Nike Dunks vs. Air Jordan 1 Guide

Nike Dunk vs Air Jordan 1? How Can I Tell?

The Nike Dunk and the Air Jordan 1 are two of the most popular sneakers worldwide. If you’re reading this guide, you’ve heard of both the Nike Dunk and Air Jordan 1, but you may have wondered how to tell the difference between these two.

The Nike Dunk and Air Jordan 1 have similar silhouettes and colorways, especially once we start throwing the Nike Dunk Low and Air Jordan 1 Low into the discussion. You may wonder which of these two sneakers is right for you. Whether you’re just starting to collect sneakers or need a new pair of casual shoes to rock around town, you can’t go wrong with the Nike Dunk or Air Jordan 1. 

With that being said, this comparison guide between the Dunks and Jordan 1s should give you all the information you need to decide which sneaker you want to purchase and identify whether a shoe is a Nike Dunk or Jordan 1 out in the wild. 

You aren't alone if you’ve ever been confused by these two sneakers. For those of you with an untrained eye or who haven’t been in the sneaker game for a long time, it can be difficult to tell the two similar silhouettes apart. 

History of the Nike Dunk and Air Jordan 1

The Nike Dunk and Air Jordan 1 feature a giant Nike Swoosh across the midfoot area of the sneaker, rubber midsoles and outsoles, and even a very similar traction pattern. The shaping of each shoe looks very similar too, but some dead giveaways should quickly key you into whether you’re looking at a Dunk or Jordan 1. 

Before we get too deep into the weeds, it’s essential to understand which shoe came first. While the two models were released to the public in 1985, the Air Jordan 1 came a few months before the Dunk. 

At its inception, the Nike Dunk was marketed as a basketball shoe for college athletes, which matched colorways to honor that theme. And while it was used on the basketball court, its time was short lived. In recent years, the Nike Dunk became apart of the SB line and was used primary as a skate shoe! Even now, some people like to skate the Dunks, but most people just wear them casually. 

The Air Jordan 1 was Michael Jordan’s first signature shoe with Nike, whereas before the introduction of the Air Jordan 1, he was wearing another very similar shoe: The Nike Air Ship. Like the Nike Dunk, the Air Jordan 1 is no longer considered a basketball shoe, or at least you won't see many hoopers playing in them. Instead, most sneakerheads and Jordan enthusiasts alike will wear them casually, or collect them. Being that the Air Jordan 1 was the first ever Jordan shoe, it also holds the most value. 

Recently an original Air Jordan 1 from 1985 sold for over half a million dollars, though it was autographed by MJ himself. You're going to have to shell out tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars to get your hands on a pair. 

In contrast, an OG pair of Nike Dunks from 1985 are the more economical of the two: you're probably looking more in the 3-5k range if you want a pair in good condition! 

The Obvious

Nike Dunk vs Air Jordan 1 Logos

That leads us to one of the biggest giveaways your shoe is a Dunk or Jordan 1, the logos. Because the Air Jordan 1 falls under the Jordan Brand umbrella at Nike, the shoe features the Air Jordan Wings logo on the collar of the shoe, and the Nike Dunk does not have this same badging. Where the Jordan 1 has this logo, the Dunk instead features an extra flap of leather with an eyelet punched out. 

Cushion and Technology

Another key that you can’t see, but should be aware of is the cushion system. The Air Jordan 1 features Nike’s proprietary Air cushion, whereas the Nike Dunk does not. The Air unit on the Air Jordan 1 is not visible, so judging the shoe based on looks alone will not be much help in the cushion department. 

But if you're able to take out the insole, you should be able to spot the area in which the Air unit is placed. I wouldn't suggest going around ripping out the insoles, but if they aren't glued down it's worth taking a look so that you can better understand the anatomy of both the Nike Dunk and Air Jordan 1.

The Subtle

Shaping of the Nike Dunk vs Air Jordan 1

Looking at the overall shaping and paneling of the Air Jordan 1 and Nike Dunk offers even more variation. The Jordan 1 is sleeker overall, and the Nike Dunk features an extra eyelet above the “strap” portion of the sneaker. Notice that the AJ1’s eyelets stop at this point rather than extend upward. Another key to note is that if you are examining an Air Jordan 1 Mid, it will only have eight eyelets, rather than the standard 9. 

The outsoles look almost identical upon first inspection, but there are some key differences that you should be able to spot. The main difference is the detail of the traction pattern. Each tread of the Air Jordan 1 features little raised nubs to aid in gripping the hardwood of a basketball court, whereas the Dunk is missing this extra detail. Another detail you’ll notice is the Nike branding on the bottom of each sneaker. On the Nike Dunks, this area will appear narrow and tall, while the same area on the Air Jordan 1 will be much wider and shorter. 

These differences are extremely subtle, so it can be hard to judge UNLESS you have both in hand at the same time. When in doubt, a side-by-side comparison tells no lies! 

The Colorways

Differences in Colorways

One last thing to mention is the initial colorway offerings. As you might have guessed, the Air Jordan 1 was initially offered in classic Chicago Bulls color blocking, while the Nike Dunk featured what you’d probably know as “Team” colorways. Because Nike Dunks were intended for college athletes, the shoes were made to match team uniforms. 

I should also mention that if you’re looking to pick one of these sneakers up for basketball, the technology of the Air Jordan 1 makes it much more equipped to handle the hardwood. 

Now You Know the Difference Between the Nike Dunk and Air Jordan 1

Armed with this new knowledge, you should have no problem figuring out whether a shoe is a Nike Dunk or Air Jordan 1. And if, for some reason, you find something that stumps you, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The sneakerhead community should be about uplifting others and inviting new players into the game, not putting each other down and laughing at those who know less than us. 

Which of these two sneakers would you choose if you could only pick one? I’d go with the Air Jordan 1 because it has a better cushion setup. Let us know in the comments which one you’d pick.

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