The Best OG Air Jordans That Mike Never Played In

By Ian Stonebrook

Michael Jordan saw it all, did it all and wore it all.

Well, there’s an asterisk on the end of that list.

Prior to Adam Silver lifting restrictions on what can and can’t be worn on foot in NBA action – thanks PJ – MJ and his peers were playing in team tones every night. Though fined for Banned 1s and Concord XIs, Money stuck to the script over the course of his career, playing in colorways that matched both his uniform and teammates. Because of that, many celebrated OGs never hit the NBA hardwood on the GOAT’s feet.

Riffing off the retro Flint XIII release, we recount the greatest OG Air Jordans from Mike’s playing days that went unworn on court by the GOAT at time of launch.

Air Jordan 1 – Royal

Long before Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum or Jabari Parker would represent both Blue Devil discipline and Jordan Brand bravado, the Air Jordan 1 Royal would see Mike’s signature shoes carry a Cameron Crazies colorway.

Identical to the infamous Banned 1s only swapping in royal for red, the Royal 1s were integral in the original marketing campaign for the Air Jordan 1. Laying down the blueprint for what a signature hoop star’s product range would look like, not only was the Air Jordan line a new look for the team sport, the Air Jordan line would not just be confined to MJ’s team tones.

The 1s would release originally in a slew of metallic makeups, playing to the palettes of college programs across the country. While Coach K wasn’t putting Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry or Jay Bilas in the Royal 1s, we know good and well his recent roster is quite fond of the Chapel Hill hero’s shoe. The Royal 1s were the best non-Chicago colorway of the AJ1 in 1985 and they still are in 2020.

Air Jordan II – Exempt

 

Topping the Air Jordan 1 was no easy task for Peter Moore and Bruce Kilgore. Letting the OG run for Mike’s first two seasons, the Beaverton breadwinner continued to cash out while the design duo darted to Italy.

Coming back with the Air Jordan II for the 1986-87 season, the Swooshless signature released in White/Black-Red and White/Red color palettes in high and low cuts each. Unlike any Air Jordan before and any after, Mike played in each retail rendition in regular season games.

Air Jordan III – True Blue

The Air Jordan 3 kept Michael Jordan at Nike and kept the entire industry on their toes. Enlisting Tinker Hatfield for design duties, the local architect armed MJ with a new logo, elephant embellishment and visible Air.

On court, MJ laced up the Air Jordan 3 White/Cement, Black/Cement and Fire Red in All-Star, regular season and playoff competition. While the True Blue take would’ve worn well with the ‘88 ASG unis in Chicago, Mike shelved them in favor of the black-based take.

Despite Mike’s lack of on court endorsement as a Bull, the True Blue 3s have amassed incredible fanfare over the years. Sitting out the ‘94 retro run, the True Blue 3s would come back in 2001 when Mike was coming back with the Wizards. The first retro take on the True Blues would permeate MJ’s on-court rotation of sorts by way of a copper accented PE.

Air Jordan IV – Military Blue

By 1989, Michael Jordan was unequivocally the baddest man on the planet. Rocking the Air Jordan 4 in White/Cement, Black/Cement and Fire Red makeups, all OGs got on court burn from MJ except the Military Blue makeup.

Though MJ was a rule breaking rookie in regard to the league’s dress code, he wasn’t on the PJ Tucker tip for most of the years to follow. The Military Blue 4s were the lone AJ4 that weren’t even close to Chicago’s uniform colors and thus only worn on court by fans but never the GOAT.

Air Jordan V – Grape

While watching The Last Dance, we saw Michael Jordan practising in the Air Jordan V Grape as Phil Jackson directed the session in the Air Jordan 4 Black/Red. Previously, the Grape Vs were most tied to Mike in vintage Nike catalogs and on a famous Wheaties box.

Still, the Grape Vs were never worn in NBA action by Mike. Inspired by the newly founded Hornets, the shoes showed home state love and foreshadowed his eventual ownership. By far the boldest departure for the league and Air Jordan line in regard to hues, the Hornets uniforms and Grape Vs brought vibrance to sportswear and set the tone for the ‘90s.

Air Jordan VI – Sport Blue

The most important color where the Air Jordan VI is concerned? Gold, because Mike won his first ring in the VI. Taking down his high school hero Magic Johnson, the Air Jordan VI carried Mike and the Bulls’ triangle offense to the first of three straight rings.

On the campaign for his first ring, MJ laced up the Air Jordan VI in White/Infrared and Black/Infrared. Following that Finals, Mike began the 91-92 season in the Carmine VI. The other two OGs? The Sport Blue and New Maroon VIs.

Why Nike never took a chance by putting Mike in blue Jordans for the early All-Star Games is still beyond us. Sure, the big stage put maximum eyeballs on what he’d wear night in and night out for the 41 games to follow, but why not switch it up? By 1992, they would. Still, we’re giving the Sport Blue the nod as the best OG VI Mike never played a game in.

Air Jordan VII – Exempt

Michael Jordan did it all in the Air Jordan VII. He defended a ring, repeated as a champion and won Olympic gold. He also wore it all.

Taking a hint on our previous point, MJ debuted the Air Jordan VII in the ‘92 All-Star Game in the non-Bulls Bordeaux rendition. No, they didn’t match the midseason classic jerseys in Orlando but obviously it didn’t matter. 

Mike would go on to win Ring #2 in the Raptor rendition, rotate Hare and Cardinal colorways on the way to Ring #3 and grab gold in Barcelona in the aptly titled Olympic iteration. Want bonus points? He’d even play in the French Blue retro+ makeup as a member of the Wizards roughly a decade later.

Air Jordan VIII – Exempt

Debuting the Air Jordan VIII in Aqua at the All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, Mike and Nike would break the mold in back to back ASGs. The only other two OG takes – the Bugs Bunny and Playoff VIIIs – would also be worn by Mike as a Bull on the regular.

Air Jordan IX – Powder Blue

Michael Jordan would never play a game as a Bull in the Air Jordan IX.

Conversely, he’d wear the Air Jordan IX as a member of the Birmingham Barons and Washington Wizards. He’d also rock them as a statue.

With all OGs on the table, the Powder Blue breaks out as our pick. Now a three-time champ at the pro level, perhaps Nike and Mike finally felt it was time to retell the Carolina color story for the first time since the AJ1.

Air Jordan X – Sacramento

Michael Jordan wasn’t on the Chicago Bulls roster starting the 1994-95 NBA Season. Celebrating a decade of fame and footwear, the Air Jordan X was meant to memoralize MJ’s hardwood accomplishments during retirement and dress the next generation.

Surprise, MJ came back. Wearing the Chicago and Shadow Xs in game, the City Series dressed the likes of Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Mitch Richmond and Hubert Davis around the league. Jerry Stackhouse even wore the Powder Blue pair at UNC.

The OG AJX opened the floodgates even wider than the IX for professional peers to sport the Jumpman. The Jumpman himself only rocked two of them in NBA action. Our pick from the rest of the pack? The Sacramento Xs. Technically with two styles existing – home and away PEs for Mitch – the black pair hit retail and that’s the one we want the most.

Air Jordan XI – Cobalt

The Air Jordan XI was the birth of patent leather on Mike’s signature series but it was also the return of elephant print. Taking to the Air Jordan XI IE Low noticeably on the Cobalt colorway, the animal attribute last seen on the AJIII was amplified all over the mudguard.

The Cobalt Lows were never rocked in an NBA game by MJ, however. All original mids got burn from Mike in regular season, postseason and All-Star Game action to include the Concords, Space Jams, Columbias and Playoffs. Mike loved the mids so much that he’d hardly depart from them during the famed 72-10 season, wearing the Air Jordan XI IE Low Black/True Red once and even briefly pulling out a patent PE that was essentially a below the ankle take on the Playoffs.

Could Mike have worn the Cobalts for the second half of the All-Star Game and changed their ascent? Would the NBA have let the blue Jumpman on the tongue slide if he chose to shelve the Concords for a game? For now we can only imagine.

Air Jordan XII – Obsidian

Back with new shoes on his feet and another ring on his finger, the Air Jordan XII saw Mike defending a title for the first time in years. Tougher than the AJXI but still very technical, the AJXII hinted at the luxury direction of Jordan Brand while assuring hoopers it was still all about ball.

On the court, MJ rocked what we now know as the Playoff, Flu Game, Taxi and White/Red renditions in NBA action. The lone OG not to make it into a game? The Obsidians. 

Seen above on MJ in practice perhaps trolling the rival Pacers in the team’s tones, the Obsidian XIIs would’ve been a ringer for the 1997 All-Star Game but the NBA decided not to do themed uniforms that year. So, the Obsidian XIIs are the only choice but still a great one.

Air Jordan XIII – Flint

Two years in a row, the NBA elected traditional All-Star Game jerseys to be shelved for, well, traditional jerseys. The Air Jordan XIII was already in Mike’s rotation heading into NYC for what most thought would be his last ASG. Rather than go rogue and rock the Flint XIIIs, he previewed the Playoff pair to match his Bulls uniform.

Because of this, the Flint XIIIs became the lone XIII mid that Mike didn’t wear in a game. Chutney and Navy Lows never hit the hardwood, but much like the XI signature attributes make the mids far superior to their below ankle OG counterpart. Because of this, the Flint XIIIs are the best OG XIII Mike never played in. Perhaps, they may also be the best OG Mike never played in, period.

Air Jordan XIV – Oxidized Green

By most measures, the Air Jordan XIV was never to be worn in NBA action by Mike. Only once before in MJ’s career had he debuted a new model during the postseason and at the time it didn’t go well. Why risk it?

Well, because he’s Michael Jordan and he does things his way. Bringing out the Air Jordan XIV in the 1998 NBA Finals and christening them with a sixth championship and picture perfect Last Shot, the Black/Red colorway would earn a nickname and a legacy.

Days after sinking the Jazz, MJ and his pals would take a private jet to Austin, TX to sink puts, playing rounds of golf. After looping the links, they’d take a bus down to San Marcos where Mike would play every minute in a charity basketball game. He’d rock the unreleased Oxidized Green XIVs in front of a Texas State gymnasium that still can’t believe it happened. Much love to the White/Red and Black Toe XIVs, but the Oxidized Green go the hardest to us.

Air Jordan XV – Columbia

The man who proved forever young was now deemed to be forever done. Retiring from the Bulls for the second time and taking a front office position with the Washington Wizards, MJ had his feet up on a desk and six rings on his fingers.

On his feet? Likely loafers. At the store? The Air Jordan XV.

Incredibly angular, the Air Jordan XV played with all types of structural ideals by way of classic and progressive palettes. The most classic of them all? The Columbia pair paying homage to his alma mater. Worn at UNC by the likes of Joseph Forte – the team’s star shooting guard at that time – Mike never wore a single XV on court, but we like these the best.

Air Jordan XVI – Cherrywood

Much like the AJX, the Air Jordan XVI became Michael Jordan’s comeback shoe even if the model following gets more shine in the story. Joining the Washington Wizards as a player for the 2001-02 NBA Season, MJ would donate his entire playing salary to 9/11 victims and relief efforts. He’d start the preseason campaign in the Air Jordan XVI Ginger.

An odd shoe for an odd era, #23 was back again but in a new uniform for the first time. The Ginger XVIs – inspired by the popularity of Timberland Boots at that time – were a far cry from the Chicago colors fans were accustomed to but likened to low top launches seen on the XIII and XIV.

With no notice that Mike would come back to basketball – let alone for the Wizards – the XVI would release in a range of colors cascading from classic to contemporary. The best balance of both was the Cherrywood XVIs, a cool blend of white and charcoal grey like the Flint XIIIs only with maroon making up the main contrast. Never worn in NBA action by Mike, these are yet to release as a retro but certainly should.

Air Jordan XVII – White/Red

The Air Jordan XVII is defined by Mike’s return to the Wizards. But what about the colorway that made us think most of the Bulls?

Over the course of MJ’s comeback campaign in the nation’s capital, the GOAT was rotating retros and modern signatures to the tones of blue and grey. Prior to the Wizards bringing back the Bullets throwback look, red was not a part of the palette.

Giving his old tones a rest while playing in a variety of XVIIs both high and low, the firmest nod to his old franchise was never worn on court by MJ and the best of that bunch.

Air Jordan XVIII – Black/Sport Royal

In the moment realization: were the Black/Sport Royal Air Jordan XVIIIs intended to be the Playoff XVIIIs? Seen on MJ at his last All-Star Weekend but not worn during the actual All-Star Game, the XVIIIs that came with the brush were never actually worn by Mike in an NBA game.

Why is this? The colorway clearly worked with the Wizards uniforms as well as their Bullets throwbacks. As seen, they even jived with the ‘03 ASG jerseys. However, the playoff theory makes sense. Mike and the Wizards finished 9th in the Eastern Conference in his final season — just one spot out of the postseason. Throughout the 02-03 season, Mike rotated White/Royal and White/Red 18s with Team FBIs of the same semantics. Were these to be saved for the postseason?

We may never know. Regardless, they’re the best Air Jordan XVIII not to be worn by Mike in a game. 

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