The All-Time Greatest Air Jordan 3s: Part 1
It's hard to imagine just where the sneaker world would be if it weren't for the Air Jordan 3.
Launched in January 1988, the AJ3 will forever be associated with MJ's soaring dunk from the free throw line, his second dunk contest victory, All-Star Game MVP honours, and the first of his five regular-season MVP awards. It also managed to make Spike Lee's Mars Blackmon a household name, and introduced a trio of instant icons: elephant print, Tinker Hatfield, and the one and only Jumpman. In fact, if it weren't for Hatfield's design, there may not even be a Jordan Brand.
In honour of the Air Jordan 3's place in footwear lore, we're taking a look back at the best versions of the silhouette to ever hit shelves.
Check out 10 of our favourites below and stay tuned for part two of this retrospective.
Air Jordan 3 'Black/Cement' (1988)Air Jordan 3 'Black/Cement' (1988)
The 'Black/Cement' Air Jordan 3 is arguably the greatest colourway of the greatest sneaker of all time. Originally released in 1988, the kicks were first made famous when Jordan broke them out in front of the home crowd for the All-Star Game. MJ wowed those in attendance by scoring 40 on his way to MVP honours, and the rest is history. Since its debut in '88, the 'Black/Cement' look has received the retro treatment five different times: in 1994, 2001, 2008, 2011 and 2018.
Air Jordan 3 'White/Cement' (1988)Air Jordan 3 'White/Cement' (1988)
While the 'Black/Cement' colourway of the AJ3 may take the GOAT title, the shoe's white counterpart is the one that Jordan actually rocked on the court; MJ wore the black pair for the 1988 All-Star Game in Chicago, but never actually laced the kicks up for an NBA game. First worn by MJ in 1987 and officially released in 1988, these are what were on Jordan's feet for his iconic Slam Dunk Contest jam from the free throw line. Five retro drops – 1994, 2003, 2011, 2013 and 2018 – have followed in the three-plus decades since its debut.
Air Jordan 3 'Fire Red' (1988)Air Jordan 3 'Fire Red' (1988)
The 'Fire Red' Air Jordan 3 is easily the most underrated of the OG AJ3 colourways that were released in 1988, and has only seen two retro drops in the 31 years since its launch: 2007 and 2013. Debuted by MJ during the 1988 NBA Playoffs, the kicks black-out the famed elephant-printed leather panels, while also adding more Bulls-inspired red accents to the mix.
Air Jordan 3 'True Blue' (1988)Air Jordan 3 'True Blue' (1988)
The fourth and final OG Air Jordan 3 colourway, the 'True Blue' AJ3 – like the famed 'Black/Cement' look – was never actually worn on-court by MJ for an NBA game in its original incarnation. Instead, Jordan first laced these up for an exhibition game between the 1988 NBA All-Stars and amateur Team USA squad before breaking out the 2001 retro as a Washington Wizard. Named for their bold blue accents, these also switched up the usual formula, adding an additional elephant-printed 'Cement Grey' panel to the eyestay.
Air Jordan 3 'Mocha' (2001)Air Jordan 3 'Mocha' (2001)
The 'Mocha' Air Jordan 3 was the first non-OG AJ3 colourway to ever release, and remains an unsung hero of the Jumpman lineup nearly two decades later. Released in 2001 alongside the 'Black/Cement' and 'True Blue' retros, these finally returned in 2018 and simply couple white tumbled leather with 'Dark Mocha' accents throughout. Sadly, their timeless simplicity appears to have been lost on a bunch of 'heads: you can regularly find the 2018 retro for less than retail.
Air Jordan 3 'Katrina' (2006)Air Jordan 3 'Katrina' (2006)
Back in 2006, Nike and Jordan Brand auctioned off pairs of a special Air Jordan 3 colourway – which put a simple, but perfect spin on the classic 'White/Cement' OG – to raise proceeds for relief efforts following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Sneaker lovers were rightfully clamoring for an official retail release in the years that followed, and finally got exactly that in May of 2018.
Air Jordan 3 'Do The Right Thing' (2007)Air Jordan 3 'Do The Right Thing' (2007)
After debuting in the director's 1986 film She's Gotta Have It, Spike Lee's Mars Blackmon was instrumental in the now-iconic Air Jordan 3 ad campaigns from storied agency – and longtime Swoosh/Jumpman partner – Wieden+Kennedy. In 2007, Jordan Brand brought things full-circle in the pre-Spiz'ike days and paid homage to Lee with a pair of 3s inspired by the poster for 1989's beloved Do The Right Thing. Decked out in 'Brisk Blue' and 'Pro Gold,' the kicks were further highlighted by 'Radiant Green' pops throughout.
Air Jordan 3 'Doernbecher' (2010)Air Jordan 3 'Doernbecher' (2010)
Over the years, Nike's Doernbecher Freestyle partnership with Portland's OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital has provided the opportunity for patients to design some of the most unique and coveted footwear around. Designed by Cole Johanson, the bold red kicks featured Cole's name subtly spelled out within the upper's unique grid pattern, and came with icy outsoles to go along with black and metallic silver accents. Nearly a decade after its release, 2010's Air Jordan 3 is still the cream of the Doernbecher crop. In fact, it was so popular the first time around that it was reissued just three years later.
Air Jordan 3 'Black Flip' (2011)Air Jordan 3 'Black Flip' (2011)
In 2007, the Jumpman took the Air Jordan 3's signature elephant print to new levels with a 'Flip' version of the silhouette that gave the pattern a more prominent role on the upper. While we dug those, the 2011 'Black Flip' follow-up was even better as the near-'Triple Black' execution provided the perfect juxtaposition to the elephant-printed upper. Think of these as a combination of the best elements of the aforementioned 'Flip', and the old 'Black Cat' release.
Air Jordan 3 'Seoul' (2018)Air Jordan 3 'Seoul' (2018)
Released just last year, the Air Jordan 3 'Seoul' represents the latest twist on the classic 'White/Cement' look. Updated here to feature all-white tooling, the kicks were designed by Tinker Hatfield and Dan Sunwoo in the famed Innovation Kitchen, and commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul with blue/red collars and the Korean flag on each tongue. Exclusive to the Jordan Hongdae store, and the Swoosh's Korean web store, the coveted kicks came complete with Hangul embroidery on the inside of the tongues; while 'Seoul' hit the left shoe, the motto of the 88 games, 'Harmony and Progress', appeared on the right.