Revisiting Air Jordan 5 Greatness
Trying to find out all there is to know about the Air Jordan 5? The fifth iteration of the Jumpman shoe is an icon in itself. We explain how and why.
When it comes to the Air Jordan line of signature sneakers, rankings are difficult. In fact, most people will give you two to three definite answers to “top Jordan model of all time.”
And who can blame them? Well, we look to make the case for a specific part of that legacy. Join us in revisiting Air Jordan 5 greatness.
Nike Air Jordan 5 History
Innovation and tough acts to follow, that’s how we begin the first chapter of Air Jordan 5 history. There are several reasons why this particular part of the Air Jordan line is so important.
The reasons vary from the actual shoe itself to the cultural context and implications of its release. Just before the 5 drops, the signature line of Jordans is going through a refreshing time.
Though the Air Jordan 1 and 2 are legends in their own right, they are far less memorable than the 3 and 4. Tinker Hatfield takes over with the advent of the third model, ushering in a new era of basketball sneaker design.
What results is a run of sneakers that blows away the competition? The Jordan signature effectively becomes its own entity after the 4 drops. Though this was of course great news for the brand’s success and longevity, it proved to be a very difficult act to follow.
The Air Jordan 5 has its work cut out for it at this point. Both the third and fourth installments are, at the time of their release, equal parts visually and functionally innovative. How is one supposed to follow their finest achievement in the span of a year?
Well, it helps to be The Architect. Tinker Hatfield graces the Air Jordan line with his signature touches for two releases and continues that with the 5.
One of the key strengths of the man’s approach is treating Michael Jordan as less of a mortal and more of a mythical figure. As Tinker joins in the brand’s design efforts, Jordan is indeed becoming something much more than a person.
His name is synonymous with an icon, quickly becoming a household name on a global scale. Michael Jordan’s unbelievable performances give basketball a name that translates fluently from language to language. Everyone speaks AIR fluently.
This is part of what prompts Hatfield to emphasize what other facets of life represent Michael and his unique presence. For the Air Jordan 5, the subject is a fighter jet used in World War II.
The front of these planes carries a design that makes it look like a shark, giving it an intimidating look. A cursory browse through highlights will tell you how relevant this is. Jordan’s opponents, mortals defending an icon, have very similar looks.
One might even recognize this as a face of terror and fear, not unlike what you might experience in reaction to a shark attack.
Hatfield was an avid fan of Jordan, watching every game he’s played. The observant designer sees MJ’s playing style and can’t help but model it after a fighter jet that models after a shark.
Frankly, it doesn’t get much more aggressive than that. Jordan + Hatfield was always going to result in some Air Jordan 5 greatness.
Additionally, the design of the Air Jordan 5 is a combination of firsts. This sort of thing is not new from Tinker, the man who starts his Jordan tenure off with two groundbreaking sneakers.
The Air Jordan 5 really lights things up with the addition of a truly unique tongue design. Though functionally sound, it is the aesthetics that blow everyone away. The tongue’s protruding look add to the sneaker’s overtly aggressive styling.
Moreover, as if that isn’t enough, it is a 3M coating. If the shark teeth design fails to catch your eye, the reflective tongue most certainly won’t.
That design choice makes the Air Jordan 5 the first of the line to feature such a bold tongue design. Furthermore, the outsole of this shoe is a trailblazer as well.
Though icy bottoms are something a standard for basketball sneakers today – particularly for Nike – they are less than so leading up to the 90s. The Air Jordan 5’s see-through outsole is a first that blows everyone away, consumers and athletes alike.
Other NBA players marvel at its stylish look as the shoe makes its way through NBA teams. This is perhaps the first sneaker that would sell just fine even without the reputation of Michael.
The cultural implications make this story a bit more interesting. First, consider the release climate for Air Jordan models today. For most of the retro line, you see a fair amount of colorways that release frequently.
In fact, that is partly what makes the distinction between “OG” and “Retro” so important to collectors. There are many colorways of older Jordan models that drop decades after original release.
The response is usually a mix of underwhelming and disappointment at a lack of quality. Even the more performance-focused releases – Jordans 28 through 32, for example – release in a fair amount of color options and builds.
This contrasts sharply with the Air Jordan 5’s original drop. The leathers that cover this shoe back then are rigid and thick, premium in comparison to later releases.
Another important aspect here is the fact that the 5 initially comes in just four colorways. At this point, that sort of decision is common with the Jordan line, with previous releases seeing similar options.
But, the Air Jordan 5 is one of the last to do this. Though each of these iterations is the stuff of hot pursuits, two, in particular, carry heavy hype.
The Air Jordan 5 Black Metallic originally sports the number 23 on the lateral panels, towards the heel. The Fire Red version also has this little detail.
Those two releases initially see a restriction of 100 pairs, each of which Jordan Brand donates to charity. Much like the Doernbecher releases, this has an affect – intentional or otherwise – of making these colorways much more desirable.
It’s fascinating to note that the Jumpman somehow only manages to add on to its hype machine, even when it is making a seemingly humanitarian gesture.
The Fire Red iteration of the Air Jordan 5 was also significant because of what it represented in terms of on-court history. Of course, the release of this shoe is also synonymous with the Bulls coming up short of an NBA title.
The “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons team would take that opportunity away from Chicago. But, it was in this season that Jordan broke his own career marks by dropping a whopping 69 points on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On that March day in 1990, his Airness threw on a pair of the Fired Red AJ 5s and proceeded to score via every conceivable move in his repertoire. Every defender, in their non-Jordan gear, seems to be moving extra slowly in highlights, as Michael darts in any direction he wants.
That darting and seemingly impossible movement is largely the result of the man being so shockingly full of talent. Yet, there’s a lot worth noting about the Air Jordan 5’s functional design.
It’s important to think functionally when thinking about Air Jordan 5 greatness. Perhaps the most intriguing element is that clear outsole. Leading up to the 90s, the prevailing thought in sneaker design is that basketball sneakers need a solid rubber.
The logic here is sound, concluding that the solid rubber compound grips the court better which allows for significantly better traction. Now, when you consider the translucent outsole, it’s safe to assume this results in less traction.
On the contrary, the Air Jordan 5 was go-to for a ton of players between 1990 and the early 2000s. Some of the shiftiest players in the NBA – Michael Finley, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson – spend a noticeable chunk of their careers opting for the Air Jordan 5.
We also see some solid impact protection on this shoe, going with Nike’s Air cushioning tech on a heel. Additionally, that heel portion may be the most impressive element of the midsole – save for the shark teeth of course.
That cushion bag sits in some rather thick casing, allowing for even more protection on those leaps and bounds over defenders and obstacles alike.
Lock it Down
Another fantastic functional element here was the 5’s lace look system. Once again, this is the model of firsts, and that doesn’t change here. This is the first of the Air Jordan line to feature that extra support feature.
Now, it makes sense to wonder why this design addition is necessary. In fact, it wasn’t even clear back then that this sort of innovation would work. The lace lock seems like more of an aesthetic decision originally.
But, it is one of the more subtle functional design elements on the shoe. The lace lock is a more secure system for keeping the foot in place. Before the days of Flywire, this provides ample lock-down by working with the shoe’s structure from the outside. Of course, Flywire’s more internal set-up is a long way ahead of this tactic, the lace lock is a fairly innovative piece of design.
Staying on the performance factor, the Air Jordan 5 is also one of the heavy sneakers that were very breathable. The Air Jordan 5 borrows from its predecessor a component that separates it from the pack: mesh panels.
The panel also makes up most of the non-3M part of the tongue. That’s three different sections of the shoe that allow for airflow. For the Jordan line, this is a particularly interesting decision.
The rest of the Jordan line, up until the more recent models, consists of rather limiting designs. The bulk and lack of ventilation on models such as the Air Jordan 8 made for some rather uncomfortable shoes to play a game of basketball in.
Up to now, we see a very notable increase in the colorway options of the Air Jordan 5. The original releases are, to be sure, quite impressive in their variety. But, the years following this are kind to the shoe overall.
Some of the most hype-worthy iterations out there go for some eye-opening decisions, such as the use of premium materials.
The Air Jordan line of signatures and retro models has a lot of shoutouts to older eras. But, the AJ 5 maintains a particularly strong position in that regard. Most of that, though, has to do with the timing of its release.
The Air Jordan 5 comes to us just as we swing into the 1990s. This is a period of time that many sneakerheads consider to be the best in the history of sneaker design. That claim is even louder when we narrow it down to basketball sneaker fans.
For this sector of the sneaker community, the 90s is in a league of its own. This is the time when performance sneakers on the court meant style off of it.
Many lament about the fact that today’s performance basketball sneakers are all about the space-age gear. Consequently, nothing every feels all that wearable outside of its specific purpose.
This is where the Air Jordan 5, and the rest of the line stand out. The shoe’s visual appeal lasts through decades, remaining a hot commodity every its 1990 release.
Thought it’s a fundamental piece in the career of a legendary athlete, it’s also a whole lot more. The Air Jordan 5 maintains its place in the hearts of fans and collectors alike because of that.
To be sure, it is born for the sole purpose (accidental pun) of supporting the game’s greatest. But, the Air Jordan 5 is also a work of Tinker Hatfield’s truly unique vision.
It’s just one of the many stamps on a retro line that just churns out hit after hit. As the line of Jordan signature sneakers progresses, there are some clear callbacks to bygone stylings. Both the Air Jordan 31 and 32 pay homage to the first pieces of the Jordan story.
In light of that, it’s interesting to wonder what the Jumpman will flashback to next. Hopefully, we see the brand start revisiting Air Jordan 5 greatness.