Few shoes embody devotion to a cause like the Air Jordan 3 and the part it played epitomizing one of the greatest seasons in basketball history and Michael Jordan’s first MVP title.

Sneaker fanatics look to the 3 for its unique design elements, mid height and luxe leather. Few know the shoe represented a true athlete collaboration, 20 years before such projects would be a global lifestyle category of their own.

Debuting in 1988, Michael Jordan’s third signature shoe was the product of a newfound relationship between an architecturally-trained designer and one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Young designer (now Vice President for Creative Concepts) Tinker Hatfield approached what would be one of his greatest challenges – to rethink the height and aesthetic of a hoops shoe, and to gain the trust of Michael Jordan.

“I don’t think anybody in the business had quite grasped that there were athletes who were capable of being true collaborators,” recalls Hatfield.

“I came from the world of architecture.  And of course, if you try to design a building for a client – especially if it’s intimate, like a home for a family or something personal – you have to be collaborative.  They’re part of the design team.”

Cementing a tight relationship between designer and athlete that remains at the core of the brand nearly three decades later, the design process for the AJ 3 is when the concept of ‘the best for the best’ truly took flight.

Tinker recalls his first visit with Michael, observing him being fitted for a tailored suit at an old-school Chicago haberdasher. “I was lucky to find out that Michael was very style-aware,” says Tinker, “and also had some clear ideas about performance as an athlete.”

From those first conversations, it became clear to Tinker that luxury could be a performance feature. “[MJ] told me straight away that he wanted to be able to wear a new pair of shoes for every basketball game,” says the designer. “He wanted a broken-in, soft, comfortable, out-of-the-box experience.”

The sneaker community wanted the same. For legions of fans, the AJ 3 is that time they realized their passion for shoes. Luxurious performance that ushered in the dawn of the Jumpman remains etched on the psyche of connoisseurs through generations. The Jumpman (appearing for the first time), pressed on supple leather, with its elephant print accents and legendary Nike Air defined a new lifestyle of luxury athleticsm.

Everyone has a favorite moment in the silhouette of the 3, whether it’s personal — an epiphany that they were down for life — or a moment on a TV or movie screen. Maybe it’s an unfeasibly airborne Jordan in the 1988 dunk contest, or watching transfixed when he dropped 55 points against a certain Midwest rival.

The white/blue edition of the Jordan III arrived for holiday 1988 as the final chapter before the AJ 4’s February 1989 introduction. As with earlier options, the colors were chosen and applied by Tinker as part of the creative process. “I always choose the colors of the designs,” he reiterates, “It’s an important part to the process of the design and the storytelling of the shoe.”

Unlike other Jordan 3s, this colorway never made it to a league game in the ‘80s. It received a rare outing during an exhibition game between league pros and the USA national side in Charlotte on August 14th, 1988. The game took place in Jordan’s home state of North Carolina, and blue made a certain sense. In subsequent years, the shoe existed as a collector’s favorite.

Years later, that throwback returned.

When he announced his return to the league in 2001, Jordan wore the colorway against a new generation of players in preseason games against Detroit, Toronto, Boston and New Jersey. He put them back on the following season for regular season games against Indiana and Philly — 14 years after they first hit shelves.

With its expanded universe of colorways and player editions, the next wave of Jordan Brand superstars remain attached to the Air Jordan 3. Russell Westbrook even owns a custom pair on roller skates for extra glide.

Inevitably, post-1988, demand for resurrections was significant. The colorway returned in 2001, 2009 and 2011, selling out each time. In that time, the heel was remixed to incorporate a Jumpman and the inside tongue lost its red fabric to a coordinating blue.

This November, fans can pick up a remastered reissue of the Jordan 3 with the first restoration of the fire red tongue lining since it debuted, plus the Nike Air branding across the heel, outsole and insole.

In the words of Tinker, in a colossal understatement: “I’m just super happy to have been around at the right time and made some good choices.”

For more information + release date: http://news.nike.com/news/air-jordan-3-true-blue