Year: 1996
Lead Designer: Tinker Hatfield

The story has been told so many times that even it's not surprising anymore. But it's always worth a re-telling. Following Michael Jordan's first retirement in 1993, Tinker Hatfield just kept designing. He did other work for Nike, of course, but most of all he kept pushing the limits of the Air Jordan. And by the time he started work on what would become the Air Jordan XI, the powers-that-be at Nike were beginning to wonder why. Even they didn't think Jordan was coming back. But Hatfield didn't give up hope, and he didn't give up on the Air Jordan XI. Good thing. Jordan of course returned, and the Air Jordan XI became one of the most revolutionary shoes in Nike's history. The spatted design is still as elegant today as it was then, the carbon fiber plate became a high-tech Nike basketball shoe standard, and patent leather found its way onto hundreds upon hundreds of shoes where it had no business being. The Air Jordan XI alone utilized it for both function and flash. Entire design courses could be taught on this shoe alone.