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Air Jordan 3: culture, colorways and collaborations

December 20, 2022 12:48 PM
Air Jordan 3: culture, colorways and collaborations

As we approach the 35th anniversary of the Air Jordan 3, we’re already seeing glimpses of what Jordan Brand may have in store. So far, it’s the ‘Reimagined’ White/Cement 3 that has everyone licking their lips. With the Jordan 2 receiving the full treatment in 2022, we’re hoping it’s a sign of things to come for the Jordan 3 in 2023. If it is, we’re in luck.

Yankee Kicks

The AJ3 is a model that regularly sits atop ‘Best Jordans of All Time’ lists and is heralded as one of the best sneakers ever designed - the word ‘iconic’ is regularly used to describe it, and it’s not wrong. Ask most sneakerheads which shoe they think anyone worth their salt should own, and invariably the response is the Jordan 3. With its unique history and ground-breaking elephant print, there’s plenty of reasons to love this iconic model.

Under Pressure

As the story goes, it was produced in 1987 just as Michael Jordan was ready to part ways with Nike. His first sneaker deal was coming to an end; a deal that saw him receive $500,000.00/year, 5% royalties and his own line of sneakers. An incredible deal to receive as a rookie - but his eyes were wandering - so it was going to take something special for him to stick with the Swoosh. In came Tinker Hatfield.

Original Jordan 3 sketches by Tinker Hatfield

Tinker was assigned the enormous task of holding on to one of the giants of the game, and having only the Air Max 1 and Air Trainer 1 to his name, had his work cut out for him. As if this wasn’t enough, Jordan was hoping adidas would put an offer on the table as well. He was such a fan of adidas that he used to train in them in college, even though the Tar Heels were sponsored by Converse.

Luckily, Tinker was up to the task, and knew he had to pull something out of the bag. He took it back to basics, and simply asked Michael what he wanted; the answer was ‘mid-cut and light weight’. They discussed Jordan’s interests, and exotic animals came up in conversation. Tinker then had a moment of genius and decided to incorporate faux elephant print, providing a more luxurious look. He didn’t stop there; throwing in visible air units and a sizeable personalised logo on the tongue. A logo that was allegedly inspired by a LIFE Magazine photoshoot for the 1984 Olympics - in which Jordan was actually wearing the New Balance BB480.

Clearly Nike were happy too, as Tinker Hatfield would go on to design the next 12 Jordan models.

Michael Jordan TIME Magazine photoshoot
Golf Digest
Michael Jordan Jumpman Logo Photoshoot
Ball is Life

MJ and Mars

Although we have Tinker to thank for creating the shoe, its film director/producer/screenwriter/actor Spike Lee who brought them to our attention. His minimalist but impactful ad campaigns, featuring MJ, moved sneakers like no other. Bringing back his famous Mars Blackmon character from his 1986 film ‘She’s Gotta Have It’, he would team up with MJ in short, monochromatic ads. There would be dunks, sure, but it was the storytelling and originality of the ads that made them memorable. Most importantly, you could see the White/Cement on Spike’s feet in one ad, and the Black/Cement on MJ’s in the other.

“You know, nobody in the world could cover my main man, Michael Jordan.”

You’re right Mars.
Michael Jordan and Spike Lee Sneaker Advert

Although Spike Lee would project the sneakers into our homes, it was MJ who would etch the sneakers into our minds with his inimitable style of play. In 1988 alone, he won the League MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, All-Star Game MVP and of course, the Slam Dunk Contest, and it made us believe that if we had the shoes, we could do it too.

Michael Jordan Free Throw Line Dunk
Walter Iooss

All-star player

MJ’s famous free throw line dunk finished Dominique Wilkins off with a perfect score of 50, and would inspire the Jordan 3 ‘Free Throw Line’ model, releasing on the 30th anniversary in 2018. Along with the ‘White/Cement’ upper, it featured a translucent sole with a red stripe under the left foot as a nod to the take off point for Jordan’s dunk, and also the time “3:51” on the back of the pull tabs to represent the time the dunk took place. His winning score of “147” would also feature on the inside of the tongue, and an outline of the outsole … on the insole.

Air Jordan 3 Free Throw Lines sneakers

Air Shady

The four OG colorways released were White/Cement, Black/Cement, True Blue and Fire Red. And, as much as we’d love to see them return, there’s a younger generation of Jordan fans who have their eyes fixed on collabs. Although the OGs have proved they can stand the test of time, some collaborations have since shown what a great canvas the Three is for designers willing, and able, to take it on; such as the A Ma Maniere x Air Jordan 3 with their tonal greys and off-white sole, the Fragment’s with their concord-esque black and white design, and Justin Timberlake's JTH, with his take of the Tinker Hatfield Jordan 3, sporting the Swoosh as per Hatfield’s original sketches. There’s also the ATMOS x AJ3 Retro ‘Safari’ celebrating the Air Max 1 Safari, and of course, the Jordan 3 x Slim Shady - with a surprise debut in a Superbowl performance from Eminem himself.

Eminem Jordan 3 sneaker
Justin Timberlake Jordan 3 sneaker

A poignant release came in 2007 when Spike Lee and Jordan Brand came together and created the “Do The Right Thing” Jordan 3; the Brisk Blue sneaker inspired by the movie poster of the 1989 classic.

Mamba mentality

However, one of the most impactful (and expensive) pair of Jordan 3s that would set the sneaker world on fire, should they release again, is the ‘Kobe PE’. When Kobe was a sneaker free agent for the 2002-2003 season, he dabbled with the Air Force 1 Mid, the AND1 Desire Mid, Reebok Questions, even an Air Flight Huarache. However, there was one that caught everyone’s eye, and that was the Jordan 3 PE. Although mainly white, there were the subtle hints of the Lakers yellow and purple, making this a classic sneaker that would see the OG sell at auction for over $30,000 USD.

Kobe Bryant Jordan 3 PE


As for the original colorways, the Black/Cement is generally held as a grail for a majority of sneakerheads of a certain age. And, possibly the most interesting fact about this particular colourway, is that MJ only ever wore it in one game; the 1988 All-Star Game. Not during the regular season, not during the Dunk Contest… just the All-Star Game. He would of course take MVP honours for the East, in true MJ style.

Original Jordan 3 Black/Cement from 1988

The Air Jordan 3 crossed boundaries into hip hop with the Eminem collab, and was also seen on the feet of none other than Hov himself, Jay-Z, on numerous occasions. So, if you own a pair, you’re in good company. And, if you don’t own a pair, well, hopefully 2023 is your year.

From the early leaks of the White/Cement 3, it looks to be the closest silhouette to the OG, more so than the 1994 drop. So fingers crossed they release in some decent numbers, and we can all be like Mike.