant moments in Michael Jordan’s career. Think of the “White/Cement” IIIs (the 1988 Dunk Contest), the “Black/Cement” IVs (The Shot) or Olympic VIIs (self-explanatory). The black/red Air Jordan XII became one of these back in 1997, when a flu-ridden (or food poisoned, depending on who you believe) MJ dropped 38 points in a pivotal Game 5 of the NBA Finals in Utah en route to his fifth NBA championship and fifth Finals MVP. First re-released in nubuck with emoji references to Jordan’s accomplishment, this year’s retro was true to the original. Much better. —Russ Bengtson
Every year there are high expectations for the newest model in the Air Jordan line; a glimmering burst of hope that it will bring back the feeling of the shoes that Mike wore during his playing days. This hope, at least for the last 10 or so years, has typically been dashed by yet another disappointing sneaker. 2016 was different, though, and Jordan Brand decided to take its newest shoe, the XXX1, back to basics. The XXX1 features the most innovative technologies of today—with a FlightSpeed midsole and woven upper—but it has the look of yesteryear. The past few Air Jordans have been overly complicated, but the XXX1 keeps it simple. It’s a shoe that can be worn on and off the court, even if traditional basketball sneakers are falling out of favor with style-leaning consumers. But this Air Jordan is a sign that high-top, performance-focused sneakers can be cool again. —Matt Welty
The Air Jordan II has always been an easily overlooked silhouette in the Air Jordan lineage. It was never as impactful on the history of sneakers like the Air Jordan 1 or the Tinker Hatfield designed Air Jordan III which surrounded it, but last year Don C changed people’s perception of the sneaker. By taking the 1987 design and transforming it into a super luxurious sneaker, the Just Don x Air Jordan II became the fourth best Air Jordan of 2015. This year, Don C struck again with the “Beach” Just Don x Air Jordan II. Following the trend of tanned leather, the sneakers featured a combination of creamy quilted leather and suede. In addition to the sneakers, a matching leather Don C hat and pin were included. —Amir Ismael
The last time “White Cement” Air Jordan IVs released in 2012, serious collectors got short changed with a much darker grey, cheap leather that creased easily and Jumpman branding. This year’s release was the ultimate redemption. The shade of grey and leather quality were on point, but it was the Nike Air branding on the heel tabs and insoles that brought back that true to original feeling. With pairs from 1989 and 1999 for the most part being unwearable without a sole swap, the 2016 drop is now the go-to option, and its wide release made them readily available for the masses. —Amir Ismael
The last time the “Space Jam” Air Jordan XI was released, in 2009, it roped a whole generation of young kids into obsessing over sneakers and everything that came along with them: the camping out, paying exuberant amounts of money on the secondary market, and, sadly, the violence that follows them. It’s been seven years since those shoes came out, and a lot has changed in sneaker “culture” since then. But one thing remains the same: People still want “Space Jams.” This year saw the biggest activation around the sneakers that Michael Jordan made famous in his 1996 film, and they returned in a true-to-form retro, complete with Jordan’s number 45 on the heel. It’s likely that Jordan Brand made over a million pairs of this XI, and they still sold out extremely fast. Even if there is fatigue for the Air Jordan XI these days, the Space Jam will always be viewed as more than a pair of sneakers—just the way they were intended to be seen 20 years ago. —Matt Welty
The sneaker that started it all. Without the “Black/Red” Air Jordan 1, there would be no signature Michael Jordan basketball shoes. The “banning” of the sneaker catapulted MJ and Nike into pop culture lore. It’s been 31 years since the sneaker first disrupted the world of vanilla footwear, and since then the buzz around the Air Jordan 1 has only become bigger. For starters, it’s a shoe that can be worn by anyone: basketball fans, OGs, the fashion set, skateboarders, or your dad. And people pay serious bucks for them. The last retro, which released in 2013, was fetching in amounts close to $1,000. Jordan was able to quell a bit of the ridiculousness around recent “Bred” 1s by producing enough pairs to go around this year. Jordan even made 501 pairs of “Black/Red” 1s made from satin this year. It didn’t make the sneakers any less great, rather, it proved that classics never fade. —Matt Welty
BY MATT WELTY, RUSS BENGTSON, AMIR ISMAEL | SOURCE: Complex.com