The Air Jordan 3 was the first Air Jordan signature sneaker designed by Tinker Hatfield. It was released in 1988, during Michael Jordan's third NBA season with the Chicago Bulls. Moving away from the aesthetics of the Air Jordan 1 and Air Jordan 2, the Air Jordan 3 introduced the “Jumpman” logo, visible Air in the heel, and elephant print detailing. The revolutionary design of the Jordan 3 was a byproduct of Tinker's seeing Michael Jordan as more than just a basketball player, but a brand. It was the AJ 3's unique design that convinced Michael Jordan to stay with Nike.
MJ wasn't alone; the Jordan III's ability to blend urban style with high performance changed how Nike marketed Jordan sneakers. Cameos in Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, opened the door to Nike collaborating with Lee on the legendary Mars Blackmon ad campaigns. The "It's Gotta Be The Shoes" ad spots with Lee served as the catalyst in catapulting the Jordan 3 into pop culture and beyond.
While the Air Jordan 3 (III) was created as a basketball sneaker, it has gone on to transcend the court. With countless collaborations and retros, Jordan Brand has masterfully crafted a silhouette that has been able to stand the test of time. Given that there are so many options to choose from, follow along as we break down the best Jordan 3's of all time.
The Air Jordan 3 Retro “UNC” draws inspiration from the player-exclusive edition made for MJ’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina. Reimagining what an Air Jordan 3 would look like in Tar Heels colors, Jordan Brand kept the design of the Air Jordan 3 Retro “UNC” simple. Similar to the classic Air Jordan 3 “White Cement,” this pair sports a white-based leather upper with elephant print detailing in its usual places. An embroidered Jumpman logo adorns the tongue, with “Jumpman Air” branding on the back heels. University Blue accents the plastic lace eyelets as well as wrapping around the back heel on the upper portion of the midsole.
The Air Jordan 3 Retro “Fear” was originally released in 2014 as a part of the “Fear” Pack alongside an Air Jordan 4 Retro and Air Jordan 5 Retro. Jordan Brand decided to re-release this coveted Air Jordan 3 colorway in November 2023 and made it available in full-family sizing. Its lighter grey tones complement the dark grey-based upper throughout, as well as hits of orange to make the shoe pop. The gradient style on the midsole and paint splatter detailing make the Air Jordan 3 Retro “Fear” one of the best non-OG colorways released.
Literally the red-headed step child of the Air Jordan 3 line, this “Fire Red” colorway is always overlooked by sneakerheads, compared to its OG counterparts, specifically the “Black Cement” and “White Cement” pairs. While many people love this colorway, for some reason its re-releases are never as hyped as some of its predecessors. Even the re-introduction of “Nike Air” branding and OG shape couldn’t push the “Fire Reds” to the same status as other Air Jordan 3 colorways.
This Air Jordan 3 Retro was a part of 2010’s Doernbecher Freestyle Collection. The Nike x Doernbecher Freestyle series partners The Swoosh with the OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, allowing patients to tell their stories on a sneaker. Designed by Cole Johanson, this was the first Air Jordan 3 released to feature a red-based design. The upper features a diamond pattern that spells out “Cole.” Tributes to his two favorite foods, chocolate, and spaghetti, are seen behind the back flaps of each sneaker. Black and metallic silver accents, reflective 3M detailing, custom printed insoles featuring the words “Courage” and “Strength,” and a full translucent sole complete the design.
For the 10th Anniversary of the Nike x Doernbecher Freestyle Series in 2013, the Air Jordan 3 Retro Doernbecher was re-released, this time with a blue tint on the translucent outsole to delay the onset of yellowing commonly seen on clear soles.
Much like the Air Jordan 3 Retro “Fire Red,” the Air Jordan 3 Retro “True Blue” doesn’t get quite the same love as its “White Cement” and “Black Cement” counterparts. It is still considered a classic, though, even if the amount of re-releases put a dent in its popularity.
In 2016, the Air Jordan 3 Retro “True Blue” was released in “OG” form for the first time since 1989. This iteration featured “Nike Air” branding as well as fire red adorning the tongue lining. While the shape was still off, the 2016 release of the Air Jordan 3 Retro “True Blue” is the closest thing yet to the original.
The atmos x Jordan Max Pack was released to coincide with Air Max Day 2017. This two-shoe pack features the atmos x Nike Air Max 1 “Jade” alongside the Air Jordan 3 Retro “Safari.” Inspired by the classic Nike Air Safari, atmos took this classic design and brought it to the Air Jordan 3, replacing the traditional elephant print with safari print. The upper comes in black nubuck with beige accents throughout. Small hits of orange can be seen via the eyelets near the toe and on the tongue lining, with dark green highlighting the tongue’s Jumpman logo and “Nike Air” branding on the back heel. A full icy blue translucent outsole, reminiscent of the one seen on the Air Jordan 3 Retro “Doernbecher,” caps off the design.
To celebrate Chicago's 2016 NBA All-Star festivities, Jordan Brand released its first red-based general release Air Jordan 3 Retro, dubbed “Red Cement.” Two versions were released, one featuring “Nike Chi” on the back, available exclusively in the Windy City. The other sports OG “Nike Air” branding and was available worldwide. This was also the first GR, non-OG colorway of the Air Jordan 3 Retro to feature “Nike Air” branding. The red-based upper paired with black accents, elephant print detailing, and OG labeling made the Air Jordan 3 Retro "Red Cement" a must-have.
The women’s exclusive Air Jordan 3 Retro “Raised By Women” was designed by James Whitner for his A Ma Maniere label. It draws inspiration from Whitner’s mother purchasing the Air Jordan 3 for him and his brothers, marking his first pair of Jordans.
AMM's signature aesthetics come through with a stripped-down silhouette featuring luxury detailing. The traditional elephant print has been replaced with suede, while satin covers the inner liner. An aged look adorns the eyelets, “Nike Air” branded back heel, and wrapping around the heel on the bottom half of the midsole. Released in 2021, the A Ma Maniere x Air Jordan 3 Retro was one of the best sneakers released that year.
When talking about the best sneakers of all time, the Air Jordan 3 Retro “White Cement” is usually included in the discussion. Michael Jordan famously wore this colorway in the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk contest, where he performed the infamous “Free Throw Line” dunk. Its clean white-based leather upper, elephant print detailing, black and red accents, and “Nike Air” branding made the Air Jordan 3 Retro “White Cement” an instant classic. If you’re a fan of the Air Jordan 3 in its original color scheme and prefer white-based kicks, this “White Cement” pair is as good as it gets.
The best sneaker of all time in many people’s eyes, the Air Jordan 3 Retro “Black Cement” reigns supreme over all other Air Jordan 3's. Its black-based leather upper pairs perfectly with the elephant print detailing, while red and white accents add extra flavor. They were last seen in 2018 in OG form, complete with “Nike Air” branding. The Air Jordan 3 Retro “Black Cement” proves time and time again that some sneakers just can’t be beaten.