I will never forget the day I realized I wanted to become a designer. It was the fall of 1997 and I was at the grocery store with my mom. As a child, every time I went to the grocery store I would instantly b-line to the magazine aisle. I would go through damn near every magazine there just to kill time while whomever I was with finished up their shopping. On this particular day, I picked up an issue of SLAM! that was fully dedicated to Michael Jordan. I believe it was called “Jordan” but I know for sure it said “100% Mike” on it in bold letters.
SLAM! was my favorite basketball magazine as a child. I loved it because it was brash, bold and to-the-point, and in some ways I felt like I shouldn’t be reading it because my eyes were too young for the vulgarity of some of the language. The magazine had great imagery and blended every interest in my life into one magazine. Where else could you find basketball, hip-hop and shoes? This issue in particular though was the greatest magazine to ever be assembled. Seemed like every page had their SLAMADAMONTH highlight reel of MJ in dunks that I had barely seen. I had always been obsessed with great imagery of Michael. I always tried to find photos of MJ that were rarely seen. Images that showed him contorting his body, showing how graceful he was and how it always seemed like he was floating through the lane. That’s what I loved about this magazine. There were so many images I had rarely seen and you have to remember that the Internet was in its infancy. So to have all of those images in one magazine was mind blowing to me. I seriously had like four or five of this particular issue of this magazine, as it quickly became my bible.
To say that I liked Michael Jordan was an understatement. Obsessed was a much better description. In the fall of 1997, I was in the seventh grade. My wardrobe consisted of American Eagle carpenter jeans, and a Jordan jersey or the Chicago Bulls Warm-Up Shooting Shirt. Literally, I had two of the black away Jordan jerseys, one white home and one away red. Those had me covered Monday-Thursday and then Friday came the shooting shirt. It just made sense. On top of that I was heavy into my art. I started private art lessons at the age of 5. Every Saturday I would go to my teacher’s house and do a variety of lessons from drawing, to watercolor and then to oil painting. Around the age of 8, so as Michael was about to win his third NBA Championship, is when those lessons turned into me drawing or painting MJ every Saturday. So this “100% Mike” issue quickly became my reference point.
After a few weeks of being mesmerized by the images in the pages and drawing what seemed like every page, I actually read it during study hall. Some of my middle school teachers didn’t believe drawing was a good use of my time so they made sure I read. But being the stubborn person I was I refused to read anything they gave me, so I broke out my bible also known as “100% Mike”. Out of nowhere I stumble on a page with an eccentric man wearing a Nike beret, (I seriously had one, I looked like an idiot). He was also holding the newest Air Jordan in the White/Black/Red colorway, or what you kids now call the “He Got Game” Air Jordan 13. I remember thinking to myself, “this is going to be a good read,” not realizing that it was going to change my life. Now while I don’t remember the exact transcript of the interview, I do remember it being at least three pages (that was a lot for me at that time) and that the man wearing the beret had the dopest name I had ever heard, Tinker Hatfield.
What I read in those pages played out as a vision of imagery of what my new obsession would become: designing shoes. Tinker talked about his process of designing the Air Jordan XIII and creating the Brand Jordan, this issue came at the time of the official launch of the brand. I am paraphrasing here because my “bible” is boxed away with every other piece of Michael Jordan memorabilia I have, Tinker said something along the lines of design being a blend of art and science. He talked about his architectural background and his and Michael’s relationship. What I took from the article is that I could get paid to draw shoes and potentially work with Michael Jordan.
The Air Jordan XIII became the single most important shoe ever to me because of that one article. It represented everything that I knew I could become. Every time I had to declare what my career choice was I said shoe designer. I will never forget in my freshmen year of high school, two years after the XIII came out; I had to sit down with my guidance counselor and lay out “my path” for my high school tenure that lead me into my bright future. I remember my mom was with me because obviously this was an important meeting. Here’s what I remember from my conversation with my guidance counselor:
GC: So, Brett, what do you want to do after college?
Me: I want to be a shoe designer.
Me: I Want to be a shoe designer.
GC: I’ve never heard of that, I think you mean engineer. Let’s get you set up in math classes.
Me: No, that is not at all what I want to be. I’m pretty sure I need to take as many art classes as possible.
GC: I think you are confused, design is engineering. That doesn’t involve art.
Me: I think you are confused because design is a blend of art and science.
GC: That’s not a path to a successful future. You won’t make any money doing that.
Me: I bet I make more money than you in my career path and I bet I’m happier.
The conversation got a little awkward after that and my mom looked very nervous at him, as I had just insulted him. I must say I had no intentions of insulting the man but I was confident in what I had chosen to do. To give my mother a huge amount of credit she stuck with me. She believed in me and believed in a career that I know at the time she knew nothing about other than what I had told her. I was very lucky to have that support. After the meeting ended and we (I) had convinced (told) him that I would be enrolled in every art class possible and nothing was going to stop me, I told him I would return the next day with evidence that shoe design is a successful path.
That night I went home and researched the hell out of the Internet for every possible image I could find on shoe design. I collected every image possible from all of my bookmarked sites: NikePark, NikeTalk, Air-Jordans.net and MairJ. Photos of the Air Jordan 3, 4, 5, 11, 12 and the 13. Photos of Michael dunking, winning championships and just being Michael. Then I went back to my trusty bible and found Tinker’s interview and I thought I should look up Tinker. So I went to the greatest search engine ever, AltaVista; and typed in Tinker Hatfield. I found like 10 pages with Tinker on it! Which was equivalent to about a 1,000 pages now. I found images of Tinker’s sketches. This was the first time I had ever seen anything like that before. There were sketches of fighter planes that would become the Air Jordan V. I remember seeing the sketches of the 9 and how it had a detachable ankle collar and thinking, “why didn’t they do that?!”. Seeing the sketches for the 11 that had all of Tinker’s image boards he had put together was amazing. And then I saw the most pivotal image I had ever seen, the sketches for the 13.
I remember seeing the sketch of the Black/Red with the strap on a black background with a black panther that had these glowing green eyes. The moment I saw those eyes I instantly knew that’s how they came up with the hologram on the heel. Then I started looking at the panther’s face and realized that the dimples on the side of the shoe were from the whiskers and then I realized the podular form of the sole unit was mimicking a cat’s paw. And it all clicked with me, “this is the blending of art and science.” I printed all of that out and put it a manila folder (I thought it made me look more professional), threw on my trunners (because I couldn’t really afford the game shoe yet), and went storming into that office the next morning a half hour before school started.
I sat in his office and laid every image and told him this is what I want to do and here is the greatest to ever do it, Tinker Hatfield. He obviously makes a good living and look here’s an image of him on stage holding the 13 while sitting next to MJ and he has a suit on. He’s obviously important. My guidance counselor was nervous but he was on board. He said that my passion would get me there.
I can go on and on and on as to why I believe that the Air Jordan XIII is the greatest Air Jordan design of all time and why I believe it represents Michael Jordan at his highest and most intelligent level of play. The reality is that the story I just laid out is why it has so much of a grasp on me. It holds a sentimental value to me like no other shoe I own. Looking back now as a professional designer I know it is a culmination of things that made me who I am today but without the Air Jordan 13 as my catalyst I can’t confidently say I would have ever found the passion to do what I do now.