Nike’s Designer Reveals the Turmoil and Panic Michael Jordan Caused Due to His Retirement in 1993

Published 05/11/2020, 10:00 AM EDT

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The Chicago Bulls experienced a major shock in 1993. It had just been a few months after they won their third NBA championship, but the best player in their team wanted to retire. Michael Jordan informed the Bulls that he’s stepping away from the NBA. It turns out that it was not just the Bulls who were left stunned by MJ’s sudden announcement. 

MJ had been committed to a huge deal with Nike. They made him into a brand by developing a separate line of sneaker design just for Jordan. With the merchandise booming and the sales going off the charts, MJ left Nike speechless upon announcing his decision to retire. 

Tinker Hatfield who is a legend in design, was the artist behind MJ’s dazzling sneakers back then. He has designed several pairs of Air Jordans, starting from the Air Jordan III. Nike turned MJ into the most marketable athlete in his prime.


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Nick DePaula, the man who covers the NBA’s shoe deals and brand interviews for ESPN, posted an excerpt from his interview conducted with Hatfield, years ago. Through his post, we can see how Hatfield reacted to MJ’s initial retirement in 1993.

Nike’s reaction to the first retirement of Michael Jordan 

Hatfield usually gets the ideas for his designs working from home. On one such day, he suddenly gets a call from his boss, Phil Knight. “Pack your bags. We are going to Chicago,” Knight exclaimed on the phone. Asking his boss the sudden requirement to fly down to Chicago, he received a shocking response. Phil Knight answered, “We’re going to Chicago because Michael Jordan is going to announce his retirement.”

Hatfield was just working on the design for ‘Air Jordan X,’ to commemorate Nike’s ten-year partnership with MJ. But, before reaching the ten-year mark, Jordan announced his retirement. This left him speechless.


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“So he says that there is going to be a huge press conference and he wants me and Howard White to be there. He was really, really sad. Phil was almost morose,” Hatfield recalled. He could sense the disappointment in Knight’s tone. “You could just tell in his voice that he was super sad, and to him, it was almost the end of an era.” Upon receiving the news, Hatfield wanting to get rid of it, just went back to his studio to continue with the designing process.


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How did Hatfield come up with the design for Air Jordan X?

Being a part of the design team for Air Jordan since its inception, Hatfield just felt like he knew Jordan really well. “I just thought and knew immediately that it was just going to be a little break. Knowing Michael, I just knew him. So I went back to the studio and began working on how these stripes were going to be drawn.”

He wanted to focus on the milestones MJ had achieved in his NBA journey. “I wanted to just make a feature out of the 10 years of his career, even though there wasn’t going to be a tenth year.” The designer even tremendously predicted that MJ would be back after a brief period away from basketball. 


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“So, I was thinking to myself, we better have a shoe for him when he unretires. The whole thing can’t be a broken string, he’ll just wear the newest shoe that we’ve designed for him,” he said. Thus, he did complete the design of the Air Jordan X. The shoe became incredibly famous for highlighting MJ’s achievements on its sole. 


Written by:

Arjun Athreya


One take at a time

Arjun Athreya is a senior writer at Essentially Sports and has been contributing since early 2020. Having developed an avid interest in sports at an early age, he pursued a Journalism degree and graduated from Madras Christian College. Arjun manages the Golf division and its content, and primarily covers news pertaining to the NBA as well.
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