Thirty years ago today, on Sept. 10, 1990, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air made its iconic television debut. The sitcom, inspired by the life of music manager Benny Medina and developed by showrunners Andy and Susan Borowitz, starred Will Smith, then more well known as half of the famed hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, after the group won a Grammy in 1989 for the hit record, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”
As the story goes, 17-year-old Will Smith (whose character in the show goes by his real-life name) gets into one too many fights in the ’hood of his hometown of West Philadelphia, so his mom ships him across the country to live in Los Angeles with his wealthy aunt and uncle, Vivian and Phillip Banks, and his cousins Nicky, Hilary, Carlton and Ashley.
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A few seconds into the recurring opening sequence of the show, which NBC premiered in 1990 on a Monday at 8 p.m., Smith is shown on a spinning throne in a pair of “Metallic” Air Jordan 5s. He also wears them in the pilot episode upon first stepping foot into the Banks’ Bel-Air mansion. The moment sets the tone for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s legendary six-season, 148-episode run that portrayed Smith as the ultimate sneakerhead, while delivering a weekly display of his next-level ’90s swag through footwear and outfits.
The Fresh Prince rocked it all on screen — from early ’90s high-tops to Nike trainers to Timberland and Doc Marten boots, and, of course, his beloved collection of Air Jordans. Almost immediately, he and the show’s team of stylists would work with brands to get their hands on an early flow of size 12s.
“I wanted them before they were out,” Smith said last year on Sneaker Shopping. “I wanted people to see it on Fresh Prince before they were out.”
In the past few decades, the Jordan Brand has even celebrated Smith’s reverence for Jordans in the show with Fresh Prince of Bel-Air-themed releases, including multiple pairs of Air Jordan 5s, the silhouette most associated with the series.
In celebration of the anniversary, we ranked and broke down the top 30 pairs of kicks worn by Smith throughout the six-season run of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
30. NIKE AIR TRAINER MAX ’94
Remember in season five when Will takes a bullet to save his cousin Carlton’s life? The day Will leaves the hospital, he gets out of his wheelchair and leans down on one knee to propose to his girlfriend, Lisa, showing off a pair of sweet Nike Air Trainer Maxes, featuring a white upper, black midsole and green heel accent. Unlike most shoes from the earlier seasons, the slimmer Air Trainer Max has stood the test of time, having been retroed on multiple occasions since Will wore them the year they first dropped in 1994.
29. NIKE AIR QUANTUM FORCE
The Quantum Force proved to be Will’s go-to silhouette during the first season of Fresh Prince. He wore the sneakers in countless scenes, after debuting them with a track jacket and patterned sweatpants in Mistaken Identity, a thoughtful episode on racial profiling by police. Throughout the season, Will alternated between two colorways — red/white and black/white — while rocking the kicks in both high- and low-top versions.
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28. NIKE SOLO FLIGHT ’90
“His Highness would like to discuss the condition of his royal sneakers,” Will declares to Hilary during the middle of the show’s first season. “You will clean them with your toothbrush. Not side to side, though. Not up and down. But a smooth, circular motion.”
It was one of the first of many moments that sneakers were directly incorporated into the show, after Will devises a plan to assign Hilary a series of chores for his benefit, her punishment for dropping out of college without telling Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil. White-based Solo Flights would get a lot of run from Will throughout the show’s six seasons – and always looked crispy.
27. NIKE ACG BALTORO BOOT
Throughout The Fresh Prince, especially in the first season, Will didn’t hesitate when it came to rocking loud colors. But perhaps what’s most impressive is that his shoes always matched his ’fit. In one episode, he wore a purple, teal, magenta and orange (wild, right?) T-shirt that he paired perfectly with Nike ACG Baltoro boots. A 1990 ad details how the boots were designed for hiking, but Will displayed their casual utility.
26. NIKE AIR MAESTRO
Worn more than a handful of times throughout season four, the white and royal blue Maestro 2 became a staple of Will’s wardrobe as he paired the Scottie Pippen-led sneaker often with light jeans and oversize plaid tops. When Will and the family took a trip to Philly for the season’s finale, Smith broke out a flurry of hometown 76ers and Phillies ’fits to go with the can’t-miss, all-red edition of the Maestro, originally made famous by “Pip” during his 1994 All-Star Game MVP performance.
25. NIKE AIR FLIGHT LITE
While far more known throughout the early ’90s as the footwear of choice for White Men Can’t Jump’s Sidney Deane, the Flight Lite was less about hustle and hoops for Will. It was his go-to shoe for playing video games and finishing off a full pizza from the comforts of the Banks’ living room couch in an early-series episode.