Nike Air Ship: the real ‘banned’ sneaker

Nike Air Ship: the real ‘banned’ sneaker

Michael Jordan made his NBA debut in 1984 wearing the Nike Air Ship, the ‘Bred’ sneaker that was banned by the NBA. Learn more about the myths surrounding the Nike Air Ship and its reemergence now, three decades later.

Nike Air Ship: the real ‘banned’ sneaker

The Air Jordan 1 is a modern classic that has become synonymous with Michael Jordan’s aggressive gameplay and the rebellious energy he brought to the NBA court. However, it was actually the Nike Air Ship that kickstarted his career. For decades, well-timed marketing campaigns and a bit of revisionist history made the Air Jordan 1 the focal point of the iconic NBA ban while keeping the Air Ship out of the limelight. 

Here, we uncover the history of the storied Nike Air Ship, and how the myths surrounding it boosted sales of the Air Jordan 1, and its return 35 years after it was first worn by MJ. 

Nike Air Ship history

air ship bred OG goodwin sports managementGoodwin Sports Management

After officially signing with Nike in 1984, Michael Jordan began to train and play in a special “Bred” version of the Air Ship. Created by shoe designer Bruce Kilgore, the built on the successes of the Air Force 1 while acting as the foundation for the design of the Air Jordan 1.

Within the next year, the NBA issued a fine as MJ’s Bred Air Ship broke the NBA’s uniform uniformity rules, which required players to wear shoes that were either 51 percent white or 51 percent black. In their notice, the sneaker was described as a ‘red and black NIKE basketball shoes’. Nike saw this ambiguity as an opportunity to reframe the narrative and started to proclaim that their brand new Air Jordan 1 was the “banned” sneaker. They did this despite the fact that the Air Jordan 1 only made its debut a month after the fine was first issued. 

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Coupled with their willingness to pay every fine the NBA issued to keep MJ playing in the “Bred” Air Jordan 1, Nike had crafted the perfect campaign to launch the Air Jordan 1. This led to the now infamous “Banned” commercial which depicted Micheal Jordan dribbling a basketball and panning down to reveal a censored sneaker. The ad worked, as it associated Air Jordan 1 with a rebellious spirit, making the shoes something to be coveted. 

The relaunch of the Nike Air Ship 


air ship bred retroBack Door Bodega

In 2020, Nike released a special Nike Air Ship Pro with Back Door Bodega and “New Beginnings” pack. A combination of creative storytelling by the Swoosh and conversations around the “Last Dance” docu-series pushed fans to discuss the origins of the Air Jordan 1 and the lure surrounding the real sneaker banned by the NBA. 

Since then, Nike has continued to place the Air Ship in the hands of tastemakers and respected collaborators, like BMX athlete Nigel Sylvester and revered boutique A Ma Maniére, to create collections and colorways that further cemented its presence in street culture. A record-breaking auction of the Air Ship worn by MJ during his rookie season brought in US$1.472 million, cementing its significance to NBA history and the legacy of Nike. 

Our picks of the best Nike Air Ships

Since its return in 2020, the Nike Air Ship has been delivered in a multitude of colorways and re-envisioned through the lens of various collaborations. Here are our picks of the best Nike Air Ships available right now with links to shop them all. 

Product: Nigel Sylvester x Jordan Air Ship ‘Bike Air’ Friends & Family
Price: TBC
Shop here: GOAT

Nigel Sylvester x Jordan Air Ship 'Bike Air' Friends & FamilyGoat

Product:Jordan Air Ship PE SP ‘Every Game’
Price: S$259.73
Shop here: GOAT

Jordan Air Ship PE SP 'Every Game'Goat

Product: A Ma Maniére x Jordan Air Ship PE SP ‘White Black’
Price: S$723.03
Shop here: GOAT

A Ma Maniére x Jordan Air Ship PE SP 'White Black'Goat

Product: Air Ship Pro ‘Banned’ Sample
Price: TBC
Shop here: GOAT

Air Ship Pro 'Banned' SampleGoat

Product: Air Ship x Air Jordan 1 ‘New Beginnings
Price: S$1692.87
Shop here: GOAT

Air Ship x Air Jordan 1 'New Beginnings'Goat

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