When it comes to sneakers that can withstand the test of time, few can compete with the Air Jordan series. With 37 silhouettes to date spanning across 1984-2023, it’s the brand’s earlier designs – mainly the Air Jordan 1 and Air Jordan 4 – that keep fans coming back. Is it an increased appetite for nostalgic, retro silhouettes? Or is there a little more to it.

Simply put, like most Air Jordan models, the AJ4 is designed with functionality at the forefront. Tinker Hatfield’s second foray into the Jordan Brand, the 4s swapped previously seen exotic materials for engineered mesh which increased the shoes performance-focused durability and introduced triangle supports that are the signifying trait of the model. But good design only gets you so far. Sure, the Jordan 4 nailed the practical elements required for Michael Jordan himself to be able to wear on court, but becoming truly iconic would require a series of colliding events that set the stage for the 4s to still be one of the most sought-after shoes, 35 years on.

In May 1989, the Chicago Bulls fought to avoid elimination in the playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers. With one point down, and three seconds on the clock, Michael Jordan shoots from the foul line and clinches a victory from the jaws of defeat. It’s a moment that has become sporting history, legend, almost mythical in the way it’s remembered. ‘The Shot’. A play so audacious and impressive that it requires no elaboration. The coiled spring celebration of Jordan after burying the shot is an image as iconic as they come. It’s an image you can almost hear. Jordan hangs in the air, triumphant – also hanging in the air are his pair of Black/Cement Air Jordan 4s.

‘The Shot’ became one of the defining moments of Michael Jordan’s career, and one of the most fabled moments in sports history. Anyone watching that game saw the magic of Jordan lingering in the air slightly longer than seemed possible, and anyone watching that happen saw those shoes front and centre once the shot was landed.

air jordan 4 retro red cement

One month later, Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing released, a film heavily featuring a range of Nike sneakers, and none of them get more of a spotlight than a pair of white Jordan 4s, in a moment that exemplifies the reverential attitude toward the style. Giancarlo Esposito’s character Buggin’ Out has a run in with a cyclist that leaves his shoes scuffed and leaves him irate. The connection between film and footwear was solidified and has Do The Right Thing topping lists of most stylish movies to this day.

Nike would go on to release an intentionally scuffed pair that replicates those seen in the film in 2017 (complete with toothbrush to attempt to clean them).

This one-two punch of triumphant features for the Air Jordan 4 meant that in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the silhouette was a sought-after sneaker for not only everyday enthusiasts, but also the rising tide of hip-hop newcomers (such as Jay-Z and Ice-T) who would go on to be icons in their own right, and inspire the next generation to embrace the 4s and helped bring the style from the court to the consumer.

Fast forward to 2023, the Air Jordan 4 is turning 35 and shows no sign of slowing down in terms of desirability – with eight colourways for this year alone, including womens exclusive ‘Frozen Moments’. There’s a certain something about the 4s – they’re at once retro, with hallmark design styles of Hatfield’s early days at Nike, but there’s a not-so-small dash of futuristic feel to them too, the combination of mesh panelling with hard ankle supports give them the structured look of something you would find on the feet of Marty McFly in Back to the Future II’s distant 2015. Perhaps not the future we live in, but the future imagined by Hatfield and Jordan.

Icons aren’t often designed outright, they’re given meaning and longevity by the culture formed around them – this is what happened with the Jordan 4s. The stars aligned around a shoe that would likely have been a reasonably popular style given the lineage, and propelled it into a must have sneaker that you almost feel could give you the ability to perform miracle shots like Mike, if you could just get them in hand (or on feet).