Mike Rogalski
Mike Rogalski

The Air Jordan III

Mike Rogalski
Mike Rogalski

By Foster Kamer

Something strange was in the air at the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. It wasn’t just that deadlines loomed—that was typical. A shareholders meeting was just around the corner, which never brightened the mood, but that wasn’t it either. Tinker Hatfield Jr., a 35-year-old sneaker designer, couldn’t quite put his finger on it. His boss, Nike’s creative director and lead shoe designer, Peter Moore, typically blasted music in his office while he sketched new ideas for shoes. But this summer morning in 1987, the music wasn’t playing.

A few weeks prior, Rob Strasser, Nike’s vice president, had suddenly handed in his resignation. Nobody had seen it coming. Strasser was an industry veteran who’d spent nearly two decades as Phil Knight’s marketing guru. He’d become a local legend, “the man who saved Nike.” In three years, he’d turned the company’s fortunes around by signing Michael Jordan to the most high-profile and successful athlete endorsement deal in history. Soon, Jordan’s contract would be coming up for renegotiation. Wherever Strasser was about to go, he seemed poised to take Jordan with him.

Moore, who’d designed the first two iterations of the Air Jordan, was clearly frustrated. Suddenly, he called Hatfield into his office. Sketches for a new shoe were scattered around the desk. Handing Hatfield a thin sheet of tracing paper, Moore said, “You do it. Design Michael Jordan’s next basketball shoe.” A week later, Moore followed Strasser’s lead and walked out the door, leaving behind a thin file filled with those same sketches. The deadline to present the new Air Jordan was a few weeks away, and the company’s fate seemed tethered to the deal.

Hatfield had never even worked on an Air Jordan, let alone designed one. In fact, he was new to the field: He’d barely worked on sneakers for two years. But now, with Nike reeling from the loss of its design and marketing leadership and with its relationship with Jordan on the line, Tinker had a lot riding on this one shoe.

In high school, Hatfield had been a standout track athlete. He was part of Oregon’s robust amateur-sports culture (near the center of which was his father, a legendary track coach). He attended the University of Oregon on a track-and-field scholarship and held the school’s pole-vaulting record for a while, but his teammate, Steve Prefontaine—who would go on to become one of the most celebrated track stars in history—got most of the attention. That was fine by Hatfield. He’d chosen Oregon because the school offered a bachelor’s degree in architecture—his true passion.

Four years after graduation, Hatfield was floundering at a corporate architecture job. Then his former track coach, Bill Bowerman, called. The company Bowerman had helped start, Nike, was beginning to flourish and it needed some help designing marketing materials. In 1980, Bowerman brought Hatfield in to work on an internal marketing manual. A year later, the position had bloomed into a full-time role. Hatfield worked on showrooms, offices, retail-space concepts: the kinds of things that ultimately mattered much less than the way everything else there was designed.

Then, in 1985, Rob Strasser asked Hatfield to compete in a company-wide design contest. The challenge was to design a shoe you could wear as easily on the track as you could fashionably on the street—such a crossover didn’t exist. Nike would never do anything with it, probably. It was a lark, a theoretical, an exercise to get Nike’s shoe designers thinking bigger.

Hatfield took it seriously. He stayed up all night, drawing a colorful upper with a low-profile midsole and a visible airbag in the shoe itself. Hatfield was inspired by Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou—a building turned inside out—and its designers, the bad-boy architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, whom he counted as personal heroes. In his sketch, he positioned the shoes not on a runner but next to a European motor scooter.

This was a renegade move at a company whose mission was mainly to service runners’ needs. The more conservative minds at Nike saw this as a sign that Hatfield didn’t understand the brand’s mission. Some of his colleagues thought he should be fired. Hatfield didn’t care. He knew the company made purely utilitarian shoes, but he just wasn’t interested in designing purely utilitarian shoes. “When I came in,” he remembered later, “I had stories to tell.”

Moore was amused by his moxie and wowed by his design: It won the contest. Nobody at the top was entirely sure what to make of Hatfield, but they knew that he shouldn’t be designing marketing materials anymore. Just like that, he’d become a shoe designer. He didn’t know that, in just two years, he’d be faced with the biggest challenge of his career, nor did he realize just whom he’d need to win over.

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Michael Jordan had come to Nike as a last resort. When he signed with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, he desperately wanted an Adidas endorsement. The German company had enough athletes on its books, however, and was reluctant to sign another. Even after Nike offered to tailor shoes to his liking, with his name on them—something no other company was doing at the time—and sign him to an eye-popping five-year, $500,000 contract (also unheard of at the time), Jordan wasn’t entirely sold.

Five years later, Jordan’s kicks were some of the most successful athlete-endorsed shoes ever. But as his contract neared its end, Jordan was looking for an out. Moore and Strasser, who’d signed him, were gone. The pair were hoping to lure Jordan to their upstart competitor, Sports Inc., where they wanted to give him his own shoe and apparel line. Adidas was beckoning too. At this point, Jordan could go wherever he wanted.

Nike had just one shot to salvage its deal with Michael Jordan: The Air Jordan III, which was now in Hatfield’s hands. Nike president Phil Knight didn’t know Hatfield well—and he didn’t necessarily trust him, since he’d worked for Moore. Jordan didn’t know Hatfield either. That was the first thing Hatfield had to change.

As soon as he could, Hatfield jumped on a plane to meet with Jordan. He needed to get a sense of who he was as a human, outside of basketball. Lately, Jordan had been buying suits, plus high-end leather shoes to go with them. Hatfield could see he had an eye for style and design that wasn’t entirely obvious to the public or reflected in the previous Air Jordans.

When Jordan talked about the styles and performance elements that he wanted in a shoe, Hatfield did something no other designer and executive had: He listened. A basic principle in architecture states that you can’t design a great house without knowing the people who will live in it. Hatfield applied this with Jordan. “I don’t think Michael had ever been worked with that way,” he told the Portland Tribune in 2005, “In fact, I don’t think anybody in the footwear business had done it that way.”

Both the Air Jordan and Air Jordan II were high-tops. Chatting with Hatfield, Jordan threw out an idea for a shoe that was less restrictive. Mid-tops existed, but they weren’t popular as far as basketball shoes went. They were seen as a compromise: less stable for the ankles than a high-top. But Jordan dreamed of a lighter shoe.

Hatfield kept hunting for inspiration wherever he could find it. Among Moore’s few prototype designs, Hatfield saw something exciting. The photo of Jordan that had been used to promote the last two shoes— jumping to dunk, legs split outward, ball in hand extended toward the basket—had been penciled out by Moore as a logo. The logo was buried in the files, never intended for use on apparel. Hatfield loved it and, without consulting anyone, he placed it on one of his first Jordan III designs.

While researching materials, he’d come across some suede-like nubuck embossed with a pattern that resembled fake elephant skin, perfect for the trim. He also used a material called floater, leather that’s been tumbled so the natural wrinkles lost when it’s tanned and processed reemerge as a texture. It had never been used in athletic shoes before, as tumbled leather can grow softer (thus weaker) when processed. But Jordan wanted to wear a new pair of shoes every game. The tumbled leather wasn’t just a nod to Jordan’s love of fashion and those Italian leather shoes he was now sporting. It also served a practical purpose: Jordan wouldn’t have to break the shoe in.

Hatfield crafted a rough sample as quickly as he could. Another designer, Ron Dumas, took the sample and clarified Hatfield’s ideas. As Hatfield recalled: “No one slept for days.”

On the day of the presentation, Hatfield and Knight flew to California, where Jordan was golfing. When they arrived, they found Jordan’s parents waiting for them in a conference room. Jordan was still out on the fairways. Sitting next to the president of the company, Hatfield felt the enormity of what was about to happen start to sink in: “This,” he remembered, “is the biggest presentation of my life.”

Four hours later, Michael Jordan walked into the room. He wasn’t happy to be there. He had been golfing with Strasser and Moore, who’d recently given an incredible presentation on the new brand they wanted to launch. Now, they were on the verge of signing. “All right, show me what you got,” Jordan grumbled.

Hatfield stood up and started asking Jordan questions. He asked him to recall what he’d said earlier about the shoe’s height, its weight, about his Italian shoes and leather patterns. Hatfield started showing the sketches to Jordan, who was beginning to warm up: For the first time, someone had actually paid attention to what he wanted and needed. Jordan asked to see the sample.

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Hatfield pulled a black cover off a lump on the table, and there it was: the concrete-elephant print lining. The soft, sturdy leather, the Nike Air bubble on the bottom. A lower, mid-rise cuff that distinguished it from virtually every other shoe on the planet. Instead of a giant Nike swoosh on the side, the side was clean. The swoosh had been relegated to the back. And in the front, on that oversize, plush shoe tongue: the Jumpman silhouette. It was a symbol, Hatfield explained, of who was at the forefront of the shoe— and the company.

Jordan grabbed the sneaker, smiling. He’d never seen the Jumpman logo as anything other than an idea. Now it beamed from the front of the sneaker, and Jordan loved it. But perhaps most important, someone had found a way to take his needs as a basketball player and his ideas as a fashion connoisseur and meld them into a single design, one that was distinct from anything else on the market. When Jordan started talking about different colorways for the shoe, Hatfield knew he was in.

“Phil Knight thinks I helped save Nike that day,” Hatfield has since said. “I don’t know if it’s true or not, but that’s his perception.”

The Air Jordan III hit shelves in February 1988, retailing for $100. They were the shoes Michael Jordan wore while famously winning the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk Contest—flying from the free throw line to the rim. They were also the shoes he donned for that year’s All-Star and league MVP awards. And, before long, they’d yielded one of the most iconic tag lines (“It’s gotta be the shoes!”) of any ad campaign in the Spike Lee–directed Mars Blackmon spots, starring Lee himself as Blackmon.

Jordan, of course, remained with Nike and has since collaborated with Hatfield on 19 iterations of Air Jordans (or “Js,” as they’re known), which have remained the most popular basketball shoe line in the history of the market and the most coveted sneakers in the known universe. The Jordan Brand subdivision of Nike made $2.25 billion in 2013 alone and accounts for nearly 60 percent of the American basketball shoe market. Today, Jordan refers to Hatfield as his “right-hand man” in all things design-related. Hatfield has since become vice president of design at Nike. He’s still taking inspiration from unconventional places (for the Jordan XI, he consistently cites a lawn mower).

As for the original Air Jordan III, it’s been galvanized in rap and pop songs and is regularly ranked by sneakerhead publications as the greatest Air Jordan of all time. And in 2001, the Air Jordan III became the first Jordan to be rereleased (or “retroed,” in sneaker parlance) and sell out in full. In fact, the highly coveted limited-availability III is the shoe that sparked the robust sneaker-collecting culture that exists today.

None of this would have happened had Hatfield followed convention. Instead, he went rogue in the simple, revolutionary way that is shrugging off common wisdom: Maybe athletic shoes can be more than just functional, and stylish shoes can function beyond their form. It took an architect to bring that idea to light.

Years later, Hatfield would ask Jordan why he ended up staying with Nike. Jordan replied that two factors swayed his decision: the advice of his father—who told him to stay the course—and a gut feeling. Jordan could feel that someone had managed to tap into him as a three-dimensional human being and translate that personality into a pair of shoes. And that, to Jordan, was special. In other words? It’s gotta be the shoes.

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Testing, Testing
Sleep More Soundly with These Sweat-Busting Sheets
Courtesy of BEDGEAR
Courtesy of BEDGEAR

Catching quality Zs is vital to our health: Not only can lack of sleep cause impairment similar to what people experience when they've knocked back a few drinks, but it's been linked to health issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, among others. It can be particularly challenging to get adequate shut-eye in the heat of summer, when sheets and blankets feel like the enemy and it's not unusual to wake up clammy in a puddle of your own sweat.

That kind of situation inspired Eugene Alletto to found BEDGEAR in 2009. When Alletto’s son was having sleep issues due to allergies, he discovered that the only mattress protectors available were vinyl, which made his son overheat while he was trying to sleep. So Alletto went to work creating his own bedding that would keep people at the perfect temperature for snoozing, no matter what the season, and allow for maximum recovery.

To BEDGEAR, sleep isn't just a period of rest, it's an activity—so it's fitting that the company found inspiration for its products in exercise. “Eugene determined that the performance fabrics like we wear to exercise could be engineered to provide functional benefits in bedding products,” Shana Rocheleau, VP of Strategy at BEDGEAR, told Mental Floss via email. “It was this key insight that spiraled into the wide performance products offering BEDGEAR has today.” The line started with mattress protectors and has since grown to include mattresses, pillows, sheets, blankets, and more.

All of this sounded very intriguing to me: I live on the top floor of my building, and temperatures in my apartment regularly hit 80 degrees—so I’m accustomed to waking up a sweaty mess in the middle of the night (at least before we put in our window air conditioning units). I was eager to see if the company's Dri-Tec Performance Sheets—which promise to "help you sleep cool and dry to ensure maximum recovery"—would help me get a better night’s rest, and BEDGEAR sent me some to try out.

According to Rocheleau, every product in the company’s line is designed chiefly with one thing in mind: air flow. “Air flow is essential to maximum sleep comfort and getting the most recovery out of the time you have to spend in bed,” she says. “When your body gets overheated, you will begin fidgeting, [but] when you sleep at the right temperature, with bedding layers that balance your body heat with your room environment through optimized air flow, [it] makes it easier for your body to follow its natural circadian rhythm of dropping two degrees at night for cellular rejuvenation, and reduces sensations of restlessness.”

To that end, when designing its products, “BEDGEAR’s product development team focused on designing a fabric that could aid in controlling humidity by keeping moisture away from your body with breathable fabrics,” Rocheleau says. “A less humid environment allows your body to cool down more quickly.”

The company doesn’t do thread counts (which it says are complicated, can be misleading, and might not actually help you sleep better, anyway) but instead uses CFM, or cubic feet per minute, “the speed at which air flows into or out of space,” Rocheleau explains—a standard unit of measurement in the HVAC and vacuum industries. Their highest performance sheets, the Dri-Tech Lites, have a CFM rating of four (736 cubic feet per minute); Dri-Tec, the sheets that I tested, have a CFM rating of 3 (407 cubic feet per minute). By comparison, Poly-spandex knit sheets (125 cubic feet per minute) and 100 percent cotton sheets with a 1200 thread count (3.89 cubic feet per minute) both have a CFM rating of zero.

BEDGEAR's product development team spent six years developing and perfecting the Dri-Tec sheets. They're made of a polyester material that evaporates moisture and expels heat, and are also equipped with ventilated mesh hems and side panels, which have a 3D structure that keeps air circulating. “Your sheets should enhance your sleep, not disrupt it by making you feel trapped by heat and/or fabrics,” Rochleau says.

Users rave about the Dri-Tec sheets ("So these sheets have 100x more airflow than traditional sheets!!! Holy cannoli!!!"), and I wasn't disappointed, either. The sheets are incredibly soft; they don’t get wrinkly or cling to you when you sleep, and yet they’re designed to move with you. (My partner and I are both restless sleepers, and I’ve found that I’m disturbed by his movements less with these sheets that I was when we were using cotton ones.) You hardly notice them, which is sort of the point. Plus, the fitted sheet has a band that keeps it securely in place, no matter how much you move around. (If only it were possible to add a similar feature to the top sheet to prevent sheet stealing.)

But best of all, since we started using the Dri-Tec sheets, I haven’t had a sweaty wake-up once. Which is not to say I haven’t woken up (I have two cats who love to climb all over me when I’m sleeping), but when I did, I noticed that I wasn’t sweaty at all.

BEDGEAR’s sheets are definitely more expensive than most of what you’ll find at Target: Depending on the size and type, they can run up to $280 a set (which is on par with the high thread count sheets from other brands). But according to some estimates, we spend up to a third of our lives sleeping, or trying to sleep—so if snoozing is a struggle for you, these sheets might be worth the investment. You can find their products on BEDGEAR's website or at retailers around the country.

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DIY
13 Ingenious Uses for Tension Rods
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iStock

Tension rods are inexpensive tools for hanging curtains. But if you’re only using them to set up window treatments, then you’re missing out on a ton of other uses for these versatile DIY miracle workers. They come in a range of lengths and load-bearing limits, and can be installed in a minute or two. Snag a few different sizes of tension rods—which are cheap and removable for when your tastes change—and start experimenting with these creative projects.

1. INSTALL A HANGING HERB GARDEN.

You'll need a sturdy tension rod to fit your chosen window's width and a group of small hanging plant pots for this project. Place the rod within the window frame at the desired height, hang (or string) the planted pots along it, and ta-da—an instant, space-saving herb garden. This also works with your favorite sun-loving flowers or ferns. “You will never have to worry about the rod coming down, and the window placement will lend a lot of sun for flower and herb planters," Justin Krzyston, president and CEO of Stonehurst Construction and Design in Los Angeles, tells Mental Floss. "You can hang almost any kind of plant from the rod for a practical and fun way to garden indoors.”

Once your herbs are grown and picked, tie them into bunches with twine. Dry the herbs by hanging them upside-down from—you guessed it—a tension rod placed in a door frame. Dried herbs will last much longer than fresh.

2. ARRANGE YOUR ACCESSORIES.

Hang tension rods within your existing closet to corral scarves, necklaces, and small bags. “You can even hang S-hooks from the tension rod to separate your bracelets and smaller items,” Krzyston says. Hooks also make it easier to remove and put back items because you won't need to remove the rod from the closet wall to retrieve them.

3. STORE CLEANING PRODUCTS.

Annie Draddy, organizer and co-founder of New York-based personal organizing service Henry & Higby, likes to use tension rods for cleaning storage. “Use a tension rod under a sink to hang spray bottles and other cleaning implements,” she tells Mental Floss. Hanging the spray cleaners at the top of the cabinet leaves more room for other items, like sponges, towels, and buckets.

4. ORGANIZE KITCHEN CABINETS.

It’s difficult to keep all your trays and pans organized in your kitchen cabinets, especially if they’re all different sizes—but that’s where tension rods can help, Draddy says. She recommends installing a few tension rods vertically inside the cabinet and standing up flat items, like baking sheets and pans, cutting boards, pot lids, and trays, between the rods. The arrangement saves space and makes it easier to grab the pan or cookie sheet without dislodging everything else in the cabinet.

5. CREATE A BUNK BED SCREEN.

Kids who share bunk beds will love the extra privacy that tension rods and curtain panels can offer, Krzyston says. This project works best on the bottom bunk because the rods are installed between the bed posts. If the top bunk's posts extend to the ceiling, you can double this project for the top and bottom beds.

To make the world's easiest no-sew bunk bed curtains, you will need three tension rods that fit the head, foot, and side of the bunk bed; a measuring tape, scissors, four or five lightweight curtain panels depending on the size of the bed, straight pins, iron-on fusing web, and an iron. Then follow these steps.

First, install the rods between the bed posts and measure the height from the rod down to the platform of the bed (past the mattress)—this will be the curtain's length. Next, lay each curtain flat with the backside facing up. Measure the same distance down from the rod pocket, and add two inches—the extra fabric will be your hem. Draw a line with a pencil across the curtain at that length, or mark with pins, and then cut each curtain along the line. Lay a piece of the iron-on fusing web across the curtain, 3 inches from and parallel to the end. Fold up the two-inch hem over the web and pin in place. (Now, measure the sides of the curtain to make sure they're of equal length, and adjust if necessary.)

Iron the hem to fuse it in place, removing the pins as you go. Once the fabric is cool, install the curtains on the rods. “The sturdy construction of the bed will lend an easy place for the curtains to hang without worry of them coming down,” Krzyston says. Boom: super-cool bed fort!

6. KEEP TUB TOYS TIDY.

This trick works on tubs with walls on three sides. Find a tension rod roughly equal to the longer side of your tub. String an even number of shower rings on it and install along the wall side of the tub. Then, hang small plastic bins from the rings (two per bin, which keeps them level) for storing small toys, and you’ll never have to step on a Paw Patrol toy again.

7. CONCEAL CLUTTER.

Are your bookcases and shelving units packed with odds and ends? Disguise the clutter behind an easy-to-assemble screen. Pop a tension rod between the sides of the cabinet at the height of the stuff you want to hide. Then, hang a curtain or drape a piece of patterned fabric over the rod, and you’ll have a custom-made junk-concealer. You can even string clip-style curtain rings on the rod and clip on a fabric panel—the rings will make it easier to push the panel to the side when you need to retrieve items from the shelves. Try it anywhere you need to mask garbage bins, Costco-sized pantry items, or other unsightly necessities.

8. CATEGORIZE BOOKS.

Short tension rods can take the place of cumbersome bookends and leave you more space for storing and displaying actual books. Install the rods vertically within the bookshelf to corral paperbacks, hardcover titles, magazines, or notebooks. You can also organize and divide your collection by theme or subject matter by installing rods vertically between the sections.

9. SET UP A CLOTHESLINE.

Make your space-saving indoor clothesline by putting a tension rod in the doorway of your laundry room or in any unused corner. You can pin garments to the rod with clothespins or air-dry shirts on hangers. The rod can also serve as a finishing area for freshly ironed clothes. The best part: Pop out the rod when you're done, and it will look like laundry never happened.

10. MAKE A FORT.

You don’t need to buy anything fancy to provide kids with a few hours of fun. Insert a tension rod under a desk or table, in the hallway, or in a low-traffic doorway. Have the kids drape a sheet or blanket over the rod, spread it out, and weigh down its edges with pillows—instant hideway! Or build a "condo" with multiple rods at varying levels down an entire hallway. The special space will boost the kids' imaginations and spark creative games.

11. HIDE THE LITTER BOX.

Litter boxes are a fact of life if you have a cat, but that doesn’t mean her business has to be visible. If the litter box is sitting in a corner of a closet, you can conceal it and create storage space at the same time. Install a shelf on the wall above the box at your desired height. The shelf's width should be about the same as the closet, and its depth roughly equal to the litter box (you might want to turn the box so the longer side is against the wall, but make sure the cat can still get in). Install a tension rod just under the lip of the shelf and hang short curtains (use the curtain-customizing method in #5) or drape a piece of fabric over the rod. Now Princess will have some privacy, and you can store her food, litter, and other feline accoutrements on the shelf.

12. CAMOUFLAGE UNDER-BED CLUTTER.

Choose a longish tension rod and install it between the legs of the bed on its visible side. Cut an oblong piece of fabric that, when doubled lengthwise over the rod, will hide the clutter underneath the bed. Repeat the steps for other sides of the bed. You’ll never have to see the mess again, and you can change the fabric's pattern or color whenever your design aesthetic evolves.

13. CONSTRUCT A BLACKOUT COCOON.

City dwellers have to deal with bright streetlights seeping in their windows at night. Even with the curtains closed, the light pollution can disrupt sleep. Ensure restful slumber with this fast blackout hack: Slide a tension rod that is roughly the width of your bedroom window into the rod pocket of a blackout curtain panel of similar width. Then, install the rod and curtain inside window frame, allowing the curtain to closely cover as much window area as possible. Close the existing curtains for a virtually pitch-black boudoir.

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