The Air Jordan 3 lives in sneaker lore as one of the most important basketball shoes ever made.
Worn by Michael Jordan as a member of the Chicago Bulls, the Air Jordan 3 released in 1988 in the midst of one of the basketball superstar’s most prolific seasons ever. Over the course of his 1987-88 NBA campaign, Jordan claimed a hoard of accolades such as Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year and NBA All-Star. In that same season, he would lead the league in scoring and steals, also winning All-Star Game MVP honors and the Slam Dunk Title at 1988 NBA All-Star Weekend in the host city of Chicago.
At that epic midseason event, Jordan wore the Air Jordan 3 for the first time on a global stage in both “White/Cement” and “Black/Cement” colorways. Famously, the “White/Cement” colorway was worn by Jordan when he jumped from the free-throw line and won the coveted Slam Dunk title. Conversely, the “Black/Cement” colorway outfitted Jordan as he led the Eastern Conference All-Stars to a win over the Western Conference. Jordan outshined all peers by scoring a game-high 40 points.
Was it the shoes? It very well could have been.
While MJ had become a household name and major player in sportswear with his prolific play in the Air Jordan 1 and Air Jordan 2, the Air Jordan 3 was noticeably different in design and its designer.
After Peter Moore presented brash color blocking and classic appeal on the Air Jordan 1, Bruce Kilgore went to Italy to lace the baller with luxury comfort on the Air Jordan 2. Following a dip in sales on the Air Jordan 2 and looming departure of Nike’s tandem team of Moore and Robert Strasser — both integral players in signing Jordan to the Swoosh — the athlete contemplated leaving his deal as the exiled execs attempted to convince MJ to build his own brand.
Waiting in the wings to save the day for the Beaverton, Ore., brand was Tinker Hatfield. Introduced to the Nike family thanks to his collegiate track career at the University of Oregon, the trained architect turned shoe designer had been called upon to design the shoe to keep MJ at Nike. With the weight of a company on his back, Hatfield crafted and presented the disgruntled superstar with a prototype for the third model in the Air Jordan lineage.
Jordan was won over.
Introducing Nike’s coveted Air technology to the Air Jordan franchise in visible fashion, the Air Jordan 3 was big on innovation and personality. From a technical standpoint, the Air Jordan 3 ushered in a 3/4 cut that played somewhere between a high-top in support and low-top in freedom. After rotating between highs and lows the last season, Jordan loved the opportunity to move fast and strong at the same time. Articulated traction picked up where the Air Jordan 2 left off, allowing MJ to cut quicker on offense and defense.
From a fashion standpoint, the Air Jordan 3 was another animal. Electing to use elephant print on the toe box trim and heel counter, Hatfield provided just the right amount of luxury while allowing aggression. For the first time, the famed Jumpman logo appeared in embroidered styling on the tongue, ushering in a new era of branding for Jordan and his line of Nike sneakers.
Throughout 1988 and into 1989, the Air Jordan 3 was released in four original colorways. The “White/Cement” and “Black/Cement” styles seen in All-Star Game action as well as regular season and playoff play launched at retail, while a “White/True Blue” makeup not worn in NBA action also came to stores for fans. Additionally, a “White/Fire Red” rendition was worn by Jordan to begin the 1988-89 NBA season, also appearing at retailers for footwear aficionados to purchase.
After its inaugural run, the Air Jordan 3 returned to the brand vault as Nike continued to release new annual Air Jordan models for the athlete as designed by Hatfield. In 1994 and 1995, Nike celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the Air Jordan franchise with the first-ever reissue releases of the Air Jordan 1, Air Jordan 2 and Air Jordan 3. As an homage to the original, the “White/Cement” and “Black/Cement” Air Jordan 3 returned in commemorative packaging.
In 1994, the Air Jordan 3 reissued release was met with mixed responses. To some, it was a nostalgic blast from the past. For others, it was simply an old shoe.
By 2001, fans were ready for the Air Jordan 3 to return again. In that year and in multiple years since, the 1988 favorite has returned in classic colorways as well as coveted new takes. Releasing in men’s, women’s and children’s sizing, the Hatfield design that kept Jordan at Nike has defied time and proven iconic to multiple generations.