Nike’s Tinker Hatfield on design, what drew him to basketball and its players
Tinker Hatfield has always been drawn to creativity. Hence Hatfield’s love of basketball and the players often compared to artists with their movements on the court.
“I think there’s a strong parallel here,” Hatfield said. “Basketball is a creative sport; it’s a creative business, and the most creative people do the best.
Hatfield is best known for his design work with Nike. He designed some of the most iconic sneakers in history, including the Jordan 3, Jordan 11, and Air Max 90. Much of his career has been tied to shoes worn by basketball players (a certain Michael Jordan), and Hatfield views creativity as a differentiator on the basketball court.
“If you take talent as a constant, who is going to be creative?” said Hatfield. “Who is going to change this and win because of this? It’s a big deal, and I think as a designer, I feel like I’m competing with other designers and I want to do a great job for the athletes and also win.
Hatfield puts his ingenuity to work for Michelob ULTRA for a second straight year, designing a limited-edition championship bottle with 75 bottles unlocked in the city that won the NBA Finals, complete with a championship ring as part of the design .
Capturing all of that was important to Hatfield in this design. All the things we love about basketball come down to what it takes to win. Creativity, athleticism and fun on the field all take place in the pursuit of a championship. This led him to make it an important part of the design.
“The ring is very substantial; it’s gold, there’s diamonds and there’s a lot of work that goes into a ring like that,” Hatfield said. “And I think that’s true for a team, so you draw that parallel as well.”
Last year’s design featured a netting on the bottle. Hatfield said it took just two minutes to design this year’s commemorative bottle.
“Last year only the winners got the net cut, and this year only the winners got the ring, so I designed a ring that goes around the bottle,” Hatfield said. “It works with the white leatherette background and kind of stands out and looks different from last year, which I think is nice.”
Hatfield’s sneaker designs make him a fixture in NBA culture. Jordan’s game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals is known for keeping his right hand on the follow-up in addition to the Jordan 14s. Think of the flu game in 1997; you can’t forget the red and black Jordan 12s.
The game of sneakers has evolved over the years and players don’t just wear shoes. Jordans are as popular as ever, but players are also getting creative. It’s not just shoes; players are also pushing the boundaries in terms of clothing.
“I think it’s like giving yourself permission to have fun,” Hatfield said. “We don’t need to be held back by what we were trained to do like when we were little. We can learn, we can become great basketball players because we started when we were little. But you can also be an artist with that lifetime commitment and do it just because you love doing it.
Hatfield, 70, likes to see what players come up with when it comes to design.
“That’s what it’s all about, watching people have fun and changing designs,” he said. “It’s a personal and creative gesture, and I think it’s completely legitimate, and I’m glad people are having fun doing it.”
The freedom and creativity of hoops make it a sport that draws creatives into its space. The game is best played when it’s fluid, allowing players to express themselves and their artistry in-game.
Basketball can be graceful. He can be powerful. The game is constantly evolving.
“I think basketball is a very progressive sport, and it’s played by athletes who aren’t as married to the past,” Hatfield said. “They’re getting bigger, stronger, faster, but they’re also probably playing younger than first-era basketball players. The skill level is up there, and I think it’s mind-boggling, quite frankly, to be on the court, on the sidelines, of an NBA game, especially a championship game, and watching the people fly and dazzle us with their prowess. ”
They also dazzle us with their shoes.
Don’t forget the shoes.
(Top photo by Tinker Hatfield [on the right](Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for WIRED25)