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Air Jordan 1 UNC

Before Michael Jordan joined the NBA, he played college basketball for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. As he began his pro career with the Chicago Bulls, his new signature shoe, the Air Jordan 1, was gaining popularity as a high-quality basketball trainer. This led to the release of several colourways, one of which was the Carolina Blue – an elegant version of the original in the white and light blue tones of North Carolina’s sports team. This fond homage to Jordan’s college alma mater came to be known as the Jordan 1 UNC. In the decades since its first release in 1985, it has grown into one of the most beloved Jordan 1 colourways and is often replicated in contemporary sneakers.

One of the earliest Air Jordan 1 UNC releases to follow the original was 2003’s UNC Patent. Rather than being a faithful recreation, this reworking has a patent leather upper with a chrome Wings logo on the collar. Nevertheless, its University Blue overlays emulate the look of the 1985 version. A decade later, in 2013, the UNC got its first Mid release, which looks just like the High in most respects except for its use of Jumpman branding instead of Nike Air text on the tongue label. The following year, it got the KO treatment with the release of the Air Jordan 1 Retro AJKO UNC – a canvas-covered edition with no heel counter and custom AJKO Wings on the lateral collar. Fans of the UNC only had to wait one more year for a faithful retro. It arrived in 2015 with the Jordan 1 Retro UNC, whose Dark Powder Blue overlays stay true to the classic appearance of the Carolina Blue.

Next came a collaboration with one of the most revered designers of a generation, the legendary Virgil Abloh. Released in 2018, the Off-White™ x Air Jordan 1 UNC introduced a deconstructed version of the sneaker with unique details like a floating swoosh and orange highlights on the tongue branding. One year later, in 2019, the Jordan 1 UNC was redesigned by Nike SB and pro skater Eric Koston. This Low version of the colourway was inspired by a silhouette Koston had wanted but never been able to get as a kid and features the classic UNC colours.

Following the success of these collaborations, a plethora of Jordan 1 UNCs came out. In 2019 alone, there was the women’s UNC Patent, whose glossy leather outer incorporates Blue Chill and white alongside darker blue tones, and the Obsidian UNC, which has deep blue swooshes and University Blue heel overlays. 2019 also marked ten years since Michael Jordan’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and another UNC sneaker was released to mark the occasion. Known as the Fearless UNC Chicago, its patent leather upper is split into two halves, the back portion employing UNC hues, the front part displaying Chicago tones.

This trend continued throughout the beginning of the next decade, firstly through 2020’s UNC to Chicago. This classy shoe, released both as a High and a Low model, was made to honour the history of Jordan’s journey from college basketball to the pro leagues and, as such, it features UNC blue in the rear half and Chicago Bulls colours in the front. 2020 also saw the launch of the first UNC PE model as a player exclusive design for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Its overlays brought new textures to the colourway, with reptilian skin prints embossed onto its light and dark blue panels. Alongside these releases, two women’s editions of the UNC came out, one the Jordan 1 Mid UNC White and Carolina Blue, with its mostly white upper and Carolina Blue highlights, the other a Low UNC version with University Blue overlays.

The early 2020s was also a good time for low-top UNC silhouettes as 2021 brought the Air Jordan 1 Low UNC. While its white upper and University Blue overlays recreate the look of the original, hints of black on the swooshes and Air Jordan Wings, along with the Jumpman on the tongue, give the design its own identity. The kids AJ1 Low Alt UNC also came out that year, before 2022 delivered a duo of Lows. Firstly, there was the Jordan 1 Low OG UNC, which also has black swooshes and Jordan Wings on the heel to counterbalance its white and Dark Powder Blue sections. Secondly, UNC colours featured on the Jordan 1 Low Golf, whose classic two-tone construction is underpinned by an outsole adapted to the popular sport. Another women’s Mid was released along with these, its overlays filled out with an even lighter shade of blue to give it a remarkably graceful look.

In 2023, a second UNC PE sneaker was created with luxurious suede across the upper, a velvety satin quilt on the inner lining, textured navy swooshes and the University of North Carolina’s logo on the insole. Meanwhile, the UNC joined the ever-growing list of colourways to recreate the dynamic colour-blocking of the 1985 Black Toe. When the Jordan 1 High UNC Toe was released, it brought a compelling new tonal arrangement to the shoe, with black through the forefoot overlays and swooshes, white on the midfoot and blue across the heel overlays and the toe box. In July 2023, around the same time as the high-top edition was launched, versions came out for both kids and toddlers as well, with the Crib available for the youngest age range, making it accessible to everyone.

Despite making up just a small part of Jordan’s decades-long basketball career, he has never forgotten his time with North Carolina. Neither has Jordan Brand for that matter. Both continue to honour the institution with exciting new releases that pay homage to the great player’s roots. The elegant blue and white tones of the Jordan 1 UNC are, therefore, likely to remain at the heart of sneaker culture for generations to come.

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