Air Jordan 4 History & Timeline: Everything You Need to Know

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“The Shot.” “Do the Right Thing.” Mars Blackmon. Cement print. There are countless ways the Air Jordan 4 changed the athletic footwear landscape — and it continues to do so.

Designed by Tinker Hatfield, the Air Jordan 4 was released in 1989 and came on the heels of a make-or-break entry into the now-iconic sneaker legacy. As the story goes, in 1987, Michael Jordan was entertaining the idea of leaving Nike.

The NBA legend was less than thrilled with his second shoe, the Air Jordan 2, and was considering inking a deal with rival Adidas. With pressure on Hatfield to deliver, he crafted what’s widely thought of as one of the best sneakers of all time, the Air Jordan 3. Jordan immediately took to the look, with one feature in particular winning him over: the Jumpman logo. The design literally put Nike’s Swoosh in the rear view and pushed Jordan’s new logo as the selling point. Hatfield’s risk paid off, Jordan stuck with Nike, and the two kept making history together.

For the Air Jordan 4, Hatfield employed a similar concept, leaving the Swoosh off of the side panels and leading with a large Jumpman logo on the tongue. The shoe looked like a sequel of sorts to its predecessor; the midsole’s visible Air bubble remained, while the upper’s panels got plumped up. Breathable mesh netting was added to the tongue and sides, while plastic supportive “wings” were integrated with the shoelaces for an adjustable fit. In 1989, the sneaker was released in four original styles: “Black/Cement Grey” (aka “Bred,” short for Black/Red), “White/Cement Grey,” “White/Fire Red,” and one outlier that didn’t match Chicago Bulls colors in “Off White/Military Blue.”

A detailed look at the recently released Air Jordan 4 Retro ‘Military Blue.’ Credit: Nike
A detailed look at the recently released Air Jordan 4 Retro ‘Military Blue.’ Credit: Nike

Even in their infancy, the Air Jordan 4s racked up their share of iconic moments. On May 7, 1989, as the Bulls met the Cleveland Cavaliers in a must-win playoff game, Jordan produced one of his most memorable on-court moments by draining a last-second shot over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo to secure a 101-100 win. Later that summer, the Air Jordan 4s hit the big screen in Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing,” where Giancarlo Esposito’s Buggin’ Out character gets into an altercation after his brand new pair is carelessly scuffed by a passerby.

Another one of Lee’s creations proved pivotal in the marketing of the Air Jordan 4. The Mars Blackmon character from his 1986 film “She’s Gotta Have It” lived on years later in commercials for the sneaker line. These iconic ads paired Lee and Jordan in a number of playful scenarios and would later be immortalized on a 2006 retro of the “White/Fire Red” Air Jordan 4, which was etched with Mars Blackmon’s face.

Today, the 4 is one of the most popular models in entire Air Jordan series, remaining relevant with young sneaker fans as well as those old enough to remember watching “the Shot” happen in real time. The shoe has seen high-profile collaborations with Eminem, Carhartt, Levi’s, Nike SB, Travis Scott, A Ma Maniére, KAWS and more. Releases of original colorways — like this year’s “Military Blue” (aka “Industrial Blue”) and “Bred Imagined” — sell out instantly, and even newer styles often hit the resale market for a premium.

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