The Air Jordan 12 has a big 2016 in front of it. After a brief cameo in 2015 with a collab that nobody saw coming, there are a handful of 12s are already scheduled to drop with the possibility more to be revealed in the coming weeks. It might not engage the sneaker community like the news of a classic Air Jordan 3 or Air Jordan 11 coming back, but that’s quite all right with fans of the 12; they don’t following in the shadow of a legend because they’ve been doing it for years and it’s worked out quite nicely for them.

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After the breakthrough hit that was the Air Jordan 11, arguably the most famous sneaker ever made, the Air Jordan 12 had a lot to live up to. It’s a Jordan of many firsts, including the first pair to use Zoom Air and the first to launch under Brand Jordan. It might not have the mainstream appeal as the shiny patent leather 11s, but it had an identity that was maybe best exemplified by a pair of ads – the commercial below and The Master poster – that featured an older, wiser Jordan. He might not be able to fly like it once did, but he could still kick your ass. And those shoes? Yeah, they’ll kick your ass too.

With this weekend’s release of the Air Jordan 12 The Master poised to continue that legacy, let’s take a look back at our picks of the Top 10 Air Jordan 12 colorways. Don’t forget to follow our Air Jordan 12 The Master launch page for more release information, images and videos while you’re checking this out.


Sole Collector

The Flint Grey kicks off our list with a no-frills, no-gimmicks needed colorway. It’s a recurring theme with the 12; the design is strong enough that it doesn’t need bright, shiny colorways to get people to notice. First released in 2004, a retro of these would be greatly appreciated at some point.


The almost tonal opposite of The Master colorway cracks the top 10 mostly on seniority, but also because it’s a good colorway of the 12 in its own right. The only problem is that when Jordan decided to release the Rising Sun colorway, they were originally going to do so with a white and red insole that replicated the design of the actual Rising Sun flag, which is considered offensive especially in China and South Korea because they represent Japanese imperialism, particularly during World War II. Yeah, best to downplay that aspect of the 12’s design, guys.


Originally meant to be a Washington Wizards-themed pair for Michael Jordan, all of the copper accents were replaced with grey and red when it became clear MJ wasn’t going to suit up for the Wiz again. A non-OG colorway that first dropped in 2004, the Air Jordan 12 French Blue was worn by the likes of Richard Hamilton, Ray Allen and one Kobe Bryant. That’s right, prior to the Black Mamba being a full-time Nike guy, he managed to sneak in a Jordan retro or two during the 2003-04 season, including the French Blue 12s. It’s coming back this year (check out our Air Jordan 12 French Blue launch page for more information) so you can bet there’s going to be a lot of people who cop that remember it more for Kobe (or even John Wall) than for MJ. Oh, that’s a gloriously funny thing to me…


I vaguely remember the Air Jordan 12 UNC dropping in women’s sizes and yearning for a men’s version. Only years later would I find out that a Carmelo Anthony PE version would actually become available but only in limited quantities. With a color blocking that is reminiscent of the classic Team Jordan 1 UNC (which is to say minimal as all hell), I could write a Sneaker Grails post about all of the great player exclusive 12s that have been made through the years. Hey, wait a minute…


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The Taxi might be the most popular version of the Air Jordan 12. That isn’t a surprise considering MJ wore it all throughout the 1996-97 NBA regular season, which also happened to be the league’s 50th anniversary, so we definitely have plenty of pics of the Taxi that year. The Taxi has received the retro treatment a handful of times in both its original and low-cut form so its versatility is well-documented as well. It mostly recently came back a few years ago in 2013, but don’t be surprised if it makes another go-around to go along with all of the other 12s that are dropping this year.


Another Air Jordan 12 that is also rumored to come back in 2016 is the Air Jordan 12 Cherry or White/Varsity Red. With its bright red hues, it’s another pair that His Airness wore frequently during the regular season. However, it might as well be called the “Iverson 12s” because these were the kicks that MJ wore when he got crossed up by a young rookie guard from the Philadelphia 76ers who was creating his own sneaker legacy.


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The Air Jordan 12 Obsidian stood out from the pack of Air Jordans, especially in the ’90s when you associate Js as being mostly a red, black and white affair. You knew there was no way Michael Jordan was ever going to wear them on the court, which was crazy to think of at the time, but that also made them special, like they were made for other players to wear. That was the case when the shoe got a retro in 2012 and guys like Nate Robinson, Monta Ellis and Russell Westbrook all wore the dark blue kicks to compliment their attire.


Nike

Yes, they’re that good. They better be considering they come with a $300 price tag and a box that we’ll just say isn’t so environmentally conscious. This premium version of the Air Jordan 12 actually succeeds where other 12s have failed miserably in making the nubuck actually work with the shoe’s design. The monochromatic charcoal look turns the shoe into something more than just a basketball sneaker but something of a work of art. The closest analogue I could make for this is when the Nike used a marble finish on the Nike Kobe 2 Prelude and transformed the entire look of the shoe into a piece that could be displayed in a museum.


Nike

Disclaimer: These are my all-time favorite pair of Air Jordans. If ever there was a shoe that optimized how much of a badass Michael Jordan was during his prime, it was the Playoff 12s. Some of his greatest and most iconic moments took place in the Playoff 12, including the first triple double in an NBA All-Star Game and a game-winner in Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals. You know it as the most famous instance of Jordan’s fist pump victory celebration.


No, the 2009 version with emojis don’t count. I’m talking about the textured leather black and red version that came out in 1997 and again in 2003 and hopefully will be back this year (to keep up to date with that, follow our Air Jordan 12 Flu Game launch page for more information). Worn by Michael Jordan in maybe his finest moment – a Game 5 that could have shifted the momentum of the series to Utah while battling “food poisoning” – the shoe would become a part of the legend as MJ rose to the occasion and put together an amazing effort that would eventually lead the Bulls to their fifth championship.

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