Rare Jordans: A Closer Look at the Famous Footwear

Updated April 20, 2022
Man holding Air Jordan 1

Created for one of the most phenomenal players in basketball history, Air Jordans are as famous as Michael Jordan himself; and sneakerheads will go to extreme lengths to grab a pair of rare Jordans before anyone else.

How Air Jordans Became the Most Famous Sneaker

Air Jordans were first released in 1985, and a new Jordan has been released each subsequent year since. The original Jordans were designed by Peter Moore and sold through the Jordan Company, a part of Nike. The original Jordans were quite controversial; they were even banned initially by the National Basketball Association due to their intense black and red colors.

Air Jordan logo is seen on the shoe in the store

A revolution in basketball footwear, Air Jordans continued to improve with subsequent releases. Movie and television stars were seen sporting the shoes, and the added publicity enhanced their popularity. Follow-up designs were inspired by items as diverse as stealth fighter jets and partnerships as unique as Hollywood studios.

Although sales waxed and waned during different periods and varied with each Jordan shoe, older models often met with great popularity when re-released. So, when it comes to sneakers, Air Jordans are the first and most popular series out there. Simply put, no one can deny that the Jordan is a shoe to be reckoned with.

Air Jordan Categories to Know for Collecting

Vintage Air Jordans are generally described using a few insider categories that you'll want to know before trying to buy anything:

Air Jordan 1 Retro High
  • Originals or OG's - The OGs describe a pair of Jordans which come from the first design of any new iteration.
  • Retros - The Retros are Jordans which have taken an original design and modified it in some way, such as changing the colorway or specific aspects of the design.
  • Samples - Samples are the shoes that are made prior to the production run of any new Jordan; they're a teaser of the design so-to-speak, and can be pretty hard to find.

Many Jordans from the past are re-released at subsequent dates and feature some modifications or enhancements that don't detract from the original style or design. However, Jordans that are not from the actual first production run of that design are not as collectible as the originals.

The Most Expensive Jordan Sneakers Ever Sold

Made with the man, the myth, and the legend in mind, it's only logical that Jordans have become ubiquitous with high-paying celebrity clientele. From private auctions to commissioned partnerships with Grammy-award winning artists, these are some of the most expensive (and exclusive) Air Jordans ever sold.

High "Chicago" Air Jordan 1s

Michael Jordan is just another in the long list of athletes to partner with Nike, and just under a year of Air Jordans being conceived and released to the public, he wore a pair of his Air Jordan 1s to play in a Chicago Bulls game. These specific shoes were later sold at a Christie's auction for $615,000.

Michael Jordan's Air Ships

While not technically an Air Jordan, this early pair of Nike sneakers worn by Michael Jordan during a Chicago Bulls game in 1984 (the year that he signed his deal to Nike and began development on the infamous sneaker line) is too big of a money maker to ignore. This pair ended up selling in 2021 at an auction for a whopping $1,472,000.

Kanye's Grammy Air Yeezys

While Kanye has become quite the controversial figure in the past few years, ever since he broke onto the music scene in the early 2000s, he's been lauded for his stylistic vision. The custom pair of Air Yeezys that he wore to the 2008 Grammy Awards is a testament to this marriage of luxury and function, and they sold at a Sotheby's auction for $1,800,000.

Kanye West's Nike Air Yeezy

Solid Gold OVO x Air Jordans

The most expensive Air Jordan ever sold so far isn't even a shoe that you can wear. Drake's fashion brand, OVO, commissioned a pair of 24K solid gold Air Jordan 10s for a record breaking price of $2.1 million.

Rare Air Jordans to Keep Your Eyes Peeled For

Of course, not every collector has a million dollars lying around for the moment that a pair of the one-in-a-million shoes comes to market. However, there are some rare Air Jordans that you might actually find in the wild (albeit still for staggering prices).

Original Air Jordan 1

The Air Jordan 1 was the first specially designed sneaker of its kind, made for the legendary basketball player, Michael Jordan. In 1985, Nike released these shoes to the public, and collectors salivate over finding pairs of these original shoes. The most expensive of these to ever sell sold at a Sotheby's auction for $560,000.

Game Worn Air Jordan 1s

Air Jordan 1 x Dior

A collaboration between Nike and Dior resulted in a high-value luxury sneaker in 2020. Based on the Jordan 1 design with an added panel of custom Dior logo fabric in the iconic swoosh, these shoes are a unique addition to the Jordan line-up. They also make for big profits, with pairs selling on Stadium Goods for just over $18,000.

Just Don BHM x Retro Air Jordan 1

During the 39th anniversary of Black History Month in 2015, designer Don C collaborated with Nike to create a commemorative pair of Air Jordans. Modeled after the Air Jordan 1 high-straps, there were only 39 of these shoes made, with all of their proceeds going to the Ever Higher Fund. While these shoes sold for undisclosed amounts at auction, with only 39 of them being made, it's likely that they would be worth a few thousand dollars at least.

25th Anniversary Air Jordan

Sneakerheads everywhere were dismayed in 2010 that the 25th anniversary Air Jordan 11s weren't going to feature the enigmatic jumpman on the shoe. However, Nike announced that 25 pairs would feature the jumpman and would randomly be put into circulation with the rest of the sold-out shoes. While none of these 25 pairs have recently been put to auction, it's likely they'd be a big-ticket item were they to emerge.

Where to Find Collector Jordans Online

While the new Jordans are sold through Nike.com and athletic shoe stores, those looking for rare Jordans may have to do a bit more digging. Although estate sales, auctions, and possibly some collectors and antiques stores can sometimes yield valuable results, the internet is a gold mine for Jordan collectors. Sites you may want to peruse for rare Air Jordans include:

  • All Things Jordan - All Things Jordan sells a hodgepodge mix of original and retro Jordan sneakers. Included on each of their listings is the shoe's size and condition. You can pay for a pair using PayPal, a money order, or even make an offer if you think the pair you have your eyes on is overpriced.
  • Stadium Goods - Stadium Goods is the best place to check out first if you're looking to add a past pair of Jordans to your collection. Their sleek and fast-paced website sends a clear message that this retailer stays up-to-date with all of the latest trends and releases in the fashion and style industry.
  • eBay - You can't go wrong by browsing through eBay's inventory when you're looking for a collectible pair of Jordans. In fact, past Jordan partnerships have actually released their products on eBay, so it's a good idea to check back in with the auction website every couple of days to see what new sneakers have made their way to the fore.

Keep These Shoes Out of the Mud

Unlike your go-to pair of bargain sneakers, these rare Jordans aren't shoes to go stomping through mud puddles in. With small production numbers and one-of-a-kind connections, any of these collectible shoes will make a true sneakerhead drool.

Rare Jordans: A Closer Look at the Famous Footwear