Everything You Need To Know About The Air Jordan III

To build a successful brand, there has to be a moment when you make the leap from popular to iconic. It’s that moment when you become one of the premier brands in your industry, when your name is synonymous with something tangible that works as a touchstone between what you sell and what you represent.

That was what the Air Jordan 3 did for Michael Jordan’s brand.

The Air Jordan line was popular from day one, but popular doesn’t put the Jordan name into all corners of the world. Part of the rapid growth was savvy marketing, like Nike’s “Banned” campaign for the Air Jordan I. Part of it was Michael Jordan’s personality and off-court charisma. A huge part of it was Jordan’s on-court play.

But this is the sneaker business, and for shoes to sell, they have to be cool. For that, the Air Jordan 3 definitely fit the mold.

But it wasn’t just that. A lot of pieces had to fall neatly into place for Jordan shoes to take off at the pace that matched Jordan’s playing career.  

At this time, Jordan was already a phenom.

The release of the Air Jordan 3 lined up with Jordan’s fourth year in the league, the 1987-88 NBA season.

Following up the ridiculous 37.1 points per game from his third season, Jordan reached 35 points per game, the second highest mark of his career. He was the league’s scoring champion, steals leader, NBA All-Star, All-Star MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and NBA Most Valuable Player.

Oh, and he did this during the 1988 dunk contest.

All the while, he was wearing the Air Jordan 3s.

Look, basketball has changed a lot since 1988. Teams have moved away from isolation sets and post play and are moving toward spacing the offense, going small and shooting threes. Team defense practically didn’t exist 1980s, but it was more physical. Today, switch-happy teams are having the most success, and rules changed to speed up the game.

The way people watch and interact with the league is different, too. The media and social channels guide conversation. Fans are locked into the game 24 hours a day. The NBA is pushing more content than it ever has before, and even in the off-season the conversations are churning.

One thing that will never change, however, is that when fans see something amazing, they know it. Everyone knew Michael Jordan was an amazing basketball player.

You better believe in the playgrounds and driveways of the world, kids were mimicking everything Jordan did. If you wanted to “be like Mike,” you had the fadeaway jumper on lock, you had the up-and-under, you had your tongue hanging out of your mouth and you certainly knew what he was wearing on his feet.

Nike had to pull out all the stops.

By the time the Air Jordan III was being conceived, there were rumors of Jordan considering a move away from the brand. Peter Moore, who designed the Air Jordan I and Bruce Kilgore, another designer, were let go by Nike and tried to get Jordan to come with them.

These attempts were unsuccessful, but it did let Nike know that Jordan leaving actually was a possibility. The Air jordan III had to convince him to stay.

Nike put designer Tinker Hatfield, the mind behind the Nike Air Max, on the Air Jordan 3s. Hatfield was well-known and well-respected in the sneaker community, and his work with Jordan only cemented his place among the greatest sneaker designers of all time.

The Air Jordan III took a page out of the Air Max book with a visible air bubble in the heel of the sole. It was the first time Air Jordans got away from the wings logo and moved onto the Jumpman. The look of the shoes was elevated with the elephant print trim and tumble leather.

There was also a lot of correspondence between Hatfield and Jordan to decide what would work. Hatfield went on to design every Air Jordan model through the Air Jordan 15, and then again for the Air Jordan 20.

The design was a success. Nike just had to figure out how to market the Air Jordan III.

For the Air Jordan 3, Nike conceived one of the most famous sneaker advertisement campaigns ever.

Nike brought on Spike Lee to act as Mars Blackmon, a character he played in She’s Gotta Have It, the 1986 film that Lee also wrote and directed. The Jordan and Lee pairing became known as “Mike and Mars”.

Here’s the duo’s commercial debut:

This character followed Jordan through the years, but it was most prominent in this ad campaign. Here’s another one:

The success of these ads did mainly three things. For one, it put Jordan side-by-side with a influential cultural figure in Spike Lee, introducing the shoes and the brand to a wider audience than just basketball fans. It also showcased Jordan’s own personality and sense of humor.

Most importantly for Nike, it put the shoes in front of consumers’ eyes.

The Air Jordan III debuted at $100 a pair, a lot of money for sneakers at that time. But Nike’s investment in advertising and finding a big-name celebrity to put behind Jordan gave the brand the cache and notoriety to make it worth it.

Original Air Jordan 3 Colorways

When released in 1988, the Air Jordan III came in four distinct colorways. There would be more to come in retros and later releases, but in the beginning, it was only these four.

White – Cement Grey

(Photo via Hypebeast)

Black – Cement Grey

(Photo via Laces Out)

White – Fire Red

(Photo via Flight Club)

True Blue – White – Cement Grey

(Photo via Flight Club)

Now Let’s Get To Our Top 5 Jordan 3 Colorways

Keep in mind that these are subjective picks. We chose these based on what we like, and this list is by no means definitive (though we like to think that). Feel free to cruise the colorways and give us some feedback on your favorite colors and style for the Air Jordan III.

Air Jordan III x DJ Khaled Collaboration “Grateful”

(Photo via Sneaker Bar)

Air Jordan III Black Cement Nubuck Sample

Air Jordan III “Doernbecher”

(Photo via Flight Club)

Air Jordan III Black / Cement

(Photo via Laces Out)

Air Jordan III True BLue

(Photo via Viva La Kicks)

Honorable Mentions

Not every colorway can make the top five, but we need to at least show you a few more.

Air Jordan III Black History Month

(Photo via Sole Collector)

Air Jordan III Black Flip

(Photo via Flight Club)

Air Jordan III Sport Blue

(Photo via Flight Club)

Celebrities Wearing the Air Jordan III

Rita Ora wearing the Air Jordan 3 Black Cement.

Mark Wahlberg wearing the Air Jordan 3 Retro Fire Red.

Fat Joe wearing the Air Jordan 3 Sport Blue.

Eminem wearing the Air Jordan 3 True Blues

Drake wearing the Air Jordan 3 True Blues

Jay Z wearing the Air Jordan 3 Black Cement.


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