Letting go is the one of the hardest things in life to do, especially when you’re a passionate person. But like Tinker Hatfield used to say,“We want to zig when they zag.” It’s unclear whether the Jordan XXX is zigging or zagging but it is clear that Jordan Brand needs to make a huge change.
Tinker Hatfield has provided us with countless indelible memories for 30 years through is incomparable vision. No matter what memory I have of Michael Jordan, or any athlete for that matter, the sneakers on his feet are forever engrained in my thoughts thanks to Tinker Hatfield.
Sure, there were others involved in some of the Air Jordan sneaker designs along the way. Yes, there was a short time when Tinker wasn’t involved at all at the beginning but, when it comes to sneakers being attached to memories, it was the dunk from the free throw line back in 1988 that forever changed how I consumed sports as a fan.
That moment will forever be significant to me. In fact, it still serves as an important point in my life because whenever I hit a wall and can’t seem to get past my own thoughts, I look at MJ flying from the free throw line and realize that I have to push myself beyond my comfort zone. Because in my mind, no matter how big a task at hand, you just do it. Sometimes, in the case of this dunk, you have to back up your runway as far as physically possible to accomplish the impossible. It might have been Michael Jordan making that dunk and not Tinker Hatfield but the moment was the very first time the world collectively said, “What are those?!?”
There are countless other sneakers that Tinker Hatfield designed that continued to reiterate his greatness over the years. The Nike Air Max 1 introduced kids to the Trainer 1 and all the other Air Jordan models that he had his hands in designing created the very industry that I have intricately woven myself into over the last 10+ years. If Tinker never designs the Air Jordan III and convinces Michael Jordan to stay with Nike, the world and the footwear business would be a much different place that I don’t even want to imagine. Tinker has been the most important person in the footwear business for anyone who fell in love with sneakers because of his designs.
Fast forward through 15+ years of obsessing over sneakers and Michael Jordan announces his retirement for the umpteenth time. Then the 2003 NBA All-Star Game rolls around. It’s Michael’s 14th and final appearance. Everyone knew this was really the final chapter. The ceremonious end of the Jordan era quite literally put tears in my eyes. Although, Mariah Carey helped distract me from the emotions quite nicely. I honestly thought the end of Air Jordan signature sneakers had to be on the horizon.
The Jordan signature line forged ahead with relatively bold new designs but without Michael actually playing in them, it had lost a lot of its appeal. Then Tinker Hatfield returned for the Air Jordan XX, which is one of my favorite Air Jordans. The Air Jordan XX was everything that Michael Jordan wasn’t. The graffiti-like lasering and tattoo-inspired advertisements just added to appeal of the XX’s absurd design. It brought me back into the Jordan signature line wholeheartedly. In fact, I hadn’t purchased an Air Jordan signature shoe since the XIII prior to the XX.
The Air Jordan signature line has produced a number of great silhouettes since then, my personal favorites being the XX3 and XX8. Though I don’t have a pair yet, the XX9 has received rave reviews from nearly everyone I talk to and I plan on grabbing a pair soon. So naturally, the anticipation and expectations for the recently unveiled Jordan XXX were quite possibly unattainable from the beginning.
As the Air Jordan XXX was unveiled, it was clear that most of “sneaker Twitter” was disappointed. Nick DePaula even wrote a piece on it calling it “the most disappointing sneaker in years.” For the most part, I think that sums up how I think a lot of sneaker enthusiasts feel about the shoe but, in defense of the design, it’s not the Air Jordan XXX people are disappointed in. It’s the fact that expectations were set for this by previous “important” numbers in the series like the XX and XX3, which were either groundbreaking and bold designs, or so over the top in quality that you couldn’t help but be impressed.
In the unboxing video created for the XXX (above) by Jacques Slade, Tinker Hatfield and Mark Smith discuss the design of the Jordan XXX. The most noticeable statement in the video comes at about 3:25 when Tinker puts Jacques on the spot by asking what the difference between the Jordan 3, Jordan 4 and Jordan 5 midsole/outsole designs are. Tinker is quick to mention that all used the same tooling in defense of the XX9 and XXX sharing such a similar look. The second notable moment comes at about 6:20 when Jacques asks what the difference between Flight Plate, the midsole technology from the XX9, and Speed Plate, the midsole technology in the XXX. Both Smith and Hatfield agree it is a name change to express “slight improvement” over the previous Jordan signature shoe. The third and final point that needs to be mentioned is how much it is stressed by Tinker that Russell Westbrook liked the design of the XX9 and didn’t want to be a “test pilot every year” for something that may or may not be better.
“We expect the very best from Jordan Brand. Not because of Michael Jordan but because that is what they’ve given us over the years.”
It is clear that the Jordan XXX design began much later than it should have, which should have never been public knowledge. But the unveiling was littered with conversations that made it seem like the whole thing was just an attempt to save face. The oddity of the unveiling happening just a few weeks before All-Star Weekend and MJ’s birthday — which has traditionally been the release date over the years. It’s also incredibly questionable that the Jordan XXX was unveiled in Chicago, yet Michael Jordan was not in attendance. At the very least, Jordan Brand athlete Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls should have been there. After all, Jordan is all about performance now, right?
We as enthusiasts have come to expect greatness and “quality inspired by the greatest player ever” but unfortunately this year, it didn’t happen. The Air Jordan XXX doesn’t have the story behind it that we expected. Even beyond the tooling, the design is strikingly similar to the previous model. It’s a great looking basketball shoe that should perform similar to the XX9. It just doesn’t have the wow factor we all expect for a new signature Jordan model.
We expect the very best from Jordan Brand. Not because of Michael Jordan but because that is what they’ve given us over the years. Whether it is design, style, or performance, the signature Jordan model is sold to us as the Ferrari, Bentley, or whichever high-end analogy you want to pick over the years. Jordan Brand, in large part driven by Tinker Hatfield’s creativity, has set the standard for this industry for a very long time.
At this point, Tinker has become such an important piece of the Nike/Jordan Brand that it’s actually hurting the company. He’s too good and that means when others around him fail to come up with designs that can be brought to market, the company relies on him to “save” them. It’s time for Tinker Hatfield and the signature Air Jordan model to retire. Not just for the good of the legacies of Tinker Hatfield and the Air Jordan line, but for the good of the industry — especially the future footwear designers like Brett Golliff or the many others Pensole has spawned in recent years.
I may lean towards the aggressive side when it comes to “embracing” change, but it’s because for three decades I’ve absorbed knowledge from Jordan commercials like “Maybe It’s My Fault” and learned to not accept excuses.
The Jordan XXX is most likely an incredible basketball shoe. However, I’ve begun to wonder if Tinker Hatfield and the Jordan signature line are starting to take away from their own accomplishments by continuing on. If an athlete truly is the reason behind the design, than Russell Westbrook should be left with the XX9 and his own signature line should begin with it. MJ isn’t the reason people buy the Jordan signature model anymore, and if we’re being honest, neither is Tinker Hatfield. In fact, the people that remember seeing Michael play in person like myself, are playing less and less competitive basketball.
So for the sake of all of us that share this passion for sneakers, let’s stop going down this road that leads to unmet expectations. Because if it doesn’t stop here, that means it will be another five or ten years before a proper anniversary can be had to finalize what is inevitable.
That doesn’t mean we can’t preserve the unparalleled legacies of Tinker and Air Jordans. It’s time to let the past be the past and look to the future. It’s time for Jordan to take a chance and challenge the interns and rookie designers to step up — in the very same way Jordan challenged all of us to rise above and beyond what we thought we were capable of by urging us to become legendary.
Nick Engvall is a sneaker enthusiast with nearly 15 years of experience in the footwear business. He has written for publications such as Complex, Sole Collector and Sneaker News. Helped companies like Eastbay, Finish Line, Foot Locker, and StockX better connect with their consumers. He’s an avid San Francisco Giants fan, Allen Iverson fan, and owns way too many sneakers for his own good.