On Saturday, Nike released the Air Jordan 3 based off the original sketch designer Tinker Hatfield drew back in 1987, when he was suddenly tasked with creating the next signature shoe for Michael Jordan.
But there also was much more on the line. Difficult as it may be to fathom, Jordan was prepared to join competitor Adidas. The decision would’ve altered the Nike’s fortunes, as the Jordan Brand has developed into a $3 billion dollar subsidiary.
On top of needing to convince Jordan to remain with Nike, Hatfield faced the challenge of delivering a product that had was unlike any other seen on the hardwood.
“Michael Jordan specifically asked for a mid-cut basketball shoe,” Hatfield recalled. They didn’t really exist at the time.”
So, the legendary designer set out to meet those demands and mend fences. “The Jordan 3 is really the very first, sort of mass-produced big-time basketball shoe that was designed as a mid-cut to begin with,” Hatfield explained.
“There were a number of things that were never done on a basketball shoe before. One, was that it didn’t have a cup sole. It was a lighter weight construction without so much heavy rubber around it, and that was really different.
“And the last thing that sticks out to me, when I first met with Michael, I found out he was very stylish and very into designing suits and buying Italian leather shoes. I wanted to bring some of that design language and materials right into a basketball shoe.
“We’re talking that faux elephant print and tumbled leathers. He wanted to wear a brand new pair of shoes for every game, so the shoes had to be soft and comfortable without needing to be broken in.”
While Hatfield incorporated materials and elements previously unseen, his most aggressive — and groundbreaking — decision, was to remove Nike’s iconic logo. “I originally had the Swoosh in there because I didn’t know any better,” he said.
“As I got to know Michael, a couple meetings with him, I realized very early on what would really piss off all the people at Nike, which I like doing that because it usually means you’re doing something different, so I really wanted to shake people up.
“But I also felt like Michael himself, there was a chance to prove that he was so important and powerful as a cultural icon, as a personality, and a player, that he didn’t need the Swoosh. I’m so glad that we did it.”
The Air Jordan 3 went on to become one of the more iconic shoes and one that still resonates with collectors to this day, and the Jumpman logo is as recognizable, if not more, than Nike’s Swoosh.
A release of Tinker’s original sketch came on Super Bowl Sunday and moments after Justin Timberlake finished performing at halftime. The Air Jordan 3 JTH hit the Nike SNKRS app and sold out instantly, lending to the popularity of the musician and shoe.
“Justin Timberlake, I found to be a really fun guy and really easy to talk to,” Hatfield said of the collaboration. “He has a lot of ideas. I actually have an idea he doesn’t even know about yet. I hope at some point we get to do another project. He doesn’t know about it yet, he’s busy being Justin Timberlake.”
In addition to Tinker’s original sketch (with the Swoosh in place) being released to honor the 30-year anniversary, the more traditional Jordan 3 was again made available for purchase.
One was a white-based upper that featured a translucent sole and paid homage to Jordan winning the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest by taking flight from the free throw line. The second was the famous “black cement” colorway that Jordan wore during his MVP season and is one of the more coveted designs.
As for what can next be expected on behalf of Hatfield, he couldn’t provide specifics but did confirm more is ahead. “I’m not finished by a long shot with Jordan products,” he said. “I’m personally not working on the next Air Jordan 33, 34 or 35. I am choosing to find a new way to think about the future.
“You want to design new products that work better, look great, fit the culture of the day, and all of that. Sometimes that means you start from a different place, so I’m trying to figure that out right now. I’m having a lot of fun.
“I think I have 10 Jordan products in development right now, [but] I can’t tell you a thing more.”