The Curious Case of the Air Jordan 2
The awkward love-hate with the Air Jordan follow-up
2022 is the 35th anniversary of the Air Jordan 2. And since its inception, the Air Jordan 2 has been surrounded with controversy, shrouded in obscurity and has earned quite the unique love-hate relationship with sneakerheads across the globe. But the signature has also developed a niche fanbase in its decades long existence that has come with its ups and downs. So why has the Air Jordan 2 garnered such an awkward relationship – lets dive deeper:
Peter Moore and Bruce Kilgore's joint effort served as the follow-up to the wildly popular and game-changing, Air Jordan 1 – and while the street release did not come until in 1987, the silhouette debuted in 1986. The Air Jordan 2 was daring, it was a high build constructed from faux reptilian leather crafted in Italy ... unheard of for the performance sneaker industry at the time. Its sleek lines and contouring was matched by the absence of a Swoosh, a first for Nike and only featured the text on the heel and outsole. But for the advancements of the Air Jordan 2 and the boundaries pushed by Moore and Kilgore; Michael Jordan nearly left Nike after the signature, prior to the Air Jordan 3 as the story famously goes.
Ever since, there has been an ominous cloud looming over the Air Jordan 2.
However, MJ went on to have an incredible run in the Air Jordan 2 between 1986-87; 23-straight points (a league record), posting the league's second 3,000-point season in history and the first of back-to-back All-Star Saturday Slam Dunk Contest crowns.
Tough Act to Follow
The Air Jordan 2's run was cut short in-part to MJ's broken foot in October – upon returning MJ donned the Air Jordan 1 in multiple iterations; including the Dunk outsole AJ1 where he famously hung 63 on the Boston Celtics. A single-game playoff record that still stands to this day. On top of that, the AJ2 only came in two colorways during that original run – a white, black and red and a white, grey and red; both to combat the NBA's uniform rule which fueled the success of the Air Jordan 2's predecessor. And matching low-cut iterations of the same two color schemes. At virtually every level, the Air Jordan 2 proved that the sequel tends to struggle compared to the original. Where the Air Jordan 1 came in multiple colorways and styles; from its daring black and red based colorway that challenged the very NBA itself, to the metallic Swoosh versions, the AJKO (Knock Off) and low-cut ... the Air Jordan 2 simply could not rekindle the same lightning in a bottle.
Breaking the Stigma
"Half people hate them and then the other half of people love it. I think that's what provocation is, right?" - Israel Mateo, Jordan Brand Footwear NRG Design
The Air Jordan 2 became the black sheep of the Air Jordan 2 signature line over time. With many sneakerheads of the belief, "if MJ didn't like 'em, why should I?" It is rhetoric such as that which has hindered the signature's popularity and place among the line. But it is that very reasoning for why collaborators tend to gravitate toward the signature, in an attempt to essentially break the stigma and validate the model. The question always persists; even GQ questioned in 2021, "can Virgil Abloh make the Air Jordan 2 cool?" upon the release of the late-visionary's collaboration. A release that ultimately pushed the bounds of design with its 3D-printed midsole, replicating the cracking of an Air Jordan 2 in the brand's department of archives. We saw Vashtie be one of the firsts to take on the challenge in 2010 with her pastel GS-exclusive collaboration. Don C in 2015 took on the silhouette and returned it to its luxury roots in the first of his three projects on the AJ2. Utilizing premium quilted leather and suede in an all Varsity Royal motif and red/gold touches. Don C cited the origins of the AJ2's Italian constructed to his approach toward the model ... which is has probably become the most coveted AJ2 to date.
Jordan Brand also took their swing at this with the now-defunct BIN 23 collection which included the Air Jordan 2 in a brown leather and reptilian leather. The release served as the first drop in the collection which included the AJ5, AJ6, AJ7, AJ9 and AJ13. And we periodically see the silhouette make returns as if the Brand is testing the waters with fans to see if this release will be the one where they finally bite. But in most cases, the AJ2 ends up being marked down or reaching outlets and subject to scrutiny and even slander from the casual sneakerhead.
The Untold Truth
Here is a bit of information that may be difficult for certain sneakerheads to digest ... the Air Jordan 2 was simply ahead of its time. The direction in which sneaker culture and streetwear culture has headed in the time since the AJ2's initial release has been a transition into luxury.
"I think that the Air Jordan II was the first thing to do that in popular culture – producing it in Italy and making it a luxury basketball shoe was so ahead of its time that people weren't quite ready for it." – Don C to Complex in 2016
We've seen with the aforementioned Just Don x Air Jordan 2 and OFF-WHITE x Air Jordan 2, but also we've seen with the challenging of streetwear's stigma of "cheap" or "lesser than" compared to its luxury branded counterparts. Luxury is not just limited to the designer brands of the world in 2022 ... Virgil Abloh was a vital figure in showing us that, just as Peter Moore and Bruce Kilgore were vital in showing us that for performance sneakers in 1986. In order to break new ground, you must first challenge what exists.
The Air Jordan 2 in reality, should only age gracefully as streetwear becomes luxury items in their own right and as we've seen with footwear most recently in this last decade. Therefore, we ought to appreciate the AJ2, but admittedly it is a one hell of an ominous dark cloud to outrun.
So what is the solution? ...
The one Air Jordan model from MJ's run with the Bulls that Jordan Brand has yet to truly give the remastered treatment to is the AJ2. And with the 35th anniversary currently in play and expected collaborations with Union and A Ma Maniére waiting in the wings; it would be the proper time to thrust the AJ2 back to 1986. Re-release the original two colorways in bo their high and low iterations with genuine Italian leather and release a limited allotment to NRG accounts to an elevated price point. Seems audacious given what we've outlined about the shaky relationship between sneakerheads and the signature – but as we've seen with the Air Jordan 1 High '85 and Nike Air Ship, there is a sector that truly longs for a return to yesteryear. And the nostalgic element is never to be understated, after all ... this is why retro releases are a thing.
In this scenario, presumably – those who are on the side of the fence that love the AJ2 will look to own a piece of history, just as we've seen the aforementioned AJ1 High '85 and Air Ship, both speaking to a particular moment in the story of Jordan Brand. And if we've seen one thing lately, backstories matter more now than ever with the brand.