No offense to Phil Knight, but kids wouldn’t be camping on sidewalks for limited-edition Nikes without mad scientist Tinker Hatfield. He’s designed every pair of game-worn Jordans since ’88, the visible Air bubble, and last year’s Nike Mag—a replica of the Back to the Future Part II shoes. Sneaker freaks, it’s story time.
Hatfield in Nike’s Innovation Kitchen | Portrait by Shawn Records
The Flames Less Traveled
“The Jordan V was partly inspired by flames painted on a World War II plane. Michael and I used to talk about zigging while everybody else was zagging, so I made the flames point forward, not back.”
“At one point, I pushed for a less sporty sub-brand called Jordan Beyond. When Michael did SNL in ’91, he wore a Jordan Beyond quilted green jacket. But I couldn’t make it happen. I’ve still got some samples, including a basketball shoe that was perforated like a wingtip.”
“When you’re a designer trying to think of new ideas, you need a space that’s off-the-wall and different. This book, A Pattern Language, which I read while studying architecture, explains why: An environment’s design gives you cues about how it’s used.”
“I never design during business hours. It’s too distracting. I might do a few sketches, but almost all the drawings are done at night or on the weekends.”
“I started designing the Air Jordan XI during Michael’s first retirement—I kept saying he would un-retire. People at Nike gave me a hard time, so I wanted to show those assholes that we could make the best Jordans ever. The XI was the first basketball shoe to have a carbon-fiber plate in the sole and patent leather. By the time I showed Michael, he’d started playing again.”