Vintage 1980s Nike shoes, from regular retro sneakers to classic Air Jordans

Vintage 1980s Nike shoes, from regular sneakers to Air Jordans

Note: This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.


In the 1980s, sports shoes became more than something to wear on your feet as sneakers became a cultural phenomenon. In particular, the rise of streetwear and hip-hop popularized brands like Nike and Adidas.

Several successful shoes were introduced in the eighties, but perhaps none more revolutionary and iconic than the Nike Air Jordan — created for Hall of Fame basketball player Michael Jordan.

At first, they were made just for the man himself… but then the shoe was released to the world at large in 1985, and that changed everything.

The Air Jordan shoe made it to the forefront of sneaker culture, and became one of the most iconic sneakers of all time.

Even two decades into the 21st century, it’s still a top seller. In fact, Forbes magazine estimated that Nike’s endorsement deal with Michael Jordan has earned the hoops star $1.3 billion dollars over the years.

“It is the richest athlete endorsement deal ever,” Forbes reported in 2020, “but also arguably the biggest bargain given that Jordan helped transform Nike from a scrappy underdog into one of the largest, most valuable consumer brands in the world.”

Here’s a look back at some vintage 1980s Nike shoes — from the early “just plain sneakers” to the later mega-successes of classic Nike Air Jordans and the well-known “Just do it” slogan.

Nike Court shoes (1983)

Shoes shown include Court Press, Court Master, Volcano, Sierra Mocs, All-Court, Lady Raquette and Wimbledon tennis shoes.

Vintage Nike Court Shoes (1983)

Nike has got your style. (1983)

A continuation of Nike’s line of sports shoes include the Rio, Bree, Lady Meadow Supreme, Aerobitech, Penetrators, Challenge Court, Echelon, and Commuter jogger shoes.

Old Nike shoes available in 1983

All the best names… all in one place (1983)

Nike’s Training Shoes line shown includes the R500, Leather Cortex, Lady Sprint, Monterey, Rascal, Infant Nipper, Infant Tyro, Pegasus, Internationalist, and Yankee.

ALSO SEE: Keds vintage sneakers & shoes from the ’20s to the ’80s

Vintage Nike training shoes (1983)

Retro and vintage Nike shoe styles from 1983

Vintage Nike bowling shoes with bowling ball bag set (1983)

Vintage Nike bowling shoes & bowling ball bag set (1983)

Air Jordan has landed. (1985)

Nike Air – Air Jordan – Featuring basketball star Michael Jordan

Air Jordan shoes - Nike shoes (1985)

Nike-Air is not a shoe. (1987)

Vintage Nike Air shoes from March 1987

It’s a revolution.

Like many revolutionary ideas, Nike-Air cushioning is simple. Yet, as a feat of engineering, it remains unmatched. Even eight years after we first introduced it.

Nike-Air cushioning is a patented system. It consists of a special BAS, pressurized inside a tough, flexible, urethane skin.

Called an Air-Sole unit, this is what provides the spring-like cushioning, Because after each step or jump, the Air-Sole unit springs back to its original shape.

It provides, far and away, the best cushioning available. Cushioning that reduces the chance of shock-related injury to the bones, muscles, and tendons of the foot and lower leg. Cushioning that can reduce the muscular energy it takes to run, walk or jump.

Vintage Nike Air shoes ad from March 1987 (6)

But perhaps most importantly, Nike-Air cushioning never compacts. It cushions as well after 500 miles as it does after the first.

After years of improvements, of new designs, and new applications, we’re still uncovering more potential for Nike-Air cushioning.

For instance, our studies showed that we could improve the level of cushioning by enlarging the Air-Sole system. As a result, the new Air Max contains three times more air under the heel than any previous Nike shoe.

We’re using separate Air-Sole units under the heel and forefoot of many shoes, to improve flexibility. We’re using new systems in combination with Air-Sole units to provide more support. More stability. Nike-Air cushioning in shoes for all kinds of athletic activities. It’s in every one of the Nike shoes you see on these pages.

All this takes research. Experimentation. Challenges worthy of the most capable scientists and engineers in their fields. You can see some of their work right here. 

Vintage Nike Air shoes ad from March 1987 (1)

A revolution that works.

At the Nike Sport Research Lab, one thing is more important than a love of sports.

ALSO SEE: Vintage shoe stores: See what shoe shopping really used to be like

A passion for science.

That’s why, to make sure our research is valid and objective, our scientists and engineers regularly present their findings to institutions such as The American College of Sports Medicine.

We conduct basic and applied research projects, to find new methods of improving cushioning, flexibility, stability, and support.

Our findings helped us develop Nike-Air cushioning to begin with. And the Sport Research Lab continually puts it to the test.

Using accepted standard testing methods, we measured the impact on different shoes when the foot strikes the ground. The lower the force transmitted through the shoe, the better the cushioning. Here’s what we found:

Vintage Nike Air shoes ad from March 1987 (4)

Aerobics: Forefoot cushioning is crucial because the forefoot strikes the ground first in nearly all maneuvers. Better forefoot cushioning reduces the shock that can cause injury to the foot and lower leg.

We tested our Air Protector and Air Performer against the Reebok Instructor Low and the Avia 460. The Nike shoes provided 29% more cushioning than Reebok, and 21% more than Avia.

Basketball: A player lands from a jump with the force of up to ten times his weight. Better forefoot and rearfoot cushioning can reduce shock and the chance of injury.

We tested the Nike Air Force against the Adidas Conductor, Converse Weapon, and Reebok 6600.

The Air Force was shown to have the best forefoot cushioning (16% better than adidas, 21% better than Converse, and 8% better than Reebok) and the best rearfoot cushioning (21% better than adidas, 40% better than Converse, and 12% better than Reebok). 

Running: We conducted impact studies with the Air Max and nine competitors’ shoes. Compared to shoes with conventional midsole materials, the Air Max provided an average of 13% better rearfoot cushioning, and 15% better forefoot cushioning.

Nike-Air cushioning never ends: These tests were conducted with new shoes.

Yet further tests prove the Nike-Air system retains its cushioning properties indefinitely, while other systems begin to lose their cushioning with the very first step. 50 the superiority of Nike-Air cushioning increases with use.

For instance, after 534 miles, the Air Max retained 98% of its cushioning properties. After 410 miles, an EVA-cushioned shoe retained just 67% of its cushioning. After just 40 miles, shoes using Tiger-Gel had already lost 8% of their cushioning.

ALSO SEE: Vintage 1980s shoes for men: What stylish guys were wearing

It’s a matter of how different cushioning systems work.

In conventional systems, like EVA, the midsole has small cells containing bubbles of air. When the foot strikes the ground, the air is squeezed out and the cell walls break down or compact.

But in an Air-Sole unit, the gas can’t escape: The Air-Sole unit remains undamaged, mile after mile.

The research that supports these findings assures us that we can provide the best cushioning possible in an athletic shoe.

For concerned athletes and coaches, it can provide an equally important measure of comfort.

The facts.

Vintage Nike Air shoes ad from March 1987 (5)

And works.

Nothing works like Nike-Air cushioning in the lab.

But just wait till you test it in the field.

It has already carried world-class runners like Joan Benoit Samuelson first across the finish line in numerous marathons and road races.

In basketball, Nike-Air cushioning is the choice of the big (Moses Malone), the strong (Charles Barkley), and the unstoppable (Michael Jordan).

Nike-Air cushioning is also gaining in popularity on aerobics floors across the land, making even low-impact aerobic routines less shocking.

And in tennis, John McEnroe is still proving he’s years ahead of the conventional, competing on the pro tour in Air Trainer Highs. Literally hundreds of the world’s best professional and amateur athletes wouldn’t compete in anything but shoes with Nike-Air cushioning.

At their level of competition, Nike-Air cushioning is more than a revolutionary idea.

It’s a matter of survival.

Vintage Nike Air shoes ad from March 1987 (2)

Vintage Nike Air shoes ad from March 1987 (3)

Gravity will never be the same. (1988)

The Air Revolution from Nike. It comes with Nike-Air cushioning, great stability, and a warning: If you’re afraid of heights, buy another basketball shoe.

MORE: Vintage Target stores: See 40 pictures from the ’60s to the ’90s & the original logo

Air Revolution from Nike - Nike Air shoe (1988)

Just do it. Nike Air Trainer SC (1988)

Now you know all about cross-training.

Now you know all about cross-training shoes from Nike. Like the Nike Air Trainer SC. It has Nike-Air cushioning. It’s supportive. It’s stable.

Now what all that means: You can run in it. You can walk in it. You can lift weights in it. You can play volleyball in it. You can play tennis in it. You can ride a bike in it. And yes, you can even do aerobics in it.

Just Do It - Vintage Nike Air Trainer SC shoes (1988)

The Nike Air Healthwalkers (1989)

There’s air in our walking shoes because there’s none in our sidewalks.

Patented Nike-Air cushioning. Washable. Breathable. Widths, The Nike Air Healthwalker Max and Healthwalker Plus. Because it’s a sidewalk out there.

Retro Nike walking shoes (1989)

DON’T MISS! The jelly shoes 80s & 90s fad: Bright colors were more important than comfort

Michael Jordan’s Nike Air Jordan birthday cake (1989)

A Piece Of Cake: Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan had his cake and ate it too when he was recently presented with a birthday cake fashioned after a Nike Air Jordan Sports Shoe to mark his 26th year, as parents Dolores and James look on during Chicago ceremony. –  From Jet magazine (March 12, 1989)

Michael Jordan Nike Air shoe cake Jet Mar 13, 1989

DON’T MISS: Converse vintage shoes: The old-school Chucks, sneakers & athletic footwear

PS: If you liked this article, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest. Thanks for visiting and for supporting a small business! 🤩 


You might also like...

The fun never ends:

Comments on this story

One Response

  1. I have a pair of autographed 1988 Nike air revolution basketball shoes Any idea of value? Where can I go to find out the Value Thank you

Leave a comment here!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.