While it took many years for Air Jordans to become the cultural force that they are today, the sales were strong from the start. A 1985 Chicago Tribune article (unearthed via this Medium post) describes in detail Nike’s early expectations and results for the line.
With early orders and sales reaching over $55 million, Nike was projecting to move between 3 and 4 million pairs of the Air Jordan 1 in the shoe’s debut year. The article mentions a targeted rollout for the sneakers that began on April 1 in six cities prior to July 1’s wider release.
The piece is very much of its era—an unnamed Nike spokesperson in it compares the success of Jordans to that of Cabbage Patch dolls—and has some subtle context about a time before the widespread acceptance of sneakers as everyday wear.
“A lot of people obviously are wearing Air Jordan for basketball footwear,” an admin working with Nike on the shoes says, “but we’re also finding that the shoe is not being worn exclusively playing the sport but rather as a ‘hip’ shoe as something fashionable.”
These numbers apparently far exceeded Nike’s anticipations—the Tribune says the brand originally only expected to sell 100,000 pairs of Air Jordans in the line’s first year. The brand would go on to flood the market with Air Jordan 1s after the shoe’s initial success, causing them to go from wait-listed items to clearance rack regulars.