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History of the Air Jordan 3

History of the Air Jordan 3

clock-circular-outline Posted August 03, 2023

A homage to the shoe that saved the Jordan brand

Michael Jordan wearing Jordan 3's


The year is 1988. Ascending up and down the hardwoods was a young Michael Jordan entering his triennial period with the Chicago Bulls. The month is February, the commencing of what had been the 5th signature All-Star Slam Dunk contest, with Atlanta Hawks starboy Dominique Wilkins motioning his periphery. Transitions are smooth, and the slick flick of the wrist prepares his famous three-throwline dunk, which leads him to an astonished victory. And on his feet, a pair of Jordan 3s that aided his 50-point perennial reign.

Legendary in namesake and offering a new lane for court design, the Jordan 3 was way ahead of its time in 1988. Revered for its state-of-the-art design that not only served comfort on the courts but became a larger franchise amongst sneaker buffs.

Standing loud and proud as an emblem of the Jordan lineage 35 years later, we briefly look back at the undeniable history of the Air Jordan 3. So sit back and relax as there’s a lot to learn about the shoe that saved the Jordan brand.

Jordan 3

2 years retrospect from the golden era of basketball (1987) had proven a challenging time for the Beaverton brand. With Peter Moore stepping away from the court-inspired design to focus on more performance-induced fits with Van Grack and adidas meant that the reins were handed to a young designer at the time, Tinker Hatfield. Following the success of the Air Max 1 and the Air Trainer 1, the Oregon-based designer had now been given the biggest projects of them all - creating an Air Jordan 3 sneaker that would stand the test of time.

Already 6 months behind its production scheduling and with a discerning Michael Jordan who was looking to terminate his renewal with Nike, meant that Tinker Hatfield had to look at other ways to improve the brand's functionality.

Design Process: 

Starting with the uppers, Hatfield utilised a very contemporary (at the time) mid-cut profile for the court shoe, with the Jordan 3 becoming the first-ever basketball shoe to feature this design. Fine-grain leather was replaced with tumbled leather which offered a more worn-out look compared to its earliest predecessors.

Tinker Hatfield sketching

Swooshing was substituted with a ‘NIKE AIR’ wordmark gilded to the heel and a grey hide-like elephant print added an all-new modern aesthetic to the lace chamber and lower laterals. Below the midsole contained a high-impact contoured Polyurethane foot frame that was paired with Hatfield’s innovative full-length Air technology that delivered cushioning from forefoot to heel.

Michael Jordan jumping in the air for a dunk
Another first for the Jordan label was Hatfield’s creation of the Jumpman logo that took creative nods from a 1984 image (shot by Jacobus Rentmeester) of Michael Jordan jumping in the air for a dunk. Little did he know that it would later become the emblem for many iterations to come as well as headlining on all of the brand’s sporting apparel. With Michael Jordan's silhouette now becoming the forefront of the brand, he agreed to renew his contract with Nike.

Over the years, the Jordan 3’s had created generational hype, earning its stripes through a range of lucrative endorsements with those such as Spike Lee, who recreates his outlandish Jordan- obsessed character Mars Blackmon, who he played in his film ‘She’s gotta have it’. He continued to be the face of the Jordan ads for 4 years after the Jordan 3’s release, boasting catchy headlines including ‘It’s gotta be the shoes’.

Enlisting a range of heritage-defining colourways throughout its lineage, let’s look back at some of the most legendary Jordan 3 iterations of all time.

Air Jordan 3 ‘White Cement’ (1988)

Jordan 3 White Cement ReimaginedJordan 3 'White Cement Reimagined' Image Courtesy of @iamtcii

Retros: 1994, 2003, 2011, 2013, 2018, 2023 (Reimagined version)

The Jordan 3 ‘White Cement’ has attained court-grail status ever since its early on-court appearance in 1987. Its smooth leather, minimalistic white colourways and elephant-printed overlays served the canvas for on-court greatness.

Air Jordan 3 ‘Black Cement’ (1988)

Air Jordan 3 'Black Cement'Jordan 3 'Black Cement' image courtesy of @star_style01 via Instagram

Retros: 1994, 2001, 2008, 2011,2018

Another one of Tinker Hatfield’s masterpieces that has generated sneaker fandom. The ‘Black Cement’ was most famously spotted on the feet of Jordan during the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest.

Air Jordan 3 ‘Fire Red’ (1988)

Air Jordan 3

Retros: 2007,2013,2022

The Air Jordan 3 ‘Fire Red’ was yet another OG colourway that graced MJ’s feet throughout the 1988 playoffs. Mimicking its muse were the 2007 and 2013 retros which saw the OG Nike Air logos swapped for the Jumpman branding on the heel. Its 2022 version followed its OG tooling with the ‘Nike Air’ branding logo on the heel restored.

Air Jordan 3 ‘True Blue’ (1988)

Jordan 3 'True Blues', image courtesy of End Clothing Website
Image Courtesy of End Clothing Website

Retros: 2001, 2007, 2011, 2016

Tinker Hatfield concluded his OG lineup of releases with the ‘True Blue’ iteration. This shoe was not worn by Jordan throughout his 13-season stint with the Bulls but was seen plenty of times on his feet during his career at the Washington Wizards. Its 2016 retro version also saw the return of the ‘Nike Air’ branding heel, one that was replaced with Jumpman branding on its 2001, 2007 and 2011 versions.


Air Jordan 3 Retro ‘Mocha’ (2001)

Air Jordan 3 Mocha, Image Courtesy real_tigger-42 via Instagram
Image Courtesy of @real_tigger_42

Retros: 2018,2020,2022

The Air Jordan 3 Retro ‘Mocha’ was the first non-OG colourway to be released into the sneaker market without an on-court appearance. Sporting a clean white base accentuated with newly formed ‘Mocha’ overlay panelling. This gem returned 17 years after its release in 2018, keeping relatively similar to its original tooling. 2020 saw the colourway return once again and in 2022, Nike released a ‘Dark Mocha’ version which took mainstay inspiration from its original version.


Air Jordan 3 ‘Flip’ (2007)

Air Jordan 3 'Flip'

The Air Jordan 3 ‘Flip’ joined the Jordan family in 2007, standing out for its reversed Elephant print design that covered the majority of the upper. The rarity returned in 2011, for a blacked-out version too - perfect for any diehard 3s fan.

Air Jordan 3 ‘Doernbecher’ (2010)

Jordan 3 'Doernbecher'


The Air Jordan 3 ‘Doernbecher’ was an AJ3 collaboration that was truly unforgettable. Teaming up OHSU Doernbecher Freestyle Program to feature a design from 11-year-old Cole Johanson, which was anything but understated. The shoe arrived in a tonal red base, decorated with Cole’s name spelt between the diamond-grided overlays. With the design paying true credit to the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.


Air Jordan 3 x Fragment Design (2020)

Jordan 3 x Fragment Design

The Air Jordan 3 x Fragment Design collaboration was a significant milestone in streetwear fashion, masterminded by cultural DJ Hiroshi Fujiwara. Boasting the iconic ‘Orca’ colour scheme inspired by Fujiwara’s earlier Nike work. With a tasteful yet subtle imprint on the Fragment logo, this AJ3 paid homage to the art and business of streetwear, solidifying Fujiwara’s influential role in shaping sneaker culture.


Air Jordan 3 ‘Wizards’ (2023)

Jordan 3 'Wizards'

After a long wait, the Air Jordan 3 ‘Wizards’ finally hit our shelves in 2023, paying tribute to Michael Jordan’s debut season with the Washington Wizards, a team he later owned. The colourway blends ‘White’, ‘True Blue’, ‘Metallic Copper’ and ‘Cement Grey’, resembling the classic ‘True Blue’ but with a twist - replacing accents with a red Jumpman and ‘Nike Air’ heels, adding a nostalgic OG touch.

What’s your favourite Air Jordan 3 release of all time? Let us know in the comments

Want to find out more about the Jordan brand? Check out Everything You Need To Know About The Jordan 1 High OG ‘Chicago’ here

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