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Interview // Tinker Hatfield Discusses Legacy & Future Of The Air Jordan

words // Nick DePaula
interview // Zac Dubasik

After redefining the footwear industry in the late 80s with his ground-breaking designs of the Air Jordan III for Basketball, Air Trainer 1 for Cross Training and Air Max 1 for Running, Tinker Hatfield is still leading the charge of innovation at Nike over twenty-five years later.

He's still got his hands on the Air Jordan franchise, as he most recently designed the Air Jordan XX8's daring silhouette and groundbreaking Flight Plate platform. Earlier this afternoon, Sole Collector caught up with Tinker at the brand's Flight Lab space to talk about how crazy All-Star shoes have now become, when we can expect to see the XX9 launch, and why he doesn't see the Air Jordan line ending any time soon.

Zac Dubasik: Back when MJ was playing, there weren't really special All-Star shoes like there are now. What do you think about how that has all changed?

Tinker Hatfield: Well I think that the art of marketing, the art of promotion and the art of storytelling is definitely elevated and we have to get better every year. Just like in your business, you have to put a good story together and back it up with authenticity. I think what we're doing here is actually try and talk more and more about the products and how they can continue to change and get better, and get more unique. It's an ongoing process, and we do tend to ramp it up around the All-Star break, and it's great to talk about.

ZD: Have you ever thought about what some of Michael's old school models may have looked like had you done themes for the cities where his All-Star games were?

TH: Yeah, actually, I have. I think that we didn't always have the ability to turn color around or use all of these new materials, but I'd just go, “Wow!” That would've been really fun to do it with the tools that we have now.

ZD: Without there being a new game shoe this weekend like in the past, there's still a lot of emphasis on the XX8. What's it been like to have the XX8 have such a long life span already?

TH: It was a purposeful strategy, first of all, because we wanted to make sure that the XX8 had a longer life span because it's such a great playing shoe. We want more people to play in it. Then, on top of that, we wanted to stretch it out so that we could introduce the next shoe, the XX9, closer to when basketball season really starts. Our interest, the Jordan Brand's interest and Michael's interest is that we get more players in the shoes and start seeing that more often in top-level basketball, all the way down to high school. That was part of the strategy, all along.

ZD: I know you can't say too much, but will Flight Plate continue to be a major component of the game shoe?

TH: What I can say about that, which isn't much, by the way! [laughs] Quit trying to squeeze the secrets out of me. That's sneaky behavior! [laughs] I know, I know, you're a media dude. But the reality of it is that some of the physical characteristics of Flight Plate are grounded in science, and you just don't throw that stuff out. You don't really change it until you come up with something better. We're working on that all the time; trying to improve it. I think that's what's going to happen with the XX9 and the XXX and however long this thing rolls. The reality is that we're past the day where we'll just throw stuff completely out after one year and take a new direction. It truly is scientific and we're trying to make it better.

ZD: Do you ever think about how long the game shoe can keep going?

TH: Well, I'll tell you that even back when Michael first retired, and I was working on the Jordan X and starting on the Jordan XI, everybody at Nike told me to stop. "The whole thing was done, and Michael is not going to play anymore," they'd say. We wouldn't be able to sell shoes with his name on them. I, of course, didn't stop, and didn't believe it. In fact, I personally thought he was going to someday miss the game and maybe have rested up enough to take it up again, and that's exactly what happened. Not that I'm such a mystical foreseer, but I think that what I saw even then, all those years ago, was that Michael had transcended the game of basketball, and was a visible and important figure, and just an icon in modern youth culture. Even just the way we were advertising was unique and different, and helped change a lot of things. When you get to that point, I don't think it goes away so easily. Clearly, part of our job here is to build on that foundation, and I just don't think there's going to be any end to it. I think that the Jordan Brand will double the size it is today in the next few years. I hope it continues to perform as a big part of our culture, a big part of sports, and more sports, not just in basketball.

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