The Air Jordan 12s were first introduced in 1996 and have been a staple sneaker for many sneaker collectors since that fateful day. New colourways have been released in the almost-two-decade history since then, leaving sneakerheads with many options to choose from. With so many options, it isn’t the easiest to pick a favourite, so we have made a list of the 15 best Air Jordan Retro 12 sneakers of all time for you to choose which is the best.
Few don’t know about the iconic history of the Air Jordan 12s, which first debuted in 1996 and were designed by the legendary Tinker Hatfield. These sneakers first originated during Michael Jordan’s 1996-1997 legendary season that had a lot of really transformative moments for the basketball league in general but with one pivotal moment. To set the stage, it’s the fifth game of The Finals between 1996 and 1997, and one of the star players at the time, Michael Jordan himself, is running a terrible temperature. The man was showing a 39°C temperature and decided that he was going to play for his team anyway.
During the game, Michael Jordan managed to score 38 points in a game versus the Utah Jazz, with seven rebounds and five assists for his team. Leading the team to yet another title, the game was forever known as the famous “flu game”, thanks to his scorching temperature.
After the success, Tinker Hatfield had to hit the drawing board again to come up with a new signature sneaker that somehow topped the iconic Air Jordan 11 and commemorated Michael Jordan’s many achievements.
At the end of the 1997 season, more Air Jordan 12 sneakers were released, this time in a red colourway, followed by great retro colourways released in 2003, 2009, and 2016.
One of the most iconic features that unify all the Air Jordan 12 Retro sneakers is the way that the panelling shifts around the sneaker to make it look like the rays of a rising sun coming up from behind the material of the midfoot that connects to the midsole, and a lizard-skin type patterned mudguard. The iconic Jumpman can usually be seen peaking out from beneath the toes to remind you whose signature sneaker this is. You will need help finding a more sophisticated-looking range of sneakers.
1. Air Jordan XII “Taxi”
The Air Jordan 12 “Taxi” colourway was one of the originals released in 1996, with a predominantly black and white colourway. The upper panelling that looks like the sun’s rays is a stunning white leather with stitched lines to separate each section and emulate the rising sun. One of Michael Jordan’s older and more signature textures, stingray leather, is used as the black accent on these sneakers, aside from the iconic chrome panelling that makes up these sneakers.
Gold metal accents also made the upper eyelets, giving them a unique and sophisticated edge. You might be wondering where the “Taxi” idea comes from, and that is because of the bright yellow on the sole that is peaking out, along with a red Jumpman. These are in the number one spot because they are one of the most iconic sneakers in the Air Jordan Retro 12 range.
2. OVO x Air Jordan XII
Drake has always been a rapper who enjoyed working with the Jordan Brand, and the collaboration has created some of the most sophisticated and successful sneakers in Air Jordan history. Many of the collaborations that Drake has worked with Nike on are exclusives and gifts he designed for the OVO team. Luckily, Nike has a habit of giving sneaker lovers precisely what they want and eventually releasing these designs to the public.
The OVO x Air Jordan XII was released in 2016 and 2017 in two colours: White Leather and Black Suede. Both colourways use stunning stingray leather for the lower part of the midfoot panel in colours that suit the colourway. In contrast, the white sneakers use touches of gold for eyelets. This panel says “Jumpman” on the side, and the Jumpman logo peaking out from under the toes, while the black colourway is an all-black, uniform design. Of course, it wouldn’t be an iconic pair of sneakers by Drake without the OVO owl emblem on the insole and further subtle OVO branding.
3. Air Jordan Retro 12 “Rising Sun”
These unique-looking Air Jordan 12s were released in 2004 and are the first pair of sneakers where perforated leather had been used in the design of a couple of Air Jordan 12 sneakers. The sneakers are almost entirely white, only using touches of black and red as accents, and use alternating solid and perforated leather panels to make the shape of the sun rays.
The sneakers have been the source of many debates regarding fashion and cultural sensitivity because of the name used for this release and meeting a lot of backlash in the Japanese sneakerhead community upon its initial release. Although they are beautiful and sought-after sneakers, it is still important to be respectful of cultures around the world.
4. PSNY x Air Jordan XII
PSNY stands for Public School New York, and they had the opportunity to collaborate with Jordan Brand in 2015 to make these fantastic all-grey suede sneakers. Even the parts of the sneaker that would traditionally have some stingray leather have been replaced with lush suede, and there isn’t an accent colour in sight, not even the peaking Jumpman on the toes. The sneakers feature minimal branding and might be one of the most uncomplicated Air Jordan 12 Retro sneakers out there. Still, their minimalism gives them a sophistication that sets the pair above the rest.
5. Air Jordan Retro 12 “University Gold”
These eye-catching duel-tone sneakers were released as part of the Fall collection in 2020 and feature the signature lizard-skin-like mudguard. The sneaker is equally divided between the black tumbled-leather upper that makes up the signature pattern. At the same time, the mudguard and slightly translucent sole unit are a bright “University Gold”. The Jumpman branding that can usually be found on the tongue label is also a bright yellow, complemented by the matte finish of the eyelets.
6. Air Jordan Retro 12 “Royalty”
This 2021 pair of sneakers are inspired by the “Taxi” colourway released in 1996 but has a few subtle details to set it apart from the retro style. While it still makes use of a lot of white on the upper, the same black for the laces, mudguard, and outsole, the yellow of the Jumpman on the sole of “Taxi” is entirely absent, and the lateral stripe that says “Jumpman” has been swapped out for a classic gold that matches the eyelets and the branding on the tongue label. The name suits the colourway perfectly, as the monotone black and white colourway with touches of gold gives these sneakers a royal feel.
7. Air Jordan Retro 12 “Reverse Flu Game”
Known for being one of the best reimaginings of the classic 1996 sneakers, this pair of Air Jordan 12s can usually be found on many of these styles lists. But, of course, this is a flip on the original “Flu Game” sneakers, completely swapping the colours while sticking with the theme of the Chicago Bulls’ iconic uniform. The play of opposites sets these apart, with the soft red suede covering most of the upper, contrasted by the lizard-patterned black mudguard, along with the subtle interplay between red, a darker maroon, and black throughout the sneakers.
8. Air Jordan Retro 12 Low “Super Bowl”
This special edition low-top pair of Air Jordan 12 sneakers were released ahead of the Super Bowl LV and draws inspiration from the original “Flu Game” pair. These aren’t to be confused with the Air Jordan 12 “Super Bowl”, which uses leather for most of the sneaker’s construction. The Low “Super Bowl” uses a black woven material as the flag-shaped upper, contrasted by the red lizard-leather overlay of the mudguards. This colour is continued into the outsole. What sets these sneakers apart from the others is the confetti-themed insole with the area code for Tampa Bay printed on the insole, an ode to the hosts of that year’s Super Bowl.
9. A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 12 “Black/Burgundy.”
One of two pairs created by A Ma Maniére that was released this year, these sneakers completely switch up the design of the beloved Air Jordan 12s we are used to. Instead of the usual lizard-like leather that makes up the mudguard, we have a beautiful, plush, pre-worn burgundy suede, with an even deeper burgundy making up the sole unit. In addition, the often-used gold lace loops are replaced with a better-suited silver.
10. AJ12 “Eastside Golf”
This is a stunning pair of sneakers made with premium leather and some terracotta clay-inspired neutrals that splash from the mudguard up onto the upper. The premium leather is a creamy nude that perfectly blends with the metallic gold accents of the lateral Jumpman logo, and the lace stays. The insoles have two images, one like clay and the other like the green of a golf course, possibly having something to do with the sneakers’ catchphrase, “Out of the clay, into the future.”
11. PSNY x Air Jordan 12 Retro ‘NYC’
Yet another excellent collaboration between Public School New York and the Jordan Brand, these sneakers were released as part of the 2017 Air Jordan 12 “City Pack” as one of the three pairs, with these being designed to represent New York City. Sometimes described by the colourway “Wheat”, these sneakers make a bit of meta-commentary on the fact that New York fashion has a tendency to love Timberland boots. Most of the shoe has a uniform look, with very soft suede and a touch of leather, with gold eyelets that are more rich Aztec gold than the gold traditionally seen on Air Jordan 12s. This sleek pair of sneakers might be more geared toward fashion, but they are just as functional as any other pair of AJ12s.
These Retro 12 Nike Air Jordan sneakers are legendary!
12. Nike Air Jordan 12 “Gym Red”
Air Jordan 12 sneakers commonly feature at least two colours in their colourway but tend to have a uniform look. The 2018 Air Jordan 12 “Gym Red” took the uniform to a new level with their all-red, stunning sneakers. Even the metallic lateral strip and the eye stays are red. Where you might think it lacks colour, it makes up for differences in texture. The mudguard is the classic lizard-style leather, while the upper is made of soft suede that perfectly complements the metallic accents.
13. Nike Air Jordan 12 “Deep Royal”
Speaking of tonal sneakers, the 2016 Air Jordan 12 “Deep Royal” did the same thing with a stunning royal blue, making it look like the sneakers are being swallowed by the ocean’s depths. Once again, using premium suede for the upper and the classic lizard-like leather for the mudguard, these sneakers are a deep blue colour that shifts slightly brighter depending on the textile you are focusing on. These sneakers are shamelessly inspired by the Don C x Air Jordan 2 while translating the design into a classic Air Jordan 12 blueprint.
14. AJ12 “Floral”
Exclusively for girls, these 2022 sneakers take the Air Jordan 12 master plan and make it intrinsically feminine without just making it bright pink. The premium leather white upper that comprises the usually separated sections of the Air Jordan 12 has been masterfully embroidered with white and pink flower stems. In addition, the stems have been intricately designed with a shift between two shades of green, making it a lot more delicate than it would have been if it had been done with just one shade. Clearly wanting to draw attention to the flowers they are named after, the rest of the sneakers are a sleek black, opting for plain leather instead of the usual lizard-like mudguards, which is an excellent choice that draws the eye up to the flowers.
15. Jordan Retro 12 Arctic Pink
This pair of girls’ grade school-size sneakers arrived on the scene in 2021 to add to the sizing availabilities of Air Jordan 12s, combining various shades of pink to make the perfect girls’ sneakers. The sectioned upper is made of distressed baby-soft “Arctic Pink” suede that is printed to look like a marble texture, meeting with a plain white leather mudguard that continues into the textured midsole and outsole. The real draw of these sneakers is the neon-like “Hyper Pink” that is used for all the accents on the upper, like the lateral “Jumpman” stripe, the lace stays, the inner, and the labelling that you can always find on the tongue of the sneakers.