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The Evolution of the Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red”

Ian Stonebrook

People want what they can’t have and the Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red” is a telling point to that position. First introduced in 1989, the final OG AJ4 colorway closed out the first decade of Air Jordans with a November launch. While the Air Jordan 4 would return in OG shades a decade later, the ’90s were without the Fire Red 4s.

The 2000s? A much different story.

While fans salivated for the Fire Red 4s to return, they’d spend another decade settling for close but not quite. Laser embellished iterations would create controversy, Mars Blackmon stamping would turn heads and Air Force Fusions would be a whole new argument. In 2012, they finally released without any alterations aside from branding. Underwhelming and overproduced, the shoe people had spent a lifetime chasing had suddenly lost its luster.

In 2020, that’s changed. Returning with OG Nike Air branding and remastered shape, the ’20 Fire Red 4s have benefited by being the colorway’s first true to form retro in a market where vintage matters. 

Let’s look at how the Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red” has shifted styling, shape, and story over the course of the last 31 years.

Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red” OG (1989)

The Air Jordan 4 OG “Fire Red” was the second signature sneaker from Mike to feature the fuego hue and the last launch from the legacy line of the 1980s. Worn by MJ to start the 1989-90 NBA Season and capping off a historic decade, the Fire Red 4s would continue the trend of starting each campaign in a new colorway before debuting a new model at All-Star break. 

While Mike would finish the ‘80s and begin the ‘90s shooting hot in the “Fire Red” 4s, the decade with six championships and two retirements from His Airness would see no retro release of this colorway. Thanks to this absence from the market, the heat surrounding the “Fire Red” 4s would heighten as a global appetite for retro releases would also grow.

Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red Laser ” (2005)

Finally back! Well, not quite.

2005 was all about the Air Jordan XX and the two decades of dominance from Jordan Brand. By using Mark Smith’s famed laser-etching, the 20th signature model from Mike would tell the story of his accolades and accomplishments while the aptly titled Dub Zero would sport the same aesthetic as a decoy.

Famously, the Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red” would be made over with a similar laser motif. Adding golden etching, using leather wings instead of rubber, and electing Jumpman heel tagging, the modifications were both paramount and polarizing. The buzz around laser detailing and 20 years of Jordan were real, but the over the top embellishments to a beloved OG was bewildering. To make matters more interesting, these served as one of the first online exclusives, releasing in package form for $200 with a matching t-shirt and flexfit hat. 

In 2020, these reek of nostalgia in regard to the early internet days of sneaker chasing. Still, they don’t totally feel like a true Fire Red 4.

Air Jordan 4 “Mars Blackmon” (2006)

One year after sneakerheads shelled out two benjis for a tribute take and apparel they didn’t totally want, Jordan Brand brought another wrinkle to the “Fire Red” saga.

The Air Jordan 4 “Mars Blackmon” paid tribute to Spike Lee’s starring role in early Air Jordan ads. A spokesman for the 4, the Spike stamping provided slight storytelling while signaling importance like a flag toting Air Force 1.

Equipped with rubber wings, eyelets, and heel tabs, these were much closer to the original than the Laser launch that preceded it. While all this was enough to restore the feeling, Jumpman heel tagging and novelty nuances left some purists unfulfilled.

Air Jordan 4 “Fusion Fire Red” (2009)

2008 was a celebratory year for Jordan Brand, dropping a litany of Countdown Packages as a promotion for the Air Jordan XX3. Craftsmanship was on point for the performance model with dual-dropped retros offering an opportunity at long sought after colorways.

2009 was much different.

Despite closing out the decade with the “Space Jam” 11s and introducing the “Toro Bravo” 5 Package, the last year of the ‘00s was defined by Fusions and Team Jordans. Going all-in on the Air Force 1 x Air Jordan stackups, the Air Jordan 4 was very much in the fold with the “Fire Red” rendition scoring a visible Air AF1 sole.

This July 2009 launch was no consolation for those waiting on a true Fire Red 4 OG or even a silver medal for those that missed out on “Laser” or “Mars Blackmon” takes. Still, these were worn with many a baggy pair of jean shorts over the course of that summer and into the fall.

Air Jordan 4 “Fusion Fire Red Laser” (2010)

In the Spring of 2010, Kentucky Fried Chicken introduced the Double Down: a bacon and cheese sandwich that used two fried chicken fillets in place of bread.

Perhaps inspired the Air Jordan 4 Fusion Premier “Fire Red Laser” launched in December 2010 with just as much sauce.

The already hefty Fusion 4s became even more caloric with a heavy influx of golden laser etching all over the upper. An homage of sorts to the 2005 exclusive, this unprecedented upgrade to the ‘09 Fusion 4s flipped the sole blocking for perhaps the boldest shoe in the entire Jordan x AF1 equation.

Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red” (2012)

2012 was an epic year for sneaker culture but oddly a weird one for Air Jordans. Seeing Nike Basketball absolutely in its bag, the hysteria surrounding the “Galaxy” Foamposites, and signature lines from LeBron, Kobe, and KD all crossing over, OG Air Jordan colorways were suddenly registering as dated rather than vintage.

This could be said for that year’s Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red” release. Devoid of any Air Force 1 sole, leather wings, laser etching, or Spike Lee stamping, the August release was as close to the OG as anyone had gotten since 1989.

Still, a more competitive footwear market and watered down appetite after the previous okey-dokes left some consumers uninterested. Make no mistake, the 2012 “Fire Red” 4s performed well, but the shift in the market and pre-remastered quality made these more an accessory than a necessity.

Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red” (2020)

After all the years of waiting and alternatives, the Air Jordan 4 “Fire Red” is finally back with all boxes checked.

Returning with original packaging, rubber detailing, and Nike Air branding, this retro release is as close to the 1989 launch as we’ve ever gotten. With vintage sneakers trending and the Air Jordan 4 constantly proving popular with style-conscious consumers, this pair may have taken a while to get here but it certainly proves worth the wait.

Image 1 via Steiner
Images 2, 3, 4 and 6 via StockX
Image 5 via Nice Kicks
Images 7 and 8 via Nike


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