In 1988, former University of Oregon pole-vaulter Tinker Hatfield was tasked by Nike with designing the Air Jordan 3. His design was well received by Michael Jordan and Nike ran with the shoe. Today Hatfield’s design is widely considered by many to be one of his best of all time. Tinker would go on to design every Jordan model from the Jordan 3 to the Jordan 15. While Jordan Brand, a Nike-owned company, did not begin to work with UO until the 2000s, Hatfield’s Duck ties never faded.
Fast forward to the present day: Oregon is a little over 13 months into its 11-year, $88 million apparel sponsorship deal with Nike. And due in part to Hatfield’s generosity, the Ducks have become one of the only Nike-sponsored schools to receive exclusive gear from Jordan Brand, such as the homecoming jerseys they wore against UCLA last season. But the gear doesn’t end there.
The University of Oregon holds a special place in the world of sneakers. Since 2011, the Ducks have received limited edition Oregon-themed Jordan shoes designed exclusively for the student athletes by Hatfield. These player exclusive (PE) Jordans have not only caught the attention of Oregon fans, but are highly sought-after by celebrities and collectors alike. As a result, these sneakers can fetch an impressive price tag on the resale market. With all the excitement that surrounds these shoes, they have reached a significant place in sneaker culture.
Open the box
As part of the Ducks’ homecoming uniform collaboration with Jordan Brand, Oregon also unveiled an Air Jordan 3 Tinker PE shoe that was only given to members of the football team and friends and family of UO. The Oregon-themed shoe features a plush green suede with the Jordan 3’s signature elephant print detailing. The shoe pays homage to Hatfield’s early Jordan 3 sketches with its interchangeable velcro swooshes.
On Dec. 22, Oregon football also received an Air Jordan 6 PE ahead of the Redbox Bowl, complete with the Ducks’ signature wings and an Oregon “O” stitched over black suede.
While it may seem normal for student athletes to receive free shoes with all of their equipment, receiving these PE Jordans from Jordan Brand has proven to be a special event for both the athletes and sneaker collectors alike.
The Ducks started receiving these custom PE sneakers for travel in 2011, beginning with a Jordan 9 Oregon PE Hatfield designed for the football team. Hatfield said he hoped the Jordan shoes would get people talking about the Ducks’ travel gear.
"I felt like there was something missing. It wasn’t really that exciting and no one was talking about it,” Hatfield told Nike in an interview about his Oregon-themed sneakers.
One person Hatfield got talking was Oregon alumnus Brendan Dunne. After graduating from UO, Dunne went on to become a professional at talking about sneakers. He is now a deputy editor at Complex and the co-host of the YouTube sneaker talk show Full Size Run. Dunne believes that Hatfield had created something special.“There were University of Oregon-branded shoes before, but this was something else,” he said.
Since Tinker created the Jordan 9 for the Ducks, Oregon PE Jordans have become some of the most sought-after shoes for sneakerheads across the globe. Celebrities such as Macklemore, Victor Cruz, Lil Yachty and Lebron James are known to have one, if not several, pairs of these Oregon-themed Jordan shoes in their collections, even though they have no direct ties to the university.
Houston Rockets small forward P.J. Tucker, widely considered to have one of the best sneaker collections in the NBA, wore a pair of Oregon Jordan 5 PEs in a playoff game against the Utah Jazz in May of 2018. And just last week he rocked a pair of Jordan 13 Oregon PEs against the Trail Blazers. Even DJ Khaled has already obtained a pair of the recently unveiled Jordan 3 Tinker PEs and flexed on his Instagram.
While the Jordan 9 Oregon PE was the first, it was the Pit Crew Air Jordan 3 PE that had the biggest impact on sneaker culture, Dunne said. “I was a senior at the University of Oregon when [they] first surfaced in the fall of 2011. It felt like a windfall for Oregon-based footwear obsessives,” he said.
The Pit Crew 3s were raffled off to students who attended select home basketball games that year. It was the first time a PE was made available to people outside the athletic department.That’s how Dunne picked up his pair.
“I brought $200 cash with me in hopes of buying a winning ticket off someone who didn't realize how special the shoes were. I caught an old couple in the hallway after seeing them get up from their seats when their number was called and essentially paid retail price for one of the most coveted Air Jordans of all time,” he recalled.
Since 2011, Hatfield and Jordan Brand have gifted 19 different pairs of these custom shoes to Oregon athletics. And Hatfield has always been willing to go the extra mile to design something befitting of UO’s style. From the Duck re-enacting the famous Jumpman pose, large use of the Duck wing pattern and bright Oregon colors, or covering a whole shoe in embossed Fighting Duck logos, Hatfield’s Oregon Jordan designs stand out in the sneaker community.
And it’s not just because of how much they can sell for — or how many fakes are made and sold. (You can already buy a fake pair of the new Oregon Jordan 3 Tinker PEs in your size on Instagram for $150.)
Buy the hype?
With all the hype that surrounds these shoes and the small number of each pair created, the cash value of Jordan PEs can often reach four-to-five-figure price tags, regardless of whether they are Oregon themed. With the opportunity to sell their shoes, some college athletes choose to let their PEs go, but the NCAA doesn’t allow it.
According to Sports Illustrated, 13 University of North Carolina football players sold their team-issued UNC Jordan PEs for up to $2,500: a solid chunk of change for a college student. However, in doing so, they violated an NCAA bylaw that prohibits selling “an item received for participation in intercollegiate athletics.” The players were suspended anywhere from one to four games this past season.
To prevent these shoes from causing eligibility issues at UO, the equipment staff oversees the distribution of player shoes when Jordan Brand gifts them to a team.
“We work with the coaching staff and Nike on setting a date the players wear the shoes,” said Aaron Wasson, Assistant Athletic Director of Equipment Operations. After the game, the players return their Jordans along with all their game equipment to be cleaned and stored.
“We’ll take the Jordans and lock them up,” Wasson said. “Once the athlete’s eligibility is completely used up, they can return to their team equipment manager to get their shoes.”
Wasson also noted that other schools will reach out to the Oregon equipment staff to ask about their process in handling Jordan PEs. “We heard from Oklahoma and Florida, but UNC didn’t reach out until after their issue,” he chuckled.
Once an athlete graduates, they can — if they choose — sell their Jordans without facing suspension. As a result, the shoes may not start to hit the sneaker market until two or three years after they were first released. This ultimately causes the demand from sneakerheads to further grow and the price to increase even more.
Even if some athletes decide not to sell, PE Jordans can still find their way into the market by way of friends and family.
Between the unique colors and design elements, the high demand among sneaker collectors and the limited number of shoes created, Oregon PE Jordans are the perfect storm. Several of these shoes are what many sneakerheads would consider a holy grail. People will go to great lengths to own a pair, regardless of if they are even their shoe size.
“A big part of collecting these things is trying to track down what others can't,” Dunne said. “In this regard, few things are more elusive than something that was never made available to the public, something that players can now be penalized for actually selling off.”
The collaboration between UO and Jordan Brand has proved to be beneficial to both parties. The university gets to use its unique connection with Jordan along with its plethora of gear options to draw top reruits, and Jordan Brand gets to create some of the rarest sneakers and generate buzz around their shoes.
With the overall success of Jordan PEs since 2011 and no signs of slowing down, student athletes and sneakerheads have a bright future to look forward to.