The 30 best sneakers worn on ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’
On the show’s 30th anniversary, we pay tribute to the ultimate sneakerhead
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.
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.
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.
24. Air Jordan 7
White/Hare & White/Black/Cardinal
In 1992, Nike delivered the Air Jordan 7 in a collection of unique colorways, including one that paid tribute to Bugs Bunny, while nodding to Michael Jordan’s connection to the Looney Tunes franchise that would later result in Space Jam. On Fresh Prince, Will laced up the cleverly named “Hare” Jordan 7s in a few season three episodes, including with a shirt bearing a pattern similar to Jordan’s iconic ’92 Barcelona ’fit, when he wore the “Olympic” Air Jordan 7s. The “Cardinal” colorway may be more known on the feet of another sitcom star, as Jerry Seinfeld was often seen wearing the home Chicago Bulls edition, but Will also rocked those in early episodes.
23. Air Jordan 6
The night before the Bulls began the Eastern Conference semifinals in the 1993 NBA playoffs, The Fresh Prince season three finale aired and opened up with a subtle sneaker tribute by Will to Michael Jordan. In the first scene of the episode, Will dons a pair of the white “Infrared” Air Jordan 6s — two years after they debuted in 1991 when Jordan won his first NBA championship in the black “Infrared” 6s. Don’t worry, Will showed the black version some love, too — more on that to come.
22. Nike Air Max 180
To many, Will’s character on the show showcased the vivid and colorful style of the early ’90s at its peak, with loud graphic shirts, patterned prints and uniquely hued sneakers becoming a weekly expected sight. When he embraced less mainstream colorways like the purple and bright ceramic hits on an otherwise simple white Nike running shoe, such as the Air Max 180, he’d also pair them with a flooded orange tee for that extra effect. That was all by design.
“For me, the big thing was color,” he said on Sneaker Shopping. “The attitude of the character was always color.”
21. Nike Ultra Force High
A forgotten model at a time when Nike’s high-tops went high-tech, the Ultra Force High is best known for being worn by Will during his Bel-Air Academy basketball season. The yellow No. 14 jersey has long outlived the sneakers, almost single-handedly creating the demand for fictional character jerseys from movies and shows even decades later. The swirling design of the Ultra Force, with a tonal swoosh lost in the shuffle, never quite caught the same love, though they did contribute to 40-point wins and the show’s best hoop scenes.
20. Nike Air Up
Will was big on bold lines, whether it was striped shirts or boldly blocked sneakers. Perhaps no ’fit better represented that than his oversize horizontal-striped rugby top and his white and silver Air Ups, a wavy design you could spot a mile away that was headlined by Penny Hardaway, then already an All-Star just in his second season with the Orlando Magic.
19. Nike Air Force 1 High
Several years before Rasheed Wallace would rightfully be credited with putting the spotlight back on the Air Force 1 High by wearing them in NBA games throughout the 2000s, Will could be seen in a clean white and royal blue pair of AF1 Highs long after their original 1982 release, one of the rare times we’d see him in retro shoes on the show.
18. Timberland 6-inch Boot
Some dispute the Timberland Boot’s status as an actual sneaker. In some regions, they are worn religiously, a mandatory winter staple. Out west in sunny California, Will wore his Timbs throughout the entire series in brown and gum, all black or the classic wheats, cementing a legacy of the iconic Timberland Boot far beyond any one weather season or social scene.
17. Nike Air Force High ’93
The Air Jordan 5 is the sneaker most associated with the show, but the often forgotten Air Force High from 1993 just might be Will’s actual favorite sneaker to wear. With crisscrossing straps and a collar panel reminiscent of the Air Jordan 8 from the same year, Will could be seen in the Force Highs on 12 different episodes, whether working shifts at the Peacock Stop, lounging at home or while out on dates.
16. Nike Air Max 95
While not known for his arsenal of runners, Will went to the “Hot Red” Air Max 95 in the series’ second-to-last episode, stamping the casual crossover in its original year with a major silver screen co-sign. Paired by Will with light jeans and a red quarter-zip pullover, the shoe would go on to become one of Nike’s most iconic silhouettes, enjoying an endless slate of retro releases nearly every year since the turn of the millennium.
15. Nike Air Trainer SC
When The Fresh Prince landed dual-sport superstar Bo Jackson for one of its first star cameo appearances, also making for its first two-part episode, Will and Jackson went all out, even recording a promo plug that ran throughout NBC in the week leading up to the episode. As a sign of respect, Will wore Jackson’s current Nike sneaker for the promo shoot, donning the white, royal and silver edition of the versatile first SC Trainer.
14. Nike Air 180 Pump High
Worn by David Robinson at the start of the decade, the Air 180 Pump is a controversial shoe in retrospect, as it represented one of the few times that Nike looked to mimic a competitor’s technology, taking cues from the hugely popular Reebok Pumps of the late ’80s. Will didn’t seem to mind either way, as he mostly wore the emerald-accented sneakers as loosely as possible, with jeans, patchwork leather jackets and the tongue fully flared out.
13. Nike Air Force 180
While on the world’s stage at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Charles Barkley helped lead the USA Basketball’s Dream Team to gold in the red, white and blue colorway of the Nike Air Force 180. On Fresh Prince in season two, Will sported the Air Force 180’s black, royal and red colorway, with a 76ers T-shirt featuring Barkley on the chest. The moment marked a subtle tribute to Will’s hometown and the NBA star who put the AF180 on the map.
12. Nike CB34
After kicking off season six in Timberlands for the first four episodes, Will thankfully upped his sneaker game and continued his Barkley tributes. Walking into the opening scene of the fifth episode with the CB34 on, he planned to play some hoops with his younger cousin Nicky, marking a rare time you’d see him dribbling a ball in the kitchen. Inspired in part by the hulking figure of Godzilla, which Barkley starred opposite of in a series of Nike print ads, the black shoe featured teethlike pods in white and “Sir Charles” text along the bottom.
11. Air Jordan 9
Jordan never wore the initial white, black and red colorway of the Air Jordan 9 on the court for the Bulls — only in Space Jam, which he filmed during his first retirement from the NBA when the shoes dropped. But Will made sure to give the 9s some run in prime time during season four of Fresh Prince. He wore the kicks with an African American College Alliance sweatsuit, and even a ruffled tuxedo for his homie Jazz’s wedding. Shoutout to Will for showing off the versatility of the Air Jordan 9, one of Jordan’s most comfortable silhouettes.
10. Nike Air Force Max
It was only right that one of the most defining Nike basketball sneakers of the early ’90s made its way onto the feet of The Fresh Prince. Known for wearing NCAA and historically Black college gear throughout the series, Will rocked Michigan’s Fab Five-associated Air Force Max, in the same black and white colorway worn by the team during its last Final Four run together in 1992.
9. Air Jordan 5
They might not have enjoyed the spotlight of the ongoing theme song scene that the black Air Jordan 5 received, or the ever long association of the “Grape” 5, but Will still finessed the “Fire Red” colorway of Jordan’s fifth sneaker in his own lasting way. By mismatching two of the Bulls pairs together and ditching the shoelaces, the early series portraits captured a funkiness of the Fresh Prince’s and foreshadowed just how much the show would become known for its style.
8. Adidas Superstar
Will may have been a Nike loyalist throughout most of the show’s six seasons, but he did mix it up from time to time. His most recognizable non-swoosh sneaker had to be the iconic “shell toe” Adidas, in its beloved and simple white and black colorway. After enjoying a dominant run of the 1980s thanks to Run-DMC, the sneaker was spotted on Smith toward the end of season four and yet again for the season five finale, continuing its reign into the ’90s as a style icon for a new generation. Will would also say later that his laceless looks with the Air Jordan 5 were inspired in part by how Run-DMC wore their Superstars.
7. Air Jordan 6
Nobody in the history of sports or pop culture wore the colors black and red together quite like Bulls superstar Jordan. Yet near the end of season two of Fresh Prince, Will did his best Jordan impression with a half-black, half-red T-shirt and shorts set that he paired with a black backward cap with red stripes and, fittingly, the “Infrared” Air Jordan 6s. By the time the episode aired, Jordan was already playing in the Air Jordan 7, but less than a year had passed since His Airness had led the Bulls to their first title in franchise history in the same sneakers Will laced up just one time on Fresh Prince.
6. Nike Air Speed Turf Max
Perhaps not as iconic as the handful of Air Jordan and Air Max models listed below it, the Speed Turf stakes a claim as the unmistakable black and white cross trainer worn by Will during one of season six’s most memorable scenes. Though Nike may have intended for the flowing fin design to be worn by blazing NFL running backs that year, it was “Will The Thrill’s” performance in a $10,000 Las Vegas dance competition alongside Carlton that helped make the Speed Turf a mid-’90s crossover hit that the brand continues to release two decades later.
5. Nike Air Max CB 94
A forceful Barkley signature model from the height of his time as a Phoenix Sun, Will showed love midway through season five to the former Philly star-turned-league’s reigning MVP. Following up Barkley’s lone trip to the NBA Finals in 1993, the Air Max CB 94 was actually inspired by the design of a straitjacket, bridging Barkley’s brash and outspoken personality with the support that his explosive game demanded.
4. Air Jordan 5
There is no pair of sneakers that Will wore more during the first season of Fresh Prince — or the entire series — than the “Metallic” Air Jordan 5s. Seven months after Jordan debuted the shoe in the 1990 NBA All-Star Game, Fresh Prince premiered with Will wearing the Metallic 5s in the show’s intro sequence, which was never changed throughout the series. That means the shoe is in every episode. But there’s nothing quite like the moment in the pilot when Will enters his aunt and uncle’s Bel-Air mansion for the first time, turns the corner into the living room and you see the first full shot of him in the Metallic 5s.
3. Nike Air Penny 1
Long before the days of high-definition TV, one of the most recognizable sneakers seen on the court or in The Fresh Prince was Hardaway’s very first signature shoe from 1995. With its contrasting white wing design even working perfectly with baggy jeans, Will’s Air Penny 1s were unmistakable, as he glided through the Banks’ family kitchen one last time at the start of the series finale.
2. AJ 11
The “Columbia” Air Jordan 11s are the last sneakers we see Will wearing in Fresh Prince. They were first released — with a high patent leather cut, icy sole, white upper and Columbia blue Jumpman — in February 1996, when Jordan debuted them on-court in the NBA All-Star Game. A few months later, Will rocked them in the last three episodes of Fresh Prince. One of the most timeless images of the shoe is the shot of him from that last episode in the Banks’ empty living room, closing the door on the show’s run. Decades later, the lonely image lives on as a sports meme, every time a player’s teammates flee in free agency.
1. Air Jordan 5 ‘Grape’
During a dream sequence in the season one Courting Disaster episode of Fresh Prince, Will envisions himself as a pro basketball player while imagining what an ad for his own signature basketball sneaker would look like. In the dream commercial, Will beats Detroit Pistons legend Isiah Thomas in a game of one-on-one, before a narrator references his kicks. “Air Fresh gym shoes,” he says. “Just pass it to Will.” Yet on his feet in the moment is a pair of “Grape” Air Jordan 5s.
It’s hard to see the white, purple and emerald colorway of the Air Jordan 5 (which Jordan never wore in an NBA game) and not immediately draw a connection to Will Smith or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In 2018, the Jordan Brand dropped a special version of the colorway, dubbed the “Fresh Prince” 5s, which didn’t come with laces — just like how Will would wear his 5s on the show.
That year, the brand also gave Will a special gold satin edition of the Grape 5 to celebrate his 50th birthday. The Grapes might as well be permanently renamed the “Fresh Prince” 5s. It’s the most important pair of sneakers in the series’ history — and it’s not even close.
Illustrations by Jeremy Simches