June 29, 2020

A difficult choice: Marty McFly’s or Jordan’s?

Michael Jordan has been, without a doubt, the most famous athlete in history. There is no need to have watched the documentary “The Last Dance” or have been his fan as a child to admit this. Not only for his spectacular and decisive plays, or for his contribution to The Chicago Bulls historical records, but also because he made a difference in sponsorship’s history.

Talking about Air Jordan (AJ) is talking about Nike. However, this would not have happened if the designer of the AJ III shoes had not been the then inexperienced Tinker Hatfield. As Michael Jordan himself acknowledges in Chapter 2 of the documentary series “Abstract: The Art of Design”, his contract with Nike would not have lasted more than two years if Hatfield had not provided him with the successful design. Surprisingly, Hatfield was also the designer of the sneakers that Marty McFly and his son wear in the futuristic scenes of the movie “Back to the Future II”.

On the occasion of the World Industrial Design Day, I decided to check if those shoes designs were registered and whether the registrations were accessible to the public.

Related to Air Jordan’s sneakers, I found that the first complete shoe design registered before the USPTO (at least available online) was the AJ IV, applied for in June 1989. There is no record of the AJ I and AJ II. For the AJ III, only the design patent of the sole is available, which was the first model to feature a visible air unit in the heel, also used in other Nike trainers, known as Air Max. The AJ III became the most memorable AJ trainers. They were the shoes Michael Jordan wore when he won his first NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1988 – flying from the free throw line to the rim. They were also the trainers he donned for that year’s All-Star and league MVP awards. And they also served as the debut for the now iconic “Jumpman” logo that, from then on, replaced the original Air Jordan “Wings” logo. It is quite strange that Nike did not register the complete design of the AJ III, given its originality and the overwhelming commercial success of the two previous models (over $126 million in sales in two years). The physical document of the AJ III design patent may exist, but it may not be available online at the USPTO. If so, that document would be a highly prized collector’s item.

On Marty McFlay’s sneakers, I discovered that there are design records not only for the sole and the upper, but also for the protective element of the Achilles heel, all requested in April 1990. It was not until that year that Nike began to register all of its shoes designs, unlike its major competitors, such as Adidas, Asics, Avia, Converse or Reebok, that had already registered almost all their designs for decades.

To close this article, I would like to congratulate Tinker Hatfield on the occasion of the World Industrial Design Day, as well as all designers from all over the world, from any sector, who contribute in a certain way to make our existence more pleasant.

Article by Jesús García.