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If ESPN’s Michael Jordan doc The Last Dance had a co-star, it was the Air jordan 1, Michael’s signature Nike shoe. The Last Dance made them look good: Here was Michael lacing them up again in ‘98, lavishing them with nostalgic praise. And here was a procession of celebrities, from Nas to Justin Timberlake, eager to extol the shoe’s immortal virtues and attest to the lasting influence of this truly iconic sneaker. It was hard to watch the series without yearning for a pair of your own.
If you wanted to be like Mike and cop some classic red-and-black Jordans, you could have jumped on the Foot Locker website and, with the click of a few buttons, scored a pair for yourself for a little over a hundred bucks. But take a closer look: Those weren’t quite the Air Jordan 1 Retro High in the “Chicago” colorway that Jordan made famous on the court in Chicago Stadium. It turns out they were a different sneaker entirely: The Jordan 1 Mid Chicago Toe, a new, low-cost version of Michael’s vintage Jordan, released worldwide at the start of April last year.
This may not seem like an important distinction. At a cursory glance, the Jordan 1 High Chicago and the Jordan 1 Mid Chicago certainly look like more or less the same shoe: same general shape, same bold red-and-black pattern, same unmistakable Nike swoosh along the side and Air Jordan “wings” logo stamped along the upper band of leather. But to any sneakerhead worth his or her salt, the two shoes could hardly have less in common. One is an immensely coveted grail that would be the crown jewel of any serious collection. The other — to put it bluntly — is unconscionably lame.
The Jordan 1 Mid differs from the Jordan 1 High in two crucial respects: It costs less and, most critically, it’s much easier to buy. Every Jordan 1 High released sells out almost instantly, and if you want a pair, you have to either be extremely lucky or willing to pay a premium of upwards of 500% on resale. Mids, by contrast, tend to sit on the shelf at Champs and Foot Locker untouched for weeks. That level of accessibility has steadily tainted their reputation, and for people who have done the hard work of collecting valuable, hard-to-find sneakers, the Mid has come to represent a shameful compromise — a “fake” Jordan 1 that a real fan can spot (and disdain) from a mile away.
“You just don’t buy Mids,” says Tristan Banning, a sneakerhead and influencer who co-runs the lifestyle website Sidewalk Hustle. “They’re like the Canada of Jordans — the safe younger brother.” His partner Hawley Dunbar echoes the sentiment: “Mids are super weird because when you look at what comes out, they tend to be super similar to an actual hype drop that’s passed. I consider them a consolation prize for people who take the L on the real thing.”
But over the last eight months, a funny thing has happened. Mids have started selling — and retailers all over the country have started selling out. What has for several years been a down-market sneaker that anyone could walk into a sports store and buy at their leisure is rapidly becoming one of the top-selling items in the world of athletic footwear. As a result, perceptions are gradually shifting—and shifting so radically that the once-loathed Mids are poised to be the dominant sneaker of the year.
“We’ve seen this really, really explosive growth in the Mid market, especially over the last calendar year,” says Jesse Einhorn, an economist with the major sneaker resale site StockX. On StockX, sales and trades of the Jordan 1 Mid have skyrocketed throughout 2020, and they predict the numbers will continue to rise. “We really started noticing it in Europe. In the UK, Jordan 1 Mids are now outselling Jordan 1 Highs two to one, and in the second half of the year we saw that pattern migrate to the US.” Sales of Mids on the site have increased over 200% since December 2019. Sales of Mids in women’s sizes, meanwhile, are up 1000% over the same period.
How to account for the sudden surge in Mid success? Richard Chang and Shawn Alonto, resellers who buy and sell sneakers as SneakerSourceTO, credit newcomers to the market — all those Last Dance fans just starting, tentatively, to wade in. “Let’s say you watch the documentary and you want to start being a sneakerhead,” Chang says. “You’re going to find out real quick that you can’t simply buy a Jordan High at retail. So you’re probably going to settle for Mids, which you could just go online and pick up.” Or at least, you could have, earlier last year. “Now you can’t even find Mids, which is kind of insane,” Chang says.
That’s been good news for resellers like Chang and Alonto, of course. Where their bread and butter has always been the ever-precious Jordan 1 High, these days they’re consistently moving Mids in even greater volume. “Every Jordan Mid, we move fast,” Alonto says. “Girls’ sizes vanish instantly. There’s such a high demand — and because the shoe is cheaper, the margins are nice.” A new Jordan 1 High that retails for $170 can resale for upwards of $300-$400 — or even into four figures for the most popular styles. Mids tend to cap out at around $200-$250, which is easier to swallow if you’re a sneaker newbie not willing to go broke for grails.
Chang and Alonto have even begun to detect a shift in sentiment toward the much-maligned shoe. “Sneakerheads have always been totally against Mids,” Chang says. “But the mentality is changing. People buy sneakers for exclusivity — and now that people realize how hard it is to get a Mid, it seems a lot more attractive.”
For some people in the industry, the rise of the Mid was simply an inevitable consequence of the rise of the Jordan 1 more broadly. “The established market price of the Jordan 1 has gone way up, and the Jordan 1 Mid has been an indirect benefactor of that,” says Matt Halfhill, founder and CEO of the sneaker site Nice Kicks. “The Mid gets to draft on the success of the Jordan 1 High.” But while the skyrocketing stock of the Mid looks in hindsight like an obvious effect of High demand, Halfhill insists this trend isn’t something the industry could have predicted.
“Absolutely no one saw this coming,” he says. “Nobody forecasted this. Anybody who tells you they saw this coming is a bald-faced liar. This is just the result of a perfect storm of unpredictable things.” Einhorn, with his reams of hard sneaker-sale data, makes a similar point. And it all comes back to the impact of The Last Dance. “99.9% of the time, real-life events have no bearing whatsoever on the sneaker market, because it’s just too big,” he explains. “The exception is The Last Dance. It raised the value of the Mid overnight.” And while the documentary is almost a year old, the change seems permanent. All that’s left is for the once-hated, now-popular Mid to be accepted as a grail.