Kicks on Cards #4 | Sneakers Designed by Tinker Hatfield

Celebrating the legendary sneaker designer’s birthday

Date: Apr 30, 2024
Author: Zack Schlemmer
Topics: Kicks on Cards, Tinker Hatfield, Zack Schlemmer
Length: 1154 Words
Reading Time: ~6 Minutes

Today, April 30, is Tinker Hatfield’s birthday, so pulling a set of cards featuring some of his greatest sneaker designs seemed like a no-brainer for this latest edition of “Kicks on Cards.” For those reading this that are more obsessed with cards than sneakers, you may be wondering, “Who is Tinker Hatfield?” Well, don’t worry, I’ll tell you right now.

Simply put, Hatfield is the most legendary, celebrated sneaker designer of all time. Working with Nike since the mid 1980s, he is responsible for the creation of Nike’s visible Air technology, which first appeared in the Hatfield-designed Nike Air Max 1. Nike Air tech had been around since 1979, but Tinker took the next step and made it visible, a landmark move in the brand’s identity. I mean, can you even imagine Nike today without the Air bubbles?

Along with Air Max, Tinker is responsible for a murderer’s row of some of the greatest Nike and Air Jordan sneakers of all time. He designed the Air Jordan 3 through Air Jordan 15, as well as the 20, 23, and a few others since. The Nike Air Trainer 1? That was him, too. Other notables include the Nike Air Tech Challenge II tennis shoe for Andre Agassi, the Air Mowabb from the Nike ACG line, the Air Max 90, and… You get the picture, he’s good at what he does. 

Now that you’re acquainted with Hatfield’s resume, let’s get to the cardboard. Happy birthday, Tinker!

Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield
Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield

2001-02 Topps Basketball #192 Jim Jackson // Air Jordan 11

We’ll begin with perhaps Hatfield’s most celebrated sneaker of all time, the Air Jordan 11. But, plot twist, they’re not on Michael Jordan’s feet, instead spotted here being worn by Jim Jackson on his 2001-02 Topps card. Originally debuted by Jordan in 1995, the patent leather-clad hoops shoe was unlike any basketball shoe that came before it, and everybody wanted a pair. Fast forward to 2024, everybody still wants a pair, and it’s easily considered one of the greatest basketball shoes ever, as well as one of Tinker’s absolute masterpieces. This pair of the iconic “Concord” colorway on Jackson’s feet would be from the shoe’s first retro release in 2000.

Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield
Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield

1997-98 Topps Stadium Club Hardcourt Heroics #H9 Scottie Pippen // Air Jordan 12

We happen to continue in chronological Air Jordan order next with Scottie Pippen wearing the Air Jordan 12 in 1997. This cool Topps Stadium Club “Hardcourt Heroics” insert pictures Pippen driving to the rim in the Air Jordan 12 “Taxi,” which he wore occasionally in 1997 alongside MJ himself. Hatfield has said the design of the Jordan 12 was inspired by Japan’s “rising sun” flag, which is translated onto the shoe with a high-contrast, two-tone color block—in this case, a white upper and black toe-to-midfoot panels with a matching black sole. In addition to being a great-looking shoe, the Jordan 12 is notable for being the first Air Jordan to utilize Zoom Air cushioning. 

Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield
Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield

2000-01 Bowman’s Best #99 Richard Hamilton // Air Jordan 15

Inadvertently continuing the theme of Air Jordans not worn by Michael Jordan himself is our next card with Richard “Rip” Hamilton in the Air Jordan 15. Listen, I won’t pretend that the Air Jordan 15 is one of Tinker Hatfield’s best designs ever, but it is unique and interesting, and it shows how he was willing to push the limits of traditional basketball shoe design. It was also the last in a long, illustrious streak of Air Jordans designed by Tinker from the Air Jordan 3 in 1988 to this shoe in 1999. Hatfield would later design additional Air Jordan models, but the 15 was the last of his initial legendary run. Young Rip is seen here on his 2000-01 Bowman’s Best card rocking the OG “UNC” colorway of the Jordan 15.

Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield
Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield

1991 NetPro Tour Stars #6 David Wheaton // Nike Air Tech Challenge II

Completely switching gears, next we have a tennis card featuring David Wheaton in the Nike Air Tech Challenge II. One of my personal favorite Hatfield designs, the Air Tech Challenge II was a performance tennis shoe from 1990 worn most notably by Andre Agassi, but also by any number of other pro players including John McEnroe. Most famous in the “Hot Lava” colorway, the ATC2 is seen here on Wheaton’s feet in the “Clay Blue” version. I don’t know about you, but I actually think they look pretty good with those FILA socks.

Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield
Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield

1993-94 Upper Deck #35 Stacey Augmon // Nike Air Flight Huarache

We saw the Nike Air Flight Huarache in the previous Kicks on Cards set, but I’m bringing it back again because it’s one of the most notable designs in Tinker’s repertoire. The first Huarache basketball shoe, the Air Flight Huarache from 1992 was co-designed by Hatfield and at-the-time up-and-coming Nike designer Eric Avar, who would go on to create some of the best Nike hoops shoes ever like the Zoom Flight 95 and Air Foamposite One, just to name a couple. The lightweight, foot-hugging sneaker is worn here by “Plastic Man” Stacey Augmon in the rare white, black, and red colorway.

Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield
Kicks on Cards Topps Sneakers Tinker Hatfield

1996-96 NBA Hoops #SL35 Charles Barkley // Nike Air Max2 CB

Next up is this funky NBA Hoops “Slamland” card (you gotta love those mid-90s computer graphics) with yet another of Hatfield’s greatest basketball sneaker designs, the Nike Air Max2 CB, worn by its signature athlete, Charles Barkley. Usually regarded as Chuck’s best signature shoe ever, the Air Max2 CB was inspired by straitjackets, specifically the special design of the lacing system that locks your foot in the shoe quickly and securely. This white-based colorway just re-released this January, so if you’re feeling them, grab a pair now while they’re still somewhat available. 

1998-99 Upper Deck SP Authentic Michael Jordan #3 // Air Jordan 5

So far we’ve seen three Air Jordans not on Michael Jordan’s feet, so you know I had to close out the Tinker Hatfield set with one of his best designs being worn by His Airness. Here we have the Air Jordan 5 from 1990 (but pictured on a 1998 card). This image must have been from the 1990 NBA Playoffs, because Jordan only wore the “Black Metallic” colorway during the postseason (it was a yearly tradition for the Bulls to wear black sneakers during the Playoffs). Hatfield’s design for the Jordan 5 was pretty groundbreaking at the time, as it was the first Air Jordan to feature reflective material, clear rubber on the outsole, and an asymmetrical collar that ergonomically “molded” to your ankle. 

Like the rest of the iconic shoes featured in this set, it’s hard to look at a pair of Air Jordan 5s and think they would never have existed without the brilliant mind of Tinker Hatfield. Here’s to a legend of footwear on his 72nd birthday. Cheers, Tinker!

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