The Jordan 3 - The Shoe that Saved Nike

When it comes to sneakers, there are few more iconic than the Jordan 3. Designed by Tinker Hatfield and released in 1988, the shoe is synonymous with Michael Jordan and his unparalleled success on the basketball court. But the Jordan 3 isn't just a great sneaker, it's also a symbol of Nike's resilience as a company. In the early 1980s, Nike was struggling to compete with other brands like Reebok and Adidas. But the release of the Jordan 3 turned everything around for Nike, saving the brand from potential financial ruin. Today, many view the Jordan 3 as one of the greatest sneakers ever made - and it all started with a simple design sketch from Tinker Hatfield.

Jordan Almost Broke Up With Nike

Heading into 1987, Michael Jordan wanted to leave Nike. He wasn't happy with his second signature shoe. The Jordan 2 was only released in 4 variations - 2 high-top colorways and 2 low-top colorways. Nike wasn’t prioritizing the shoe as much as they should be. He was also upset with the feel of the shoe on the court due to its still Italian leather. Given this in addition to the fact that he broke his left foot in the Jordan 1, Michael Jordan was ready to leave Nike for Adidas.

Introducing: Tinker Hatfield

To make matters worse, Peter Moore, the designer of the prior Jordan shoes, left Nike abruptly in 1987. Before he left he handed off the Jordan project to a young and inexperienced designer, Tinker Hatfield. Fresh into his career at Nike, Tinker Hatfield was left with only a matter of weeks to design a shoe that wouldn’t just please MJ, but save Nike’s partnership with the superstar.
Photo By: Jordan
Tinker’s approach to making Jordan happy was simple. Rather than designing a shoe for MJ, he decided to design a shoe with MJ. This level of collaboration was unheard of at the time, but Jordan loved it. The Jordan 3 was the first shoe to use the iconic elephant print leather. Many attribute this design to Tinker, but Tinker insists that it was a joint decision between him and Michael. He also decided to make the Jordan 3 a mid-top sneaker after listening to Jordan note that it’d help him perform better.

The Birth of the "Jumpman"

Collaboration was only half of the battle, however. In order to keep Jordan under the Swoosh - saving Nike - Tinker Hatfield did something unheard of. Tinker removed Nike’s iconic Swoosh from the shoe in favor of a new Jumpman logo, giving Michael Jordan his own brand. This decision didn’t go over well with Nike’s marketing department, so Tinker threw the Nike Swoosh on the heel of the shoe just to feature it in the design. Tinker later revealed that the decision to omit the swoosh happened at the last minute. His original design for the shoe actually included the Swoosh. No matter who Tinker may have upset with his Swooshless design, it didn’t matter. Phil Knight, one of the founders of Nike, has said on record that the Jordan 3 “saved Nike” by keeping Jordan with the Brand.

"It's Gotta Be The Shoes"

The launch of the Jordan 3 happened alongside the reveal of an iconic Nike figure, Mars Blackmon. When Mars Blackmon first appeared in a 1986 commercial for the Air Jordan 3, he quickly became an icon. Played by Spike Lee and modeled after his character from She’s Gotta Have It, Mars always displayed his love of basketball shoes - particularly Air Jordans. His unmistakable catchphrase, “It’s gotta be the shoes!,” would go on to become part of popular culture and help catapult the success of the line. For a sneaker aficionado like Mars, the arrival of the Air Jordan 3 must have been a dream come true. Even more than thirty years later, fans still gush about when Blackmon debuted in marketing for this sneaker classic.

The Jordan 3 Today

The genius marketing and Jordan’s influence on the shoe remains impactful today. The Jordan 3 is highly sought after by sneaker collectors due to its rarity and premium elements. Many of its original colorways released in limited quantities at the time, giving them extra value since they are a now harder to find. Its strong sense of nostalgia also adds to its desirability as those who experienced it during its original release feel the need to recapture those memories through having their own pair of the classic shoes. The combination of these factors results in the Jordan 3 being one of the most valuable sneakers availble today. In conclusion, the Jordan 3 was a pivotal shoe for Nike, Michael Jordan, and the sneaker world in general. It was the first shoe designed by Tinker Hatfield and is considered by many collectors to be one of the most valuable sneakers ever made. The Jordan 3 helped make Michael Jordan into the global icon he is today. What do you think? Is the Jordan 3 the best Jordan ever made?
Feature Photo By: Jake Weirick

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