Virgil Abloh has designed several collaborations with Nike Air Jordan since the initial Off-White Air Jordan 1 was released in 2017. These continue to be some of the hottest (and most expensive) designer-helmed Jordan releases, making a big splash whenever one drops. But when it was recently revealed that the latest collaboration between Abloh and Jordan would be an Off-White take on the Air Jordan 2, sneakerheads everywhere were suddenly bewildered. Seriously? The Air Jordan 2? Abloh couldn’t have picked a more unexpected sneaker if he’d tried.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Nike’s original Air Jordan 1 is among the most beloved, lucrative, and ubiquitous shoes in footwear history—an iconic, boundary-crossing sneaker whose popularity has endured across the world for more than three decades now. Sneakers are a multi-billion dollar industry, and the biggest, most coveted sneaker of them all remains that simple, beautiful Air Jordan 1. So why was the sequel such a flop?
The Air Jordan 2 is the Jordan that time forgot. The black sheep of the Jordan family. Difficult to find, and not particularly sought after anyway, it’s the rare sneaker whose scarcity has not driven up demand. Over the years, Jordan brand has only released a few dozen retro versions of the Air Jordan 2, which sounds like plenty, until you consider that Jordan brand releases more than a dozen versions of the Air Jordan 1 every single year—and they all become hits. With extremely few exceptions—a collaboration with Eminem from 2018, a charity release for the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital from 2007—you’d be hard-pressed to call any Jordan 2 release a certified grail.
Originally released in 1986 on the heels of the extraordinary (and largely unanticipated) commercial success of the Air Jordan 1, Michael Jordan’s sophomore shoe was intended to increase the brand’s prestige by courting a somewhat higher-end market. Designed by legendary Nike shoe dog Bruce Kilgore, the Jordan 2 combined the form and functionality of a state-of-the-art athletic sneaker with the materials and construction of a luxury shoe. In essence, the Jordan 2 was meant to be a “deluxe” take on the Jordan classic. Built in Italy rather than in China, and using high-quality materials including a faux lizard-skin finish, it was a striking departure from what came before, and it wanted you to appreciate the distinction.
The Jordan 2 is indeed a high-quality shoe, but what’s most striking about it in retrospect is how undistinguished it is. Compared especially to the Jordan 1, with its unmistakable color blocking and bold silhouette, the Jordan 2 looks a little… well, plain. It features no iconic Nike swoosh, few branding details, and an emphasis on white leather intended to better match the NBA’s rules against too much black on official game footwear. The result may have been superior to the Jordan 1 in technical aptitude—the soft midsole was widely regarded at the time as a design breakthrough in terms of on-the-court feel—but in terms of sheer aesthetic, it just isn’t remotely as memorable.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that a follow-up to a beloved classic will win hearts and capture the audience of the original: that’s the issue with sequels in the first place. But what’s remarkable about the Jordan 2 is that virtually every other immediate successor to the Jordan 1 did in fact go on to earn a place in sneaker history. It’s pretty much only the Jordan 2 that flopped.
All of which makes it, in a funny sort of way, the perfect sneaker for Abloh to attempt to resuscitate with a brand new collab. (The shoe hits Nike’s SNKRS app this weekend.) In his new coffee table book Virgil Abloh ICONS, the Off-White designer writes at length about his interest in Nike and the Jordan brand, and the way his collaborations are driven by iconography and history. His previous work with Jordan has taken the most iconic silhouettes and made them seem brand new again. So it only makes sense that his next move would be to look at a less famous chapter in history—to build something new with the past that time forgot.
And of course, if anyone is capable of changing cultural perceptions of a shoe as long neglected as the Jordan 2, it’s Virgil Abloh, whose collaborations with Nike and Jordan have emerged as some of the landmark sneaker releases of the last decade. His take on the Jordan 2 is virtually guaranteed to become a must-have grail among dedicated sneakerheads, with resale prices almost certain to hover near four figures. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the release also generates more widespread interest and enthusiasm in a sneaker that has otherwise languished in obscurity for decades. This may be the dawn of a new era for the Jordan 2. And thanks to Abloh, the black sheep of the Jordan family might finally be cool again.