Introducing the Air Jordan 4: Establishing a Dynasty
On May 7, 1989, the world witnessed "The Shot," an impossible feat for anyone other than His Airness. Michael Jordan pulled off this legendary buzzer-beater with assistance from his Black Cement Air Jordan 4s. It was MJ's fifth year in the league and a brilliant display of his growing dominance as a superstar.
The same could be said for Tinker Hatfield, the lead designer for the Air Jordan line. After the tremendous success of the Air Jordan 3, Hatfield had his work cut out for him. Coming on the heels of one of the most popular sneaker designs ever, did he dare mess with the formula? He opted to keep the overall design similar to its predecessor but boosted the performance features.
If the Air Jordan 3 saved Nike's partnership with Jordan, the Air Jordan 4 cemented it—primarily due to the inspired design efforts of Hatfield.
Key Features of the AJ 4: Focus on Performance
Tinker Hatfield changed up the game on his second of many Air Jordan designs by amping up the performance and breathability. He kept the AJ 3's mid-cut height, the visible Air unit in the heel and the "Nike Air" emblem on the back. Hatfield also retained the signature Jumpman logo on the tongue.
The Air Jordan 4 implemented a more utilitarian approach. Here's what made it stand apart:
- Cost-effective Durabuck synthetic leather upper that wipes clean with ease
- An encapsulated Air unit added to the forefoot
- The word "Flight" incorporated into the Jumpman logo—Air Jordan is meant to fly, after all
- The addition of "wings," a multiport lacing system with extra holes for a customized fit and enhanced lateral support
- A pull tab added to the heel for an easier wearing experience
- "Over-molded" mesh paneling for increased breathability, the netting was coated with urethane, dipped in soft plastic, then air-blown to remove the plastic from the net's gaps
The Shot Seen Around the World
That famous buzzer-beater from the 1989 NBA Playoffs added to the mystique of the Air Jordan 4. With three seconds left on the clock, the fate of the Bulls/Cavs series would be decided by Michael Jordan. For a moment, time stood still as MJ launched the ball over Craig Ehlo, and it soared across the court before falling through the net to the loud echo of the buzzer in the arena.
There was an iconic image of Jordan jumping in the air, his Air Jordan 4s lifting off the glossy court. This would be the first of many game-winning shots and the Bulls' first real shot to be championship contenders. It was also Jordan's best statistical season overall—where he averaged 32.5 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Air Jordan IV Does the Right Thing
Amid all the hoopla surrounding the AJ 4 was an ad campaign featuring Michael Jordan and Mars Blackmon, a fictional superfan played by filmmaker Spike Lee. In Lee's 1989 film, Do the Right Thing, a sample pair of Air Jordan 4s makes an appearance in the White Cement colorway worn by Giancarlo Esposito's character, Buggin' Out. That would not be the Air Jordan's last appearance in a Spike Lee production.
Retro Releases: Ten Years in the Making
It would be ten years before the Air Jordan 4 returned in retro variations. In 1999, following Michael Jordan's second retirement, Nike brought back cult favorites Bred and White Cement. These two colorways were fundamental to any sneaker enthusiast's collection. The long-term value of this duo isn't necessarily high, considering the volume at which they've been re-released as retros.
More colorways and special editions followed:
A nickname that was later changed to Legend Blue
Tumbled black leather with speckled cement on the midsole and eyelets
With leather paneling replacing the mesh, and a Jumpman logo replacing the Nike Air branding—an uncompromising change for many passionate sneakerheads
A mix of grey, chrome and dark charcoal most recently retroed in 2019
Fire Red Mars
Featuring Mars Blackmon's face on the side
Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing edition, surfaced both as a very limited release with a scuff on the toe box (referencing the famous movie scene), and again as a women's release in 2020
The Original Jordan 4 Colorways
The Air Jordan 4 originally released in 1989 in four colorways, echoing the Air Jordan 3's original releases—White Cement, Fire Red, Bred and Military Blue. It's worth noting that nicknames weren't always initially placed on Air Jordan styles, and often were appointed later by the sneaker community. The black and red "Bred" colorway also introduced the first use of soft Nubuck leather on an Air Jordan and would become a go-to material in many future models.
Rare and Valuable Air Jordan 4s
Many top sneaker lists include some of the most highly coveted and expensive Air Jordan 4s:
- UNDEFEATED Air Jordan 4 from 2005—resold for $18,500
- Another 2005 release in collaboration with rapper Eminem collects bids surpassing $10,000
- KAWS from 2017: a limited edition gray, and an even more limited Friends and Family edition in black
- Travis Scott from 2018
- Women's exclusive Jordan 4 collaboration with Off/White
Quantity and accessibility play a major factor in Jordan IV values—for example, the UNDEFEATED collaboration released 72 pairs, while Eminem's collaboration was limited to 50.