Champs Sports (via Sole Collector)

Powder blue means the world to Michael Jordan. Having grown up in North Carolina, he could have gone so many different paths and colors (the red of NC State, the royal blue of Duke, etc.) during his college days, but he was first discovered by Dean Smith; and Tar Heel Nation, sneakerheads and velour suit makers are thankful for that*. The red and black that he wore as a member of the Chicago Bulls will always be more memorable to fans around the world, but Powder Blue or its colloquial name, “Carolina Blue” is where Jordan’s heart is.

Seeing the colors of Jordan’s alma matter is not a new proposition for Jordan Brand; we have seen countless Air Jordans in the colors of the Tar Heels and many Jordan Brand releases often come in Powder Blue flavors. With his beloved Heels making a return trip to the NCAA Championship Game tonight against Villanova and the pending release of the Air Jordan 12 GS University Blue that has the guys all up in their feelings, here is a look back at some of the best Powder Blue Air Jordans ever. To qualify, the shoe has to have had a retail release (because PEs would just be unfair) and the blue has to skew more towards the North Carolina shade of blue which means anything Gamma is thankfully disqualified.

Getty Images
Getty Images

*Thank God that Jordan went to North Carolina. Can you imagine how much more insufferable those fans from that other school down the road would be if Jordan had decided to go there?

15Air Jordan 3 Dark Powder Blue

Jordan Brand

One of the newest Powder Blue Air Jordans also kicks off our list. Some people have been quick to write this one off especially in light of the admittedly superior Pantone Air Jordan 3, but chances those won’t be hitting your feet anytime soon. So it’s a slow climb to the top begins for this colorway and only time will tell if it has staying power of the other kicks on this list.

14Air Jordan 9 For The Love Of The Game

Foot Locker

A nice and clean colorway that some people have knocked for having the “For The Love Of The Game” logo on the heel instead of the ubiquitous “23”. As part of a collection that was released during the time of the 2010 World Basketball Festival, it was a fun tribute to Jordan’s undying love for the game of basketball. Seriously, someone needs to come up with a uh, game where people take uh, drinks of uh, beverages when they watch a Jordan interview and count how many time he says “the game of basketball.”

 

13Air Jordan 17 Low “University Blue”

The Air Jordan 17 might be remembered more today for the crazy suitcase apparatus that it came with originally, but it was still a very sleek shoe that saw a number of memorable releases. There is no doubt that a retro release of these today – as evidenced by the hype for the upcoming Air Jordan 17+ Copper – would be welcomed by those who are looking to expand their Jordan collection beyond just the first 14. This low-cut 17 in the Carolina colors was one of its best releases and even the much-derided hybrid models like the One6One7 looks great in UNC blue.

12Air Jordan 12 White/University Blue

Another reason why University Blue has lasted as long as it has is because Jordan Brand Carmelo Anthony played for the Denver Nuggets for several seasons. Naturally, Jordan Brand was going to lace him up in PEs in Nuggets colors, which just so happen to match the blue of the Tar Heels. We eventually saw some of Melo’s kicks hit retail, although this particular colorway was a women’s exclusive at first and now a slightly different version will return in only GS sizes. Cry now, guys.

11Air Jordan 18 Low University Blue

The Air Jordan 18 was Jordan’s send-off shoe as he wore during his final season in the NBA. Sadly, he never got to wear the 18 Low on the court because from a style standpoint, they were arguably better than the standard cut 18. And then add some Carolina colors to the mix and you have another underrated classic that people don’t pay attention to because it has a number greater than 14.

10Air Jordan 15 SE Bragging Rights (UNC)

The Air Jordan 15 is widely regarded as one of the worst Air Jordans ever and Jordan Brand being the innovators and creative folks that they are saw it not as a failure but an opportunity. They took everything that was so terrible about the 15 and threw it out the window and left the things that were good about it (woven upper which we now see in things like the Jordan Future) and turned it into something amazing with the Air Jordan 15 SE. As part of the “Bragging Rights” pack along with a Georgetown colorway, this turned out to be another example of Jordan trolling his good buddy Patrick Ewing. Like Georgetown can ever win against UNC…

9Air Jordan 14 Black/University Blue

Thanks to guys like Andre Drummond, the Air Jordan 14 has been getting plenty of love lately on the internets. One colorway that we would like to see on the court soon would be these 14s.

8Air Jordan 2 Carmelo Anthony

‘Melo once again pops up on this list thanks to his affinity for the Air Jordan 2. Although this one is a little bit of a tougher inclusion than most of the other kicks on this list because it has hints of the Denver Nuggets yellow/gold, we still can’t deny that this was a huge success when it dropped a few years ago. Plus it manages to do the impossible and make the Air Jordan 2 tolerable to look at so there’s that accomplishment.

7Air Jordan 12 “Black/University Blue”

Once an online exclusive that became a general release, this became a rather polarizing colorway for the Air Jordan 12. But whether you love it because it dropped at retail during an age when online still wasn’t as big as it is today or you hate it because those who dropped the cash to buy what they thought was a limited release, these are a fine example of the 12’s greatness.

6Air Jordan 10 “Powder Blue”

Image: @gc911

As part of (well, kinda) the legendary Air Jordan 10 “City Series” which consisted of cities that he tortured on the regular and players that he blessed with Js, the Carolina Blue version of the Air Jordan 10 is a vastly underrated pair that is underrated no more. Now watch some people say it’s overrated.

5Air Jordan 11 Low “Columbia Blue”

Foot Locker

If you look real close, there really is a difference between “Carolina Blue” and “Columbia Blue”, but it can be negligible at times that my guess is even Jordan Brand can’t tell half the time. A summertime retro of these after first dropping in 2001 would have people in a frenzy. Although it looks like we’ll be getting a Varsity Red release instead.

4Air Jordan 11 Ultimate Gift Of Flight

Nike

How good are these 11s? Nike sold them for $500 and nobody blinked. Yes, it did come with a pair of the excellent Air Jordan XX9 – albeit in the lame elephant print rendition – but the real attraction was this “as close to the Pantone 11s as we’re ever gonna get” pair of 11s that draws attention anywhere it goes. Fingers crossed that Jordan Brand will eventually bring these back in solo form or with a better version of the XX9 or XXX for crying out loud.

3Air Jordan 1 White/University Blue

Nike

We have seen Carolina Blue on the Air Jordan 1 in numerous forms through the years, perhaps most famously on a patent leather retro during the early 2000s. But during the Air Jordan 1’s first run, we saw them drop multiple colorways including this particular version that has yet to see a true retro to this day. Considering the Jordan Brand has been on a tear dropping “Nike Air” 1s lately, we would love to see this come back. Beats dropping exorbitant amounts of money on eBay or building a time machine, right?

2Air Jordan 11 “Columbia”

Foot Locker

Because this is one of only two kicks on this list that Michael Jordan has actually worn (that we know of). Jordan famously wore these during the 1996 NBA All-Star Game and walked home with MVP honors. It got a retro release a few years back to predictably sold out in seconds. Some of us would like another shot at these, Jordan Brand, just saying…

Getty Images
Getty Images

1Air Jordan 9 “Dark Powder Blue”

Because it always comes back to North Carolina. Jordan wore these during a famous Champs Sports ad that was more about selling the Carolina jerseys than they were the kicks. Well, they sold both…

Champs Sports (via Sole Collector)
Champs Sports (via Sole Collector)