The Best Air Jordan 3s of All Time

February 26, 2023 by Joey Birch

The Best Air Jordan 3s of All Time

One of the greatest, yet overlooked sneakers of recent times, the Air Jordan 3 was the silhouette that saved Nike and in turn, opened the door for Jordan Brand to exist. Released at a crucial time in Nike’s basketball history, the Air Jordan 3 was able to dramatically change the trajectory of basketball footwear forever. 

Following the Air Jordan 2, designed by Peter Moore and Bruce Kilgore, the masterminds behind the Air Jordan 1, Nike Dunk and Air Force 1 amongst others, there was a general feeling of lacklustre from Nike’s key signature athlete as well as the audience they were trying to appeal to. 

Shortly after the release of the second Jordan model, Peter Moore and Nike’s then VP of Marketing Rob Strasser left the company to work on their own venture thus leaving the door ajar for a new creator to enter the scene - Tinker Hatfield

In the same year that Hatfield had worked on, and released, the iconic Air Max 1 (which is set to come back this year), the master of Air Max also debuted the Air Jordan 3. A classic sign of Hatfield's touch was the inclusion of the visible Air Unit in the midsole.

Despite the sneaker holding so much weight in regards to the future of Jordan Brand, it’s the first and fourth editions of the legendary lineage that have stood out and seen mass appeal over the last couple of years.

With 2023 marking 35 years of the Air Jordan 3, we’re taking a look at some of the greatest colourways of the 1988 classic:

Air Jordan 3 ‘Black/White Cement’, 1988 - When you think about the Air Jordan 3, the first pair you think of is the ‘Black Cement’. Featuring perfectly pebbled black leather on the upper highlighted by the elephant leather print leather around the heel and toe. 

The Black Cement 3 was the shoe that captured MJ's heart, enticing him to once again invest in Nike and trust the vision that Hatfield had brought to the table. In conjunction with the White Cement 3, set to return in 2023, the original release puts the synonymous Jumpman iconography front and centre in a bold red on the tongue.

No matter how many years pass or how many times they retro, the Air Jordan 3 Black/White Cement will remain one of the greatest sneakers of all time. 

Air Jordan 3 ‘Fire Red’, 1988 - One of the four original Air Jordan 3 colourways, the ‘Fire Red’ is arguably the least beloved. However, as proven in its 2022 retro, the OG classic will always remain a fan favourite. 

Simple colour blocking is key consisting of a bold red against a bright white setting tying into the Jumpman logo on the tongue. 

A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 3, 2021 - Voted the best sneaker of 2021, James Whitner’s debut sneaker collaboration through one strand of his evergrowing Whitner Group empire, the A Ma Maniére Air Jordan 3 carried a much-needed message with it that championed black women with the title of project ‘Raised By Women’. Reflected in following releases, Whitner brought in The Turner Brothers to direct a film that told the story behind the shoe, discussing how some of the biggest talents are grown and nurtured by strong women.

A women’s exclusive release, the sneaker featured a myriad of small details sitting amongst premium materials in a pre-aged aesthetic which many brands have been utilising as of late, switching out the elephant print leather for a longhaired suede in addition to including a supple tumbled leather above. 

The A Ma Maniére Air Jordan 3 was the perfect example of how a sneaker can perfectly carry a story, one that is arguably imperative to its release.

Eminem x Air Jordan 3, TBC - On Sunday 13th February at the 56th Superbowl, Eminem debuted the ‘Slim Shady’ Air Jordan 3. Em is one of the most prolific sneaker collaborators in history with a range of projects that span Jordan models as well as Air Max silhouettes creating some of the most hyped pairs of all time including the triple collaboration between Jordan Brand, Eminem and Carhartt on the Air Jordan 4. 

Since 2015, fans have been left wondering whether any further projects would ensue and if anything, the hype was turned up to a maximum after last year's showcase. Taking the OG ‘Fire Red’ Air Jordan 3, Eminem switched out small details on the sneaker to make it his own while paying homage to the original construction with the inclusion of a ‘My name is Slim Shady’ in addition to Em’s ‘E’ logo in place of the Jumpman.

At the time of writing, it appears that the Eminem Air Jordan 3 may just be a one-off PE. However, they still deserve a place in the top 10.

Air Jordan 3 ‘UNC’, 2020 - What was once a PE colourway in 2018 became a public release in 2020. Paying homage to Michael Jordan’s college years at the University of North Carolina, it’s a wonder why the 'UNC' colourway wasn’t utilised on the AJ3 sooner. 

While we’ve seen later sneakers, including the Air Jordan 1, 4 and 6, feature sky blue colour blocking, none of them seems close to the AJ3. The usual elephant print leather was used alongside tumbled leather accented by the light blue UNC that fans adore. For collectors, the best part of the release was arguably the shoebox which featured the bold UNC colours on the lid sitting atop an elephant print lower section. 

Justin Timberlake x Air Jordan 3 ‘Bio Beige’, 2018 - Justin Timberlake’s reign in the sneaker industry needs to be highlighted. From creating the ‘Legends of the Summer’ pack which consisted of the original trio of Air Jordan silhouettes, all constructed in bold red colourway somewhat reminiscent of the Nike Air YEEZY 2 ‘Red October’, it’s the ‘Bio Beige’ that stands out. 

Taking Tinker Hatfields original design for the AJ3 which kept the Swoosh on the medial and lateral sides, the upper was constructed of a premium brown suede upper with black elephant print sections. The sneaker was made to reflect Timberlake's transition from pop icon, to his more down-to-earth, homemade, rugged, approach around the time his album ‘Man of the Woods’ was released. 

Air Jordan 3 ‘Mocha’, 2001 - A simple colourway with clean details, the Air jordan 3 ‘Mocha’ takes the AJ3 and strips it down to its simplest form featuring a predominantly white colour palette detailed with mocha-toned elephant print leather and matching outsole. 

The fan-favourite colourway was retroed in 2008 and again as a women’s exclusive release in 2018 with a Neapolitan twist. 

Air Jordan 3 ‘Seoul’, 2018 - Reminiscent of the OG ‘True Blue’ AJ3 from 1988, the ‘Seoul’ rendition was exclusively released in Korea. Designed by Tinker Hatfield and Dan Sunwoo in Nike’s Innovation Kitchen. Marking the 30th anniversary of the 1988 Korean Olympic Games, the sneaker features key details that represent Korea as well as its capital city, Seoul, the sneakers came with unique detailing on the tongues as well as featuring the blue and red colourways on the sock liner. 

Following its region-exclusive release in 2018, the sneaker was rereleased in 2020 with only 30 pairs being made available through an Instagram giveaway. 

Air Jordan 3 Retro Ls ‘Do The Right Thing’, 2007 - The 1989 classic ‘Do The Right Thing’ created by and starring Spike Lee is synonymous with the Air Jordan 4. Taking inspiration from a poster for the film, an eclectic Air Jordan 3 was made consisting of a bold blue suede upper with blue elephant print panelling in conjunction with yellow hits and green highlights around the stitching and Air Unit. 

The sneaker marked a full-circle moment for Jordan Brand and Spike Lee, with Lee playing a big role in the campaigns for the original Air Jordan 3 alongside the advertising agency, and long-term partner of Nike, Wieden+Kennedy.

Air Jordan 3 ‘Cool Grey’, 2006 - Jordan Brand's ‘Cool Grey’ collection is one of the most sought-after in the range. First debuted on the highly acclaimed Air Jordan 11, released in 2001, the 3s is a close second. Simple, yet effective, the ‘Cool Grey’ Air Jordan 3 will remain a classic for years to come.

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