A History of the Air Jordan V
A History of the Air Jordan V
- Words Stephen Albertini
- Date July 15, 2019
By the time February 1990 rolled around, the only thing Michael Jordan had yet to accomplish on a basketball court was to win a NBA championship.
The perennial All-Star and MVP candidate routinely dazzled with aerial dunking displays since his first pro game in 1984. He led the league in scoring multiple times, won MVP, won Defensive Player of the Year, scored 63 points in a playoff game at the Boston Garden, and crushed the souls of entire fanbases with clutch game-winning shots. Jordan’s legend was ascending to its apex, only to be swatted down to Earth during some particularly brutal playoff matchups with the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons.
Jordan would drag teams by his bare hands into slugfests against Detroit in three consecutive playoffs (before eventually sweeping them in the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals). The “Jordan Rules” were implemented by Detroit’s group of grizzled vets, and Jordan routinely took a beating, getting pushed and shoved to the ground with regularity on drives into the paint.
But Jordan was relentless, and despite being repeatedly rebuffed in the playoffs against Detroit heading into 1990, Jordan kept coming back, adding to and tweaking his already stellar offensive arsenal, ready to attack from all angles with the magnitude of an Air Force fleet.
It worked. During the 1989-90 season, Michael Jordan hit 92 three-pointers while wearing the Jordan V. He had only hit 68 threes in all prior seasons combined. While that is maybe a league average number of makes in today’s game, it was indicative of Jordan’s incessant work ethic. Always looking for an edge, always looking to add another weapon to his already unstoppable arsenal.
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When legendary sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield, the architect behind most of the world’s favorite Air Jordan models, was coming up with the inspiration for the upcoming Jordan V, he took Jordan’s attacking style into account. Aside from being functional and supportive of the world’s greatest athlete’s feet, the aesthetics and design needed to match Jordan’s mindset.
Hatfield witnessed Jordan’s biting on-court style and made that the focal point of the V’s design. Inspired by the P-51 Mustang fighter jet, an American-made plane used for air raids in Germany during World War II, Hatfield found the perfect personification of Jordan’s incessant pursuit of dominance.
The Mustang was designed in 1940 by North American Aviation and helped ensure Allied air superiority during battles in Europe, Africa and the Pacific during World War II. At one point during the war, Mustang pilots claimed to have destroyed over 4,950 enemy aircrafts. The famous Tuskegee Airmen were also known for flying Mustangs during their incredible run.
A version of the P-51, aptly dubbed “The Shark” features cartoonish shark teeth along the barrel of the jet, right by the propellor, on the gray plane. That inspiration can be clearly found on the midsole of the Jordan V.
Aside from the obvious design quirks and fighter jet homages, the V is actually a trendsetting shoe within the Air Jordan line. For example, it was the first shoe in the line to feature a clear outsole. Tinker Hatfield had previously designed Marty McFly’s Nike MAG from Back to the Future II, which had clear molding on the outsole, allowing light to come through. Word is that’s where Hatfield got the idea to bring that clear sole to the Jordan V. The soles introduced a new look, but gave way to increased yellowing when exposed to moisture.
For the first time, the Jordan V had reflective 3M material on the tongue, which, over time, became a popular touch within the wider line. The shoe also sported a molded ankle collar.
When the original Jordan V colorways started to release in February 1990, they retailed for $125. The four original colorways were white/black, black/metallic, white/fire red and white/grape. Jordan would ultimately retro the V in 2000, the first retro of the new millennium, Since then, the V has seen over 40 different releases, including low tops, hybrids and collaborations with some of your favorite childhood television shows.
In September of 1990, as Michael Jordan was about to embark on the season that would eventually land him his coveted first NBA championship, a new show premiered on NBC called The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show featured a young Will Smith, who back then was known as just a rapper, moving across the country from his humble West Philadelphia roots to Bel-Air with his wealthy aunt and uncle. It’s now been 22 years since its season finale aired and the show is a bonafide classic, not to mention a star-making vehicle for Smith who—as we all know—went on to have a prolific acting career.
Aside from the hilarious antics of Smith and his family, one of the takeaways from the show was its fashion. While his family always remained preppy and buttoned-up, Smith was always flamboyant and colorful. Whether wearing his school blazer inside out or a lime green striped shirt, Smith proudly represented the bold fashion of the early-’90s. That meant a steady rotation of Air Jordans on screen, most notably the Jordan V in a variety of colorways.
It may not have been planned, but The Fresh Prince was to the Jordan V what Do The Right Thing was to the Jordan IV, a timeless piece of pop culture that helped legitimize the shoe off the court. Jordan had already legitimized it on the court, but all the best Jordans transcend beyond sports and into the pantheon of pop culture. The “Grape” Jordan V specifically became a much sought after shoe in sneaker communities for years thanks to the color’s appearance on The Fresh Prince, having gone 16 years between its original release and its eventual 2006 retro, and will go down as one of the most popular Jordans in a non-Chicago Bulls colorway, thanks in no small part to its many appearances on The Fresh Prince.
Jordan Brand acknowledged as much, even releasing a Bel Air version of the shoe in 2013. But in 2018, the brand went above and beyond for Smith’s 50th birthday on September 25th. Jordan released a tinkered version of the “Grape” V, this time with Nike Air branding on the heel for the first time since its original 1990 release.
The shoe has many unique details paying homage to Smith’s classic role. “West Philadelphia” is spelled out on an embossed tongue, shouting out his hometown. His version features a moc design with no shoelaces, an unlaced look he popularized on the show. The sockliner is a bright pink and yellow stripe, reminiscent of his old wardrobe choices. This version sold for $190, a slight bump from the shoe’s original $125 price tag. Jordan also sent Smith a friends and family version with the classic Grape accents and a gold upper, limited to just 23 pairs.
In 2015, Supreme tapped the Jordan V silhouette as its first-ever Jordan Brand collaboration. Working its box logo typeface onto the interior and exterior side grate of each Jordan V, Supreme’s sneaker was accented by small details, like featuring “94” in place of “23” on the outer heel of the shoe—a nod to Supreme’s founding in 1994. Overall, the streetwear brand’s take on the Jordan V was relatively restrained in the colorway department… as long as you’re not counting one iteration’s “desert camo” upper. The sneaker dropped a week before a co-branded apparel collection, with items bearing both the Jumpman logo and the words “Supreme” written in Jordan Brand type.
In 2018, Jordan Brand ventured into the professional soccer world, becoming the apparel sponsor for Paris Saint-Germain. The club will be outfitted in full Jordan kits for the upcoming season and Jordan released two shoes--the I and V--to commemorate the move. The V looks very similar to the OG black/metallic, but with a red stripe going down the back of the shoe, the PSG Jordan logo on the heel, and a number 75 on the outsole, replacing the usual number 23. The PSG kits are predominantly black and white with hints of red. A white PSG V was also released, albeit in limited quantities to friends and family in a white colorway that will not make its way to retail.
Sticking with Jordan’s recent love affair with Paris, a Quai 54 version of the Jordan V has long been a popular version of the shoe for resellers. The white and lime green version, with the Quai 54 logo on the outsole, was released to commemorate Jordan Brand’s involvement in the Quai 54 streetball tournament, the largest streetball tournament in the world, in Paris.
For 14 years, Nike and Jordan have partnered with the event, which celebrates court, culture and community. The event takes place at the Pelouse De Reuilly courts in Paris, featuring 16 elite teams from 10 countries, plus appearances from professional players and live performances. Each year Jordan releases shoes and clothes to accompany the event, but the Quai 54 Vs are one of its most successful releases. They can still fetch on average of about $450 a pair on the resale market.
Since retro-ing for the first time in 2000, the V has seen subsequent re-releases in 2006-2009, 2011 and 2013-2017. Some popular non-OG versions include the “Laney” Vs (an homage to Jordan’s high school), “Green Bean” Vs, Wolf Grey Vs and the “Raging Bull” Vs.
On the court, the V served as the vessel for Jordan’s aerial attacks that season much like its inspiration did decades prior. It was engineered, from the shark tooth sole up to its reflective tongue, to assist the world’s greatest athlete in his unending pursuit of domination. Off the court, it quickly became a hallmark of early-’90s fashion and an iconic pop culture article. Whether on the feet of a kid from West Philadelphia or the greatest basketball player in the world, the V stood out and stood up to any and all challengers.