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Jordan 101: The Historic Impact of the Air Jordan III

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Think about every basketball shoe released before the year 1988. Have a few of them pictured? Good. Now think about the Air Jordan III. If your knowledge of sneakers runs deep, you know that there was absolutely nothing like the third Air Jordan before it. Not only did its unprecedented bold and stylish design turn heads in 1988, the Air Jordan III has stood the test of time as one of the most popular sneakers still today. It’s inarguably one of the greatest sneakers ever. In this latest edition of Jordan 101, we’ll examine the history of the Michael’s third signature shoe to see what makes it such an essential model to the entire Air Jordan line—important in 1988, now, and forever.

All the Basics
The Air Jordan III released in 1988 and retailed for $100. Michael Jordan wore them during the 1987-88 NBA season. Unlike today’s standard barrage of colorways for every signature shoe, the Air Jordan III released in only four original colors, including White/Cement Grey (that Michael won the ‘88 Slam Dunk contest in), White/Fire Red, “True Blue”, and the most famous colorway of Black/Cement Grey.

Many Firsts in the Three
The Air Jordan III is such a landmark model in the Air Jordan line not only because it simply looks so good, but because it can claim a number of firsts in Jordan history. Can you name them all? The following pages will give a full rundown of all the trailblazing characteristics of MJ’s third signature shoe.

Introducing: Tinker Hatfield
The most important “first” of all for the III is that it was the first Air Jordan designed by the now legendary Tinker Hatfield. As the story goes, Michael was considering leaving Nike after 1987—until he saw what Tinker whipped up for his third model. Would the Air Jordan line have continued without Mr. Hatfield? Where would Nike in general be without his many amazing design contributions? Nike execs and sneakerheads are glad we never had to find out.

Elephant Print
Of course, the most distinct design characteristic is the use of “elephant” print. The exotic material continued where the reptile leather paneling of the Air Jordan II left off, in an even bolder and more lifestyle-oriented way. Today, elephant print is one of the most iconic motifs of the Air Jordan line (and all of sneaker culture, for that matter), repeatedly showing up on the brand’s shoes and apparel.

Enter the Jumpman
The Air Jordan III also introduced the Jumpman logo to the world. The iconic silhouette of Michael Jordan dunking debuted on the AJ3 (replacing the “wings” logo), and has shown up on every model since. After the Air Jordan line divided from Nike, the Jumpman became the official logo for Jordan Brand and is now one of the most easily recognizable symbols in the world. It all started on the tongue of the Air Jordan III.

Air Apparent
Nike’s visible Air technology was introduced in 1987 with the debut of the Air Max 1 in running and Air Revolution in basketball, but it wasn’t until ‘88 that the see-through window debuted in the Air Jordan line. Visible Air would show up in the next three Jordans, but then disappear until the XVI (where you still had to look for it pretty closely).

Not High, Not Low, But Mid
The least obvious first of the III for the Air Jordan line is the mid-top height. Commonplace today, the mid cut was a bit revolutionary at the time since it provided a new option for players that wanted more support than a low-top but also didn’t need a high top. The mid height also did nothing but add to the Air Jordan III’s appealing off-court casual style.

Debut of Mars Blackmon
One last first for the Air Jordan III, but not one that has to do with the shoe’s design. Do you know, do you know, do you know?? We’re talking about the III’s ad campaign, which introduced Mars Blackmon to the sneaker buying world. Spike Lee’s memorable nerdy-yet-cool character would show up in the ad campaigns for following Air Jordans until Bugs Bunny took over for the Air Jordan VII, in the process making Mars synonymous with Air Jordans still today.

A Legend of Sneaker Culture
There can be no valid argument made that the Air Jordan III is not one of the greatest sneakers ever made. Try to find somebody that doesn’t list it in their top five favorite Air Jordan ever. Good luck! Thanks to Tinker’s once radical but now timeless design, the Air Jordan III is a bona fide elephant-printed masterpiece, and a shoe that will forever be among our culture’s very best.

Select images via defynewyork, theshot