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Exactly when the Air Jordan XXX design journey began is up for debate. Arguments could be made for February 17, 1963, Michael Jordan’s birthday — or October 24, 1984, the day his Airness signed with Nike. There’s also April 1, 1985, when his first signature shoe hit market and February 6, 1988, the date he soared solo in Chicago as he debuted the Air Jordan III. There’s a litany of moments — game-winning shots, personal triumphs and titles — that form the Jordan legacy. But to dissect the journey is to miss the forest for the trees. The Air Jordan XXX is a unique synthesis of Jordan’s evolution as a player and a design collaborator.

Each of the shoe’s elements results from a key performance insight or design inspiration fundamental to the player and Jordan Brand’s evolutions. The start of the design process, however, tied to a significant, if lesser-known, date: a bitterly cold weekend in February 2015, when – during a pre-birthday party dinner — Jordan asked long-time design collaborator Tinker Hatfield to spearhead the design of the anniversary-marking shoe. “The next morning I drew a shoe,” Hatfield recalls, “because I knew I was in deep trouble. We had no time. Then I realized it wasn’t good enough to sketch a shoe. I asked for that particular photo of Michael in the slam dunk contest and then I drew.”

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The photo in question, which featured MJ in the open lane, rising to the hoop, ball cocked behind his right ear and legs tucked under his body, activated Hatfield’s memories of 1988. It spurred the designer to add his own illustrations to the familiar image. The resulting artwork, which recapped Jordan’s history in unconventional ways, in turn inspired the shoe.

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The approach, Hatfield notes, created a “nice sort of circle. Its all very internal, rather than the external story of being influenced by a car or architecture or music. Those have been good tools, but this one was different. It was just in my head, so to speak.”

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The results of this novel approach are represented by five of the Air Jordan XXX’s key components:

1. HEIGHT

“I remember thinking about how silhouettes are important in the world of basketball, not just for performance – whether it’s a mid cut or high or low or something in-between – but as a hallmark of that year,” explains Hatfield, recalling how changing the top line of a shoe from one Jordan model to another became a standard brand practice. “We kept marveling at how we were able to keep the dimensions down and make it look slick,” says Hatfield. He also recalls that Jordan’s singular demand was to “make it look fast,” a request augmented by the “XXX” graphic that wraps the heel and extends through the forefoot.

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2. TOE

Another trademark of later Jordan silhouettes is a smooth toe piece. “Michael has always been very infatuated with the toe-down look of a shoe,” notes Hatfield. A prime example can be seen on the XI, where the patent extends up the vamp so gracefully that its protective properties appear almost as an afterthought.

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3. TRACTION

Less apparent than the collar and toe, but nonetheless important, is the traction treatment. The FlightSpeed architecture of the Air Jordan XX9, Hatfield explains, is “probably the best performing Jordan chassis we’d ever done.” Still, Hatfield and Smith didn’t just serve up a new herringbone pattern on the Air Jordan XXX. Instead, they drew a new traction system inspired by the Jordan quote: “Excellence is never second place,” which has been rendered in 3D to serve the needs of pinnacle athletes, like Russell Westbrook.

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4. MATERIAL

Since the brand’s inception, material interplay has also been critical to the success of Jordan silhouettes. Likewise, a proprietary mix defines the upper composition of the Air Jordan XXX, which debuts an exclusive mix of woven, knit and printed materials.

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For Hatfield, it’s about putting the right characteristic in the right place. The woven upper provides “strength,” he explains, “and makes good sense for the body of the shoe, because you can bring in strength and graphic elements that are actually woven right in.” At the ankle and through the interior, knit offers “softness and breathability.”

5. FIT

Knit also allowed the designers to consider the shoe’s fit, from the inside out. “We go to great lengths to make sure that when you put on a shoe, your calcaneus, which is the bottom part of the heel or the bony part of the heel, is locked,” says Hatfield. On the Air Jordan XXX, a knit cradle keeps the heel in place and at the same time reduces the amount of glue needed to make the shoe. “We should be gaining wisdom and learning from our mistakes and successes,” confirms Hatfield.

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The Air Jordan XXX will be globally available at select retail stores and Jordan.com on February 12, 2016.

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