Brett Golliff

What the KO?


Am I the only one that loves the Air Jordan 1 KO, but really knows nothing about it? The more I wear it though the more I realize that I know very little about it. Like, what does KO even mean? Well I did a little research,, and I found the answer but I can’t confirm or deny if it is the real answer. Confused? Well so am I. Just follow me on my journey through the KO…

To understand the Air Jordan 1 KO, you must first understand the Air Jordan 1. We all know that the Air Jordan was Michael Jordan’s first signature shoe. We know that it was “banned” from the NBA and David Stern fined Michael $5,000 every time he wore the obnoxious red colorway on court. A fine that Nike agreed to pay because they believed the provocative colorway and the rebellion of Michael would make sales surge. They were correct, which led them to boosting production on the ever-popular shoe.

Being the young shoe company they were, they had a false sense of confidence, and Nike over-produced the Air Jordan 1 leaving many pairs sitting on shelves of stores. This led to overstock in pairs and left profits sitting on shelves, quite literally. Which in return sent Nike scrambling to find a way to make the shoe profitable. They already offered the shoe in damn near every team colorway they possibly could, so the only play left to try was “take it down” or “knock-off” the Air Jordan 1 at a lower price-point. This would be a way of driving the profit margins up on the shoe.

Enter the Air Jordan KO.

Now I am sure there aren’t too many people who would be willing to admit that the KO stands for “knock-off”, but I know that internally during the creation of the shoe its nickname was simply that because it wasn’t the Air Jordan. It was a lesser version of it. Many believe that the popular internal nickname stuck with the shoe all the way to its release, thus becoming the Air Jordan KO. What the KO?

Nike wasn’t the juggernaut they are now, and in 1984 they were literally throwing the bank at Michael and putting all their pennies on his stock to make the company succeed. To do this in a somewhat safe way, Nike would share the tooling (sole unit) between two shoes because it would have a greater chance of paying off the molds if two shoes were using them. It is a pretty simple concept and still used in today’s market. Just look at how long Nike has used the original LunaRacer sole unit. It’s been in production since 2008 across numerous shoes currently. Talk about amortization. What the KO?

So to help the KO thrive in the market place, they shared the sole unit with the Nike Vandal. This allowed them to do two things, make a quicker profit like I already explained above, but also bring the price in lower which would drive the profit margin far higher. So basically by “knocking-off” the Air Jordan 1 and creating the KO, it allowed them to recoup some of the money they had lost by over producing the Air Jordan 1. Little did they know though they were creating an iconic piece of footwear history.

No matter the meaning of the KO, it is far from a lesser version of the Air Jordan. If anything, it can almost be seen as an “elite” version of the Air Jordan 1. Now that might be an extreme analogy, but consider the times. You basically had a choice of leather or canvas or in rare instances suede for your on-court performance needs. Leather was far heavier and less breathable than canvas and was really only suited for indoor play. But everyone knows that basketball was born on the streets, in the playgrounds, and in the backyards of youth athletes. Leather just didn’t work there, but canvas thrived as it was lighter and more breathable and most importantly, more durable. So the Air Jordan KO offered a new performance need, as it is nearly all canvas except for the two areas that need the most structure on the shoe, the collar and the foxing. The leather in those areas provides support to the athletes and also a plush feel in an area that is known to be an irritant for many.  What the KO?

All designs have a deep history. Nothing is created without reason and the Air Jordan KO is no different. While currently it is the illest lifestyle shoe, it was once dominating the court with its elite level performance and helping keep the brand alive in its early stages. It went from just being the offset of the Air Jordan line as the AJKO, as it didn’t even get the roman numeral I nomenclature until later in its life, to being one of the most coveted Air Jordan I’s to obtain.

So no matter the real meaning of KO, realize that it provides a very important piece into the history of the Air Jordan and that it was a true performance shoe and still can be. It literally kept the brand from being KO’d.

Brett Golliff, footwear extraordinaire, is founder of, contributor for Complex, and has previously designed for New Balance. Check him out on Twitter and Instagram