The majority of people on planet Earth are familiar with Michael Jordan, but how many can recall the mastermind designer that saved Nike from losing Michael Jordan by reimagining athletic footwear all together? Tinker Hatfield, nicknamed “The Architect”, is the current Vice President of Nike's Design and Special Projects. He began designing footwear for the company in 1985 after graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in architecture. He's credited by Phil Knight for single-handedly saving Nike with his revolutionary take on Michael Jordan's sneaker line when the star was unhappy with his current shoes.

Hatfield was the lead designer for Air Jordan's III through XV, XX, and XX3. He's also credited with countless numbers of Nike training shoes and was the first to design a cross-training shoe made for a various sports. In 1987, he revolutionized the gap between athletics and fashion with the Air Max line, creating timeless silhouettes like the Air Max 1 and Air Max 90. Throughout his career, his shoes have also hit the big screen when he designed the Nike Air Mags for Back to the Future and the bat-boots worn by Michael Keaton in Batman. 

The design legend turned 71 on April 30, 2023, and it's clear that the world of sneakers would be a completely different place without his unique and outside-the-shoebox thinking. To honor the sneaker great on his birthday, we'll be ranking the top 10 designs from the brilliant mind of Tinker Hatfield. Check out our Sneakers news for more stories like this!

10. Air Jordan 13

Air Jordan 13 “Playoffs” – image via

The Air Jordan 13 debuted in 1997 and was famously worn by Michael Jordan during the 1998 season on his last run at a title with the Chicago Bulls. Just recently, a game-worn pair of these exact sneakers sold at auction for record prices. Hatfield designed this shoe with Jordan's nickname “The Black Cat” in mind as the shoe is inspired by the paw of a jaguar. The upper features a reflective 3M material, revolutionary for basketball sneakers at the time, and a “23” hologram on the back heel. The black/red pair became Jordan's go-to during the 1998 NBA Playoffs.

9. Nike Air Max 90

Air Max 90 “Infrared” – image via

The Air Max 90 was Hatfield's third installment of the Air Max line and arguably his most popular to date. Originally created as a running shoe, the Air Max 90 has become a staple in streetwear and continues to be a must-have for any sneaker collection. The original pair released in 1990 in the “Infrared” colorway, a timeless palette that seemingly goes with any outfit imaginable. The shoe really plays into the Air Max branding with the oversized air bubble, which was catching on like wildfire at the time. The shoe continues to retro every couple of years and proves to stand the test of time across all styles.

8. Air Jordan XX3

Air Jordan XX3 – image via NBC News

The Air Jordan XX3 was Hatfield's first project since creating the Air Jordan XX. After taking a small hiatus from designing, Tinker returned for what he believed had to be the most perfect Air Jordan of all time. Since the GOAT wore #23, it was only right that he pulled out all the stops in creating the legend's 23rd pro model. The result is a beautiful balance of style and performance that has yet to be rivaled since it's conception. The bottom features and aerodynamic plate for maximum support. The uppers are made from bio-friendly woven materials and feature a ton of hidden details with Michael Jordan's personal touches. The sockliner is made from satin and provides the shoe with a premium luxury feel. To top it off, the word “Jordan” doesn't appear anywhere on the sneaker and is made to be worn for every occasion. It's safe to say that Tinker hit it out of the park with this one.

7. Nike Air Huarache

Nike Air Huarache – image via

The Nike Air Huarache came into fruition when Tinker Hatfield was inspired by the neoprene booties in water-skiing boots. He noticed how the boot would fit any foot regardless of size by molding to each individual. He decided to implement the same technology into the Nike Air Huarache, creating a comfortable and moldable sockliner made out of the same type of materials. The heel features a plastic “exoskeleton” to give the shoes shape and support, while the rest of the shoe features a thick leather. The Huarache has become a wildly popular model in recent years and continues to find fresh new colorways to spice up the classic model. On the list of Hatfield sneakers that are as popular as ever at the moment, there's are easily up there.

6. Air Jordan 6

Air Jordan 6 – image via

Hatfield designed the Air Jordan 6 to reflect Michael Jordan's love for cars. The automobile-inspired shoes continue to be one of the most sought-after Jordan silhouettes for their unmatched style in the streets and superior performance on the court. They're also very special to Michael Jordan because he won his first NBA Championship in the Air Jordan 6. It continues to be a favorite amongst sneakerheads and became a revolutionary sneaker in Hatfield's career, bridging the gap between the NBA and pop culture. The Black/Infrared colorway continues to be the most popular iteration to date and there's no question these were a favorite of Michael Jordan to wear.

5. Nike Air Trainer 1

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Nike Air Trainer 1 – image via Sneaker Freaker

Tinker Hatfield created the Nike Air Trainer 1 out of pure necessity. He found himself interested in different activities in the Oregon gym from running, to racquetball, to aerobics. He found himself bringing three pairs of shoes to the gym because he didn't know what activity he'd want to do that day. What came out of the dilemma was a cross-training shoe that could be worn for multiple sports, the very first of it's kind. The shoes debuted in 1987 and were worn by tennis legend John McEnroe. Later on, Bo Jackson became the star of the Nike Trainer campaign and propelled the shoes into instant classic status – an end-all-be-all sneaker for the world's most versatile athletes.

4. Air Jordan 4

Air Jordan 4 “White Cement” – image via

The Air Jordan 4 was Tinker Hatfield's follow-up to the first shoe he made specifically for Michael Jordan to wear in games. It's arguably the most wearable Air Jordan stylistically with its low profile, unique accents, and clean-cut colorways. They were famously featured in “Do the Right Thing” when Spike Lee got his pair scuffed in the streets. The model provides a revolutionary look at some unique technologies, including a breathable mesh lining and “wings” on each side of the upper eyelets. The shoes also feature the word “Flight” on the tongue and are a constant reminder of every time Michael Jordan would soar through the air. He most notably wore the black/red colorway during “The Shot” against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1989 NBA Playoffs.

3. Nike Air Max 1

Nike Air Max 1 – image via

Receiving his degree from the University of Oregon's School of Architecture, there's no surprise that Tinker Hatfield drew inspiration from buildings and traditional principles of base architecture. Beginning designing in 1985, Hatfield was set to release the Nike Air Max 1 in 1987, which was partly inspired by the Pompidou Centre in Paris. While the “Nike Air” cushioning technology in the soles of the shoes was in usage since 1979, the Air Max 1 was the first sneaker in history to feature a revealed air bubble for the world to see. Now, almost every Nike shoe feature and exposed air bubble and it's all thanks to the genius innovation of Tinker Hatfield. The Air Max 1 continues to be a timeless silhouette and it still releasing in new colorways to this day as one of Nike's best selling sneakers.

2. Air Jordan 3

Air Jordan 3 “Black Cement” – image via

The one that started it all, the one that saved Nike – the Air Jordan 3. Michael Jordan was two sneakers into his contract when he became unhappy with the designs and performance abilities of the shoes. Threatening a move to rival adidas, Nike brought in Tinker Hatfield to reimagine the Jordan line all together. What resulted is arguably the most classic Air Jordan of all time.

The Jordan 3 was revolutionary in the fact that it was the world's first mid-cut basketball sneaker that translated perfectly into everyday fashion. It featured Tinker's signature air bubble and brought together an interesting color scheme during a time where sneakers in the NBA were nothing to write home about. Hatfield created the ever-so-popular “elephant print” seen on the Jordan 3 for the first time. Ironically, Michael Jordan had his best season in '87-'88 without winning a championship. He most notably wore the “White Cement” version of these during his historic free-throw line dunk during the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest. The sneaker continues to live in basketball lore and is without a doubt the most important sneaker in the Jordan line to date.

1. Air Jordan 11

Air Jordan 11 “Concord” – images via

The Air Jordan 11 is one of the most recognizable silhouettes for any sneaker, period. The retro releases of the sneaker in previous years have cause riots, lines outside of sneaker shops, and an all-out craze over one of the most universally loved sneakers of all time. Why are these number one on this list? Well, for starters, Tinker Hatfield has said numerous times that the Air Jordan 11 is his favorite sneaker of all time. That should be reason enough.

However, it's the sleek construction and futuristic look of the Air Jordan 11 that make them perfect for any occasion. Michael Jordan favored the Black/Red colorway during his playing days. The “Concord” colorway [pictured] is arguably the most popular of all iterations. They were modeled after a tuxedo and feature the signature patent leather across the upper, the first shoe to don such of its kind. Jordan came out with an all black version for his “Space Jam” movie, only further cementing these in the GOATs sneaker history.

There's no doubt that Tinker Hatfield came up with some revolutionary concepts throughout his legendary design career, but it's safe to say that he may have hit his highest point with the Air Jordan 11. Still fully in creative control at Nike, we're bound to see Hatfield continue to push the envelope in the golden ages of his career.

Here's to you, Tinker, and Happy Birthday!