Seemingly by default, Jordan Brand began life in 1997 as the number four basketball brand in the world.  That was not a bad start for the Nike offshoot – they were mostly buoyed by the success of the Air Jordan 12 and 13 and the newly unveiled Jumpman Pro – but Michael Jordan and his burgeoning company had other aspirations.  Even though Nike Basketball and Jordan Brand were essentially under the same corporate umbrella (and still are), Jordan Brand was not going to settle for fourth place.  Team Jordan wanted to surpass Nike in not just basketball shoes, but other sports as well.

But in order to do that, Jordan had to reach out to others for help.  Much like his early playing days, MJ did not have to rely on anybody else but himself in order to reach his individual goals, and the Air Jordans were in the same vein.  But in order to win a championship, Jordan had to give in and buy into the team concept.  Similarly, in order for Jordan Brand to have any chance of succeeding on the level they had envisioned, he was going to have rely on a younger generation of athletes – especially after he retired – and have them speak for him.

The shadow of MJ looms large for anybody who wants to dare sign a Jordan Brand contract. Yes, it’s easy to say just sign the deal and you get free retros forever, but it’s more than that. A Jordan Brand athlete is held to a high standard and as you’ll see on this list, it’s a tough act to follow and not everybody who has rocked the Jumpman has gone on to instant greatness. But MJ and his team saw something in each of these athletes at one point in time; a glimmer of hope and limitless potential. As we list the greatest Jordan Brand athletes of all-time as part of the Road to the Air Jordan 30, you’ll see that some lived up to the name, others faltered and one set the bar.

30Drake

Jokes, people, jokes. Because there was that one time during Midnight Madnes… ah, you know what happened, no need to rehash it. Well, at least we know he can sell kicks (see: OVO x Air Jordan 10 madness), he has that going for him. Don’t quit your day job, Drizzy…

29LaMarcus Aldridge

Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

As somebody who got a lot of mileage out of a feature on Aldridge wearing various Jordans using nothing but pictures of him shooting from the left block, you’ll be pleased to know that while the jersey has changed, the jumpers have stayed the same.

28Vin Baker

NBA/Getty Images

Vin Baker was so good during his peak years that Jordan Brand pegged him to basically be their “Strong” to Eddie Jones’ “Quick”, similar to how Charles Barkley was “Force” and Michael Jordan was “Flight” for Nike during the 1980s. He wore one of the best Team Jordans of all-time in the Jumpman Pro Strong and even earned a signature shoe called the Vindicate. Unfortunately, Baker’s career and personal life took a number of wrong turns that left him nearly broke and out of the league by 2006. He has since been on the road to recovery and was last heard from training to be a Starbucks manager last year. I’m guessing he won’t be too strict on any sneaker dress code the store might have.

27Marvin Harrison

NFL

Depending on who you believe or what you read online, Marvin Harrison is either the nicest guy ever or the baddest man (in a Stringer Bell kind of way) on the planet. Either way, he wore some fly Jordan cleats in his time, including a string of 3s that would make him the envy of any sneakerhead. And you know he has non-cleated versions just sitting around not to be messed with.

26Andre Ward

Nike

Arguably the best pound for pound boxer in the world today, Ward is a few marquee fights away from becoming a true superstar. The only question is whether or not he actually gets into the ring and makes those fights happen because he’s been bogged down by injuries, contract disputes and other squabbles. That Jumpman logo looks nice on Ward, but what would be nicer is if we saw more of those Jordan boxing boots in the ring.

25Stephen Jackson

NBA/Getty Images

Captain Jack is the realest of them all and I think you know what I mean when I say that. He might come with headaches, but when the time comes, there’s few people I would want on my squad more – both on or off the court – than Jackson. He probably got a Jordan Brand deal directly from MJ the moment he got sent to Charlotte and he’s been one of the most reliable sources of fresh Jordans on Instagram ever since.

24Jimmy Butler

Bruce Fedyck/USA TODAY Sports

If Butler continues his ascension to being one of the game’s elite players, Jordan Brand might be looking at the steal of the century, considering the All-Star guard took a huge pay cut to leave adidas and sign with the Jumpman. Butler might not like being compared to the man whose kicks he wears, but if the Bulls can make a deep run in the playoffs with him running the show (sorry, D-Rose), his Jordan game will take the next step beyond just rocking general release retros and Super.Fly PEs.

23Earl Thomas

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

Earl Thomas earned the right to be called the NFL’s highest paid safety and he earned the right to be a Jordan Brand athlete by rocking any poor wideout that happens to be in his vicinity on Sundays. The Super Bowl champion has a wide array of exclusive retro cleats that get plenty of attention from the blogs as they wonder what’s next. With the Seahawks set to face the Carolina Panthers this weekend, all eyes will be on Thomas and what will be on his feet.

22Joe Johnson

NBA/Getty Images

Joe Johnson, fair or not, will always be judged by the massive contracts he has received throughout the years. Even though most people wouldn’t be able to name a single memorable thing Johnson has done in his NBA career, he has amassed an impressive resume that includes multiple NBA All-Star appearances and a sneaker game that includes retros that desperately need a retail release but have yet to do so like the Air Jordan 16.

21Mike Bibby

NBA

Mike Bibby has been a Jordan ‘head longer than some of our readers have been alive and he always had amazing kicks that fans gravitated towards. Take this Air Jordan 12 PE for example and the countless other retro PEs he has rocked in his career.

20Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson

It seems so wrong to split them apart. Before Blake Griffin, there was Darius Miles. People forget, but from 2000 and 2002, Miles was one of the most popular players in the entire NBA. Between his youthful charisma and highlight reel athleticism, many felt – including Jordan Brand, who thought so highly of Miles and teammate Quentin Richardson that they tapped Spike Lee to direct their first JB commercials – that Miles and the Los Angeles Clippers were going to take over the league. Instead, the Clippers flamed out like the Clippers always do (although Blake and CP3 are trying their damnedest to make sure it never happens again), Miles became a vagabond swingman with moments of brilliance that make people wonder what could have been and Richardson shot his way to greatness in Phoenix but little success elsewhere.

19Terrell Owens

NFL

His numbers don’t lie; Terrell Owens is one of the greatest wide receivers of all-time and definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He also has a Hall of Fame cleat game that ranges from the 3s to the 13s. Well, they can’t all be great, I guess…

18Richard Hamilton

NBA/Getty Images

As a mask-less young guard of out UConn, Richard Hamilton was one of the few players who could “hang” with Jordan during his time with the Washington Wizards. Perhaps energized by his young teammates’ mastery of perpetual motion as he ran off screens to create shots, Jordan allowed Hamilton to shine alongside him in their brief one-season partnership. Rip would also benefit from Jordan’s legendary competitiveness, since he was traded to the Detroit Pistons the following season for veteran Jerry Stackhouse because Jordan wanted to win right away.  That worked out well for Hamilton, who would go on to become an NBA champion two years later.

17Charles Woodson

NFL

During the early to mid-2000s, it felt like Jordan Brand had just as many football players as basketball players. Warren Sapp, Eddie George, Owens and Jason Taylor were all favoring the Jumpman at the time, but it was Charles Woodson who was just a class above the rest. Whether he was a Wolverine (only defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy), a Raider (multiple Pro Bowls) or a Packer (Super Bowl champion), Woodson let his accomplishments do the talking, which is more than you can say for some of those other guys. Maybe he was never as loud or boastful as his other Jordan Brand mates, but he always delivered (except for that one time with Tom Brady, but that’s not his fault).

16CC Sabathia

MLB

One of two New York Yankees on this list, CC Sabathia has more than earned the right to wear Air Jordan 11 cleats whenever he feels like it. As the one-time ace of the premiere franchise in all of sports, Sabathia was sensational since making the jump from Cleveland, leading the Yankees to a World Series victory in 2009 and earning multiple All-Star berths. Injuries and other issues have led Sabathia to lose of his effectiveness the past few years, so all we have now are the memories of his cool exclusives, like the 12s pictured above.

15Michael Finley

NBA

Michael Jordan has made a habit out of making friends and rivals future business associates. From Rod Higgins to Sam Vincent to Larry Brown, Jordan has been very generous when it comes to giving those in his circle of trust opportunities.  Michael Finely made it into the Jordan cabal before he played a minute of college ball, let alone the NBA. As a googly-eyed high school kid, Finley played Jordan to a game of H-O-R-S-E and lasted longer than anybody expected.  Earning MJ’s respect that day, Jordan would show his appreciation years later when he made Finley one of the first members of Jordan Brand. Finley would live up to his end of the bargain, earning a pair of All-Star appearances and an NBA championship.

14Roy Jones Jr.

Despite having a career that has fascinated many and frustrated even more, Jones Jr. signing with Jordan Brand was a big deal back in the late 90s, paving the way for JB to leap into unconventional places like NASCAR (Denny Hamlin) and Track and Field (April Holmes). The day Jordan Brand signs a lacrosse star or a soccer star (like Neymar maybe?), people will need to go back and look what Jones meant to the Jumpman.

13Carmelo Anthony

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Much like his career up to this point, the Jordan ‘Melo series has had its share of brief successes here and there, but fans are still waiting for that breakout moment/shoe that captures the sneaker zeitgeist.  13 seasons and many disappointing playoff runs later, the clock is ticking on the man who believes in B’More.  Once upon a time, Michael Jordan had so much faith in Anthony that he blessed ‘Melo with a shoe line he could call his own.  Don’t you think it’s about time Anthony finally justifies that faith? At some point, winning a game in the first round just isn’t going to cut it anymore and if he’s not careful, we might be looking at somebody across his locker room as a potential sneaker star. Porzingis #NBAVote…

12Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers

After a few years of being so self-serious, Blake Griffin brought some much-needed fun back to Jordan Brand. Don’t believe me? Watch this…

And this…

And the latest so far…

11Kawhi Leonard

NBA

If we were just doing a battle of best personal logos, Kawhi’s “Claw” might be the most creative we’ve seen in a very long time.  The 2014 Finals MVP is the heir apparent to the San Antonio Spurs dynasty along with LaMarcus Aldridge and even if that doesn’t excite you on a basketball level, the prospect of seeing super clean retros and XX9s (and soon XXX) exclusives has to leave you hyped for more.

10Eddie Jones

Kicks On Cards

Eddie Jones was a pioneer. Before we name the rest of the top 10, Jones was a charter member of Brand Jordan. He wore the Team Jordan 1, his own signature Pro Quick, Quick 6 and Swift 6. He was on top of the retro scene in the early 2000s when people were just starting to get nostalgic for older kicks. If Jones had come along 15 years later, we would be mentioning him alongside guys like PJ Tucker and Nick Young as one of the top sneakerheads in the game. The difference is Jones got his stuff for free.

9Chris Paul

Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

Blake brought the fun and Chris brought the ornery. Yeah, he’s Cliff Paul or whatever alter ego he has now with State Farm, but make no mistake about it; on the court, Chris Paul is stone cold. Playing in the Western Conference his entire career has afforded him very little luck as he has yet to play in a Conference Finals, so it will be interesting to see how history judges CP3’s career when it’s all said and done. However, as a Jordan athlete, he has been near or at the top of the pack since the moment he signed with the brand, much like ‘Melo before him and Blake and Russell after him.

8North Carolina Tar Heels

Fun Fact: Like the ad and the smirk on MJ’s face implies, The University of North Carolina was not a Jordan Brand school in 1997.  Another North Carolina school proudly wore the Jumpman during the 1997-98 season, and thankfully it was not Duke.  The honor of being forever known as a charter Jordan Brand school goes to North Carolina A&T, who until recently was still being equipped with exclusive Air Jordans.  Eventually, North Carolina would make the jump and even Jordan himself has provided young Tar Heels with shoes and sage advice ever since.

7Randy Moss

NFL

When Jordan Brand blesses you with a signature shoe called the “Super Freak,” you better have the amazing athletic ability to back it up.  Not only did Moss carve up defenses during his first stint in Minnesota and his record-breaking run with New England, he did it with such flair that no wide receiver has been able to replicate since, Megatron  or Odell be damned.  Moss made one-handed catches an everyday occurrence and often burned Pro Bowl defensive backs so badly that John Madden ran out of superlatives for him.  There were times that you just had this feeling that he would just try weird things on the field just because he was good enough to pull it off.  He was super freaky, yow….

6Russell Westbrook

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The #FashionKing took over the Dwyane Wade spot as being the man tasked with introducing the new Air Jordan to the world. It seems unlikely he will be at the reveal of the XXX on Thursday, but count on him to be one of the first, if not the first, Jordan Brand athlete to rock the newest Air Jordan on the court.

5Dwyane Wade

When Dwyane Wade “came home” (the marketing catchphrase when he moved from Converse to Jordan Brand), he has won an All-Star Game MVP, almost won the regular season MVP, made a few All-NBA and All-Defensive teams and reached the NBA Finals twice and won one.  One of the biggest sneaker coups of the past few years was made even more special when Michael Jordan essentially handed the keys to the kingdom over to Wade, making him the man to continue the Air Jordan legacy while also getting chance to shine on his own with his signature Fly Wade line. Sadly, the partnership lasted only a few years and Wade on to Li-Ning, but his short stay there was impactful to say the least.

4Maya Moore

WNBA/Getty Images

Speaking of accomplishments, Maya Moore is making a case for being the most decorated Jordan Brand athlete and she’s still only 26 years of age. Last year, we made the case for Moore closing in on the top spot of greatest Jordan Brand athlete and this was the justification:

If these were the credentials of any NBA player, we’d be talking about building a statue in their image in every arena across the country. When Michael Jordan was 26 years old, he was still trying to figure out how to beat the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics. When LeBron James was 26 years old, he was labeled a choke artist with two loses in the NBA Finals. Kobe Bryant had three rings by the time he was 26 years old, but some people would credit Shaquille O’Neal as the driving force behind those three championships. It’s like we’re talking about a modern day Bill Russell. And it took Russell a long damn time before he got a statue.

And she had an awesome player exclusive game to go along with it. She’s almost there, but time will tell if she has the long and successful career of the rest of the names on this list.

3Ray Allen

NBA

Because it is not a good idea to bet against Jesus (Shuttlesworth).

Ray Allen’s logo is a silhouette of his gorgeous jump shot. While other signature Jordan Brand athletes have abstract logos that play off their name or whatever funky theme they could come up with at the marketing meeting, Allen has such an iconic motion to his jumper that anybody staring at that logo will automatically recognize that it belongs to the NBA’s all-time three-point scorer. The only other NBA players with a memorable icon like that? Michael Jordan’s Jumpman, LeBron James’ Dunkman and Jerry West, the NBA logo personified.

Ray Allen possess the class and gravitas that you would expect out of a Hall of Fame player, he also has the same maniacal dedication to the game as Jordan himself. When the lights go out and the shooting routine barely misses a beat, it is a laser focus that cannot be taught and is a quality that only the greatest of all time have. I mean, look at this man practice…

2Derek Jeter

When Jordan Brand was looking at who they should make their first non-basketball athlete, the choice was clear.  In 1999, Jeter was the newly-crowned king of New York, winning championships on the diamond and commanding the city in the same way the Joe Namath once did off it.  Years later, Jeter is as synonymous with Jordan Brand as just about every other athlete on this list combined.  It is almost impossible to imagine a time when Jeter was not wearing Jordan PE cleats for random games in the summer.  Other baseball players have since signed on Jordan Brand, but Jeter’s talent and leadership – not to mention ring count – just soars above everybody else.  His signature shoe line is one the underrated gems of this past generation of kicks and people would do well check them out at their local retailer or on eBay to see what they have been missing because they were so hung up on focusing just on the basketball section.

So what changed since 2012? Jeter retired in 2014 and got maybe the most amazing send-off an athlete has ever received.

Jesus couldn’t even get that. What?

1Michael Jordan

Nike named a brand after him that’s now worth billions of dollars. That’s all you need to know.