Words: Stephen Albertini

Photography: Ralph Romeo

On a brisk Oregon morning in 1985, MJ prepared for takeoff. He wasn’t flying from the free-throw line or preparing to face off against an opposing player. Instead, he was simply standing still. 

Dressed in a sleeveless black and royal blue Jordan Flight suit, with a basketball tucked under his right arm, MJ stood on an airport runway for one of his first photo shoots, to showcase the brand-new Air Jordan I. MJ’s career and sneakers were about to achieve stratospheric levels of popularity, foreshadowed by the silhouette of a jet and the rising sun behind him. Instead of wearing one of his signature Chicago Bulls-inspired colorways, MJ opted for a colorway he’d never even wear in a professional game: the Royal AJI.

The scene on the runway became the iconic Flight Guy poster. It gave fans the only image they’d ever need to be sold on a royal blue Air Jordan. MJ never wore blue during a game for Chicago, but it didn’t matter. Royal still became an integral part of the Air Jordan DNA. 

The Air Jordan III “Blue Cement”

The Royal colorway continues to evolve to this day. Variations can be found in multiple AJIs, including 2018’s “Game Royal” rendition of this year’s “Royal Toe.” It was included in the “Top 3” AJI release of 2016 and received a limited satin treatment in 2017, as well as three different retro releases of the original colorway (2001, 2013, 2017).

The Air Jordan I Royal is in rarefied air, and despite never being worn by MJ in a professional game, it has impacted basketball and sneaker culture. Royal has contributed to countless Air Jordan models in unique ways, thanks to the colorway’s initial success and continued embrace.

Similar shades of blue appeared on the AJIV for both the “Motorsports” retro and “Motorsports Alternate” colorway in 2017. The following year, the AJXIII went “Hyper Royal.” There have been exciting Royal renditions on many other Air Jordan silhouettes, including the II, V, X, XII and XXXI models. Later in the iconic Air Jordan signature lineage, Royal played a bigger role as the lead color on two game shoe models at the time, the Air Jordan XVII and XVIII. Superstars from all walks of life have tapped Royal shades as the go-to colors for their ultra-rare collaborations with Jordan Brand. 

Now, the storied color joins forces with the fabled faux elephant print, first introduced on MJ’s third signature shoe, for a brand new “Blue Cement” Air Jordan III. 

Originally released in 1988, the AJIII was a true watershed moment for Jordan Brand. The first Air Jordan designed by Tinker Hatfield, the AJIII introduced cutting-edge technology and fashion-forward textiles in ways never seen on athletic footwear. MJ wanted a broken-in feel and flexibility, so Tinker introduced tumbled leather and a mid-cut design. The revolutionary, exposed Air unit debuted on the Air Jordan line with the III, as did the iconic Jumpman logo. 

But that’s not all. Realizing MJ’s penchant for style and flair, both on and off the court, Tinker applied a faux elephant print above the midsole and around the toe box. The faux elephant print has since evolved from exotic to ubiquitous, gracing sneakers, accessories and apparel. Over the years, it’s also become the centerpiece of high-profile Nike, Inc. collaborations. It’s safe to say that faux elephant print is now one of the most recognizable textures within the overall Jordan Brand aesthetic.

The “Blue Cement” Air Jordan III isn’t the first instance of blue gracing the AJIII, as the “True Blue” version is a beloved, original colorway. It does, however, mark the first time that Royal has engulfed the entire leather upper of a retail pair, following the color-blocking cues of the “Red Cement” colorway released earlier this year. It’s accompanied by pops of gray along the eyestay, tongue and collar, with black accents along the heel and midsole, and a clear Jumpman hang tag. 

On that Oregon runway in ‘85, Royal was subconsciously woven into the fabric of the Air Jordan lineage forever. 35 years later, through innumerable designs and endless evolution, it’s still very much taking flight. 

The Air Jordan III Blue Cement released in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America on June 25 and July 2. It releases October 10 in North America on SNKRS and at select retailers.

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