You could say 1985 is the year that modern sneaker culture really started. It’s when Nike publicly released its first signature shoe for a rookie basketball player named Michael Jordan.
The Air Jordan 1 created a level of demand never before seen for a sneaker. Not only did Jordan quickly emerge as one of the most exciting players in the league, he did it in shoes that looked like nothing else on a basketball court. Players at the time wore sneakers that were basically plain white, maybe black. Nike wanted to create a shoe that was distinctive. The company used the colors of Jordan’s team, the Chicago Bulls, and made a sneaker in a striking combination of red and black that stood apart from everything else in the league. The coloring was so unusual that the NBA banned it, citing guidelines about player shoes having to match uniforms, even though the shoes were clearly in the Bulls’ colors.
Nike, which had struggled in the prior years and was in need of a hit, used the situation to its advantage. It had Jordan keep wearing the shoes and paid the fine every game. It also used the ban in its first commercial for the Jordan 1.