‘Excellence Is Never Second Place’: Inside The Making Of The Polarizing Air Jordan XXX

Air Jordan 30

Bryan Horowitz

Late Wednesday night at the bar in Chicago’s Public Hotel, legendary designers Tinker Hatfield and Mark Smith kicked back with a group of friends in a circle by the fireplace, “yip-yapping about all kinds of stuff,” as Tinker put it. It was the eve of the highly anticipated unveiling of the Air Jordan XXX, but for the architect of so many classics, the moment was hardly too big.

“I was just having fun drinking with all of you. I really wasn’t even thinking about today,” Tinker said during Thursday’s launch festivities at Adler Planetarium. “I grew up in sports, played at a pretty high level, and I’ve never been a nervous person or anxious about almost anything. I’ve been a good match with Michael, because I think he’s that way too.”

That coolness under pressure came in quite handy with the XXX. Tinker wasn’t actually even involved at first, but Michael himself pulled him aside last February at a dinner party and asked him to take control of the project, insisting it was only right given their history. Considering the source, this was an offer you can’t refuse, but the sudden reboot allotted Tinker just half the usual time to bring the sneaker to fruition.

Tinker wasted no time finding an inspiration: He sees Jordan as otherworldly in terms of his physiology, competitive drive and Big Boom-esque effect on the globalization of sport. He dashed off a sketch infusing the famous Walter Iooss dunk contest silhouette with a galaxy print, adding a basketball net made from three interlocking X’s, which became the sneaker’s defining detail.

Tinker and Mark Smith break it down. #AJXXX

A photo posted by SportsAngle (@sportsangle) on

Tinker and ace graphic designer Smith proceeded to work up a few rough drawings of sneakers, and within days they were on their way to Florida to see if M.J. was on board with the creative direction. “He loved it,” Tinker said, so they got to work on prototypes.

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