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by Billy Kirk June 23, 2017

Originally hired as a Nike architect in June of 1981, Tinker Hatfield—a former University of Oregon track athlete—was never supposed to design shoes.

That changed in 1985 during a period of immense upheaval for the now preeminent athletic shoe corporation. Tinker would go on to reimagine the Nike Air line—and even save the company’s relationship with a young Michael Jordan.

As an ode to his incredible influence in the industry, we’ve round up a few of our favorite Hatfield creations. Note that these aren’t necessarily our personal picks based on aesthetics—instead, each shoe below either introduced an impactful new design element, became particularly ingrained in pop culture, or both.

And now, here’s a few of Tinker’s most iconic sneakers of the 80s and 90s:


1. Nike Air Max 1 | Released: 1987

Image Credit: Flight Club

Tinker changed the Nike Air forever in 1987 with the release of the Nike Air Max 1. This was the first Nike Air shoe to have an exposed “Air” unit in the midsole, viewed from the side. It gave a look at the guts of the sneaker and was based on the construction of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Needless to say, the design element stuck.

2. Air Jordan III | Released: 1988


Image Credit: Flight Club

In 1988, Nike was a mess internally. With major executive talent moving out the door and Michael Jordan threatening to switch shoe affiliation, things were looking pretty bleak. In a desperation move, Tinker was asked to create the Air Jordan III from scratch—despite never working on the Jordan line and after only two years designing shoes.

Fulfilling MJ’s request for an animal print sneaker, Tinker whipped up the Jordan III’s with an “elephant skin” (cement) colorway and also introduced the exposed Air unit for the first time on a Jordan model. Fortunately, the shoe was a hit and kept Jordan with Nike forever thereafter.

Read the full story behind the Air Jordan III and how Nike almost lost Jordan.


3. Air Jordan IV | Released: 1989


Image Credit: Flight Club

Covered in mesh to reduce weight and offering boosted lateral support via plastic “wings,” this Air Jordan release was the first to become a bonafide hit globally as His Airness really started blowing up. Plus, it was featured in Spike Lee’s film classic, Do the Right Thing. (Go to :38 second mark in the below video.)



4. Nike ACG Air Mowabb | Released: 1991

Image Credit: Sole Collector

The Air Max and Jordan lines weren’t the only ones to be rejuvenated by Tinker. He reshaped the ACG line based upon a trip to Mowab, Utah, imbuing the Air Mowabb with a first-of-its-kind midsole splatter print.


5. Nike Air Raid | Released: 1992


Image Credit:

In order to deliver a true “outdoor basketball sneaker” for Nike, Tinker consulted with actual streetball players to craft the venerable Nike Air Raid. Built to last even when worn on harsh concrete and asphalt surfaces, the Air Raids featured a defining criss-cross of straps in the front that enabled the shoe to become a cultural icon.

“That X was about strapping up to go into battle, because you’re going to get knocked around the frickin’ cage and you need to strap yourself in.” - Tinker Hatfield (via Nike)

Nike Air Raid ad w/ Spike Lee: 


6. Air Jordan IX | Released: 1994


Image Credit: Flight Club

The Air Jordan IX reflected Jordan’s ascension as a truly global superstar and ambassador of the game. The sneaker drew on Japanese influences and even featured words representative of Jordan written in seven languages. More notably, though, is the fact these are the shoes featured on the Jordan statue outside the United Center. 


7. Air Jordan XI | Released: 1995


Image Credit: Air Jordan Shoes HQ

Serving up a fresh, clean design, the Air Jordan XI heralded the return of Mike to basketball following his first retirement to pursue professional baseball. Aside from this momentous occasion, the Jordan XI’s made an iconic appearance in the always-amazing ’96 sports/animated classic, Space Jam.

Billy Kirk
Billy Kirk