At first I didn’t even notice the Swoosh. That might sound unbelievable, given its prominence, but with the orange plastic hangtag partially obscuring it and the general excitement over a new Air Jordan III colorway with “Nike Air” on the heeltab, it wasn’t as obvious as it should have been. Once the tag was out of the way, however, that distinctly sleek late ‘80s Swoosh was hard to miss.
There will likely be no middle ground with this “Tinker Sketch” Air Jordan III, based on an early Tinker Hatfield sketch that you may remember seeing back in 2013 on ESPN. You’re either going to love it and what it represents, or hate it with the fury of a thousand suns. To purists—and there are a lot of them out there—this is the equivalent of someone drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Never mind that Tinker himself designed and approved it (his distinctive, angular signature is both molded into the plastic hangtag and embroidered on the inside of the tongue), this goes against 30 years of sneaker memory. It’s as jarring on first glance as those photos of Michael Jordan playing in a No. 12 jersey.
The III being Swooshless seems not only normal now, it made sense in the Air Jordan timeline back then. The Air Jordan II didn’t have a Swoosh, so why not leave it off of the III? But unlike its predecessor, the II wasn’t a hit. It was $100 for starters, a steep increase off the original’s $65 price tag. And sleek as it was, the look wasn’t for everyone. Not only did Nike take a hit, Jordan wasn’t happy either. And the III was the then-35-year-old Hatfield’s first Air Jordan. Why take unnecessary risks? Looking back, it’s a wonder they DIDN’T put the Swoosh right back on.
It’s clear by the design that they could have. That narrow late ‘80s Swoosh fits perfectly within the lines of the shoe. But you can also see why Hatfield in the end chose to leave it off. There’s a lot going on with the III, from the Elephant Print trim to the plastic external heel tab to the complex lacing setup to the Visible Air. If one aspect of the design had to go in order to simplify things, the Swoosh was the easiest to do away with. It had no function other than branding, and there was plenty of that already what with the billboard-sized “Nike Air” on the heel and the newly created “Jumpman” silhouette on the tongue.
What’s most interesting about this shoe is that it opens up a whole new lane for Jordan retro product. After all, there are entire files of Hatfield designs safely tucked away at the Department of Nike Archives (DNA) building just outside the main campus. Why not a “Tinker Sketch” IV or a “Tinker Sketch” XI? Or, for that matter, what about a completely different “Tinker Sketch” III? He had other designs for it, one with a giant ball and wings logo on the heel instead of the now-familiar “Nike Air,” another with a layered, Air Revolution-esque ankle collar (the working name for the Air Jordan III on one sketch was the “AJ Revolution.”)
Should the Swoosh have stayed on the Air Jordan III? That’s an impossible question to answer, seeing that the Swoosh-less version has been around for 30 years and many consider it the best Air Jordan design of all time. It’s what we’re familiar with, so it’s tough to imagine what it would be like the other way around. The Swoosh was left off the III and stayed off Air Jordans until the XXX1. The lack of design element became a design element all its own.
But whatever your feelings are for the shoe itself, it’s the concept of turning a what-could-have-been into reality that’s cool. Reebok, to give credit where credit is due, did it a couple of years ago with the Question, producing a model based on the original prototype. Hopefully this is only the beginning of what could become a fascinating trend.