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The Jordan Luka 3: A Design Driven by Dončić

Boardroom talks with the Jordan Brand team and Dončić himself to get a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of and inspiration behind the Luka 3.

Since Jordan Brand‘s inception in the late 1990s, the automotive and motorsports industry has often fueled and inspired the design of some of the company’s most iconic and memorable sneakers. 

It’s a formula that began during Michael Jordan‘s first championship season in 1991 with the Porsche-inspired spoiler on the heel of the Air Jordan VI, before capping off his Chicago career with the Ferrari-infused Air Jordan XIV for MJ’s last Finals run with the Bulls in 1998. The automotive aspirations continued on to inform pairs like the Air Jordan XX1, XX3 and many others in the years since. 

Dallas Mavericks star and Jordan athlete Luka Dončić shares that same passion for a wide array of sports cars and channeled that inspiration into his newest signature shoe, the Luka 3.

(Photo courtesy of Esquire)

“Sometimes after games, I just drive — it helps me think clearly,” Dončić described. “So, yeah, this shoe is inspired by that. Makes me feel calm, focused … ready for whatever’s next.”

From the sloping lines to the sharp stance, the sneaker’s initial read begins to tell the story of the 25-year-old’s path through the basketball world.

“He was getting into American muscle cars, and that was really interesting to us,” said David Cin, Jordan’s Senior Design Director. “He went from growing up in the Balkans in Slovenia to living in Madrid, Spain with a Porsche, to now coming to America in Dallas, eating steaks, dressing like a cowboy, and getting these giant American classic cars.”

One car in particular — a ‘68 Chevy Camaro — helped to serve as the starting point of that inspiration. The iconic first-generation Chevy in marine blue is one of Luka’s favorite classics. He even added a subtle custom touch. When lifting the hood, his Jordan signature logo is revealed underneath.

“This design being inspired by cars is fun,” added Dončić. “It’s about the speed and control you need on the court, just like on the road.”

The Jordan Luka 3 (Photo by Nick DePaula)

The brand often says that each of its athletes within “the Jordan family” serves as an extension of Michael’s legacy in the game for a new generation. While the roster of endorsers now features a diverse group of men and women from around the world, Jordan sees a trait or semblance of himself in each of the hand-picked players that he signs.

Whether that be in their approach, their competitive nature, or their passion for “the game of basketball,” as he so often calls it, having a connection to the company’s namesake is a key box that every athlete must check off.

In addition to those traits, both Luka and Michael most definitely share a passion for cars.

Luka and MJ in Paris (Photo courtesy of Jordan Brand)

“Luka is a pretty simple guy,” said Chad Troyer, Expert Product Line Manager at Jordan Brand. “He likes to hoop, and then his cars are where he flexes quite a bit.”

Dončić’s collection now boasts 13 vehicles, while Jordan’s fleet of dozens of high-performance rarities spanning decades — “probably one of the greatest car collections of anybody,” says Troyer — is housed in an expansive warehouse garage in Florida.

When the two spent time together in Paris last summer during Jordan’s annual QUAI 54 outdoor basketball tournament, their conversation quickly turned toward cars, touching on recent purchases, favorite eras, and their current wish list.

“MJ told him, ‘Maybe don’t get a Bugatti, ’cause you’re not going to fit in it,’” laughed Jordan Gregg, Dončić’s Sports Marketing lead at the brand.

For every signature athlete, both their ability to give feedback and their understanding of the footwear industry advances from year to year. After landing a new shoe deal extension last summer, Dončić is locked in with Jordan til 2029, giving the two sides a long runway for his signature series.

“He’s really involved with the team and he’s giving us insights to really drive the design and performance of the product,” Troyer described.

Early, early design exploration sketches for Luka’s signature series. (Courtesy of Jordan Brand)

That’s led to a familiarity and comfort level with the entire Jordan team, whether it be over meetings throughout the season, constant Zoom check-ins, or inviting the company squad to Dallas dinners at Nick & Sam’s that extend well into the night. (The elaborate steakhouse’s menu features “The Luka” under its Classics category — a 77-day dry-aged 77-ounce NY Strip steak topped with a mushroom Barolo.)

When Dončić signed on with Jordan in late 2019, he played in a rotation of shoes over the next two seasons that helped to guide the direction of his eventual signature series. He laced up models like the Air Jordan 35 and 36, along with team shoes like the Zoom Separate and React Elevation. 

“We were focused on the insight around his stepback,” recalled Troyer. “We were looking at pictures of him playing in older shoes, where he was losing time on his stepback and his foot was sliding.“


A biweekly email from industry authority Nick DePaula packed with exclusive sneaker news and access to the athletes, designers, and executives that move the business.

That led to the creation of Jordan’s IsoPlate technology, which has been featured on all three of Dončić’s shoes to date. All along, providing support and the ability to accelerate or decelerate were the key focuses.

As the design concepts began to take shape, once again, Jordan looked to harness Dončić’s deceptive stepback move by incorporating molded support wedges along the toe and side of the shoe for an added level of guardrail when braking on the hardwood. Even smaller details in the shoe are layered in for storytelling, like the seatbelt fabric texture along the tongue’s lace loop.

“It makes sense to Luka. He can understand why a brake caliper can be inspiration for the performance of the shoe,” said Cin.

The IsoPlate support system is shown in orange, and the shoe’s Cushlon 3.0 foam setup through the footbed is shown in green. (Photo by Nick DePaula)

As the caliper-carved pieces from the Luka 1 morphed into wedges that referenced late ’90s Jordan models on the Luka 2, the 3 brings yet another new visual to the shoe’s on-court read.

“We wanted to change the geometry, make it more substantial, and have it be more of an icon of the design,” said Heather Moreau, Senior Product Developer at Jordan Brand. “The IsoPlate is going to evolve with him, as his game evolves, and serve both him and everyone else playing in it.”

During the design process for the 3, the Luka 1 had become Jordan’s best-selling performance shoe of the season and its most-worn model across its web of partner schools at the high school and NCAA levels, as well as both the NBA and WNBA. That strong feedback and adoption early on led to establishing a foundation and consistency for the series going forward.

“With Luka’s shoe, we’re thinking about the kid that plays year long, and we want to try cleaner and more simple things,” said Cin. “He also doesn’t want a totally different thing every time.”

The trio of models is connected, with clean and simple looks contrasted by the hero element in the visual IsoPlate pieces. Each edition also incorporates the brand’s Jumpman logo in a smaller, more subtle placement along the heel of the midsole.

“When I first saw the Luka 3 on screen, I liked it a lot,” Doncic added. “It felt very futuristic. When I finally got to hold it … even better.”

(Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

In addition to more input from Dončić as the series has advanced, the Jordan team also relied on a familiar source during the process: former Nike signature athlete, Jordan Brand team member, and Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, now Luka’s coach in Dallas.

“The 3 is all about speed,” described Troyer. “Jason wants him to go to the rack a lot more because, from a percentage standpoint, he’s one of the world’s best at long threes — but he’s also one of the best finishers in the key. That can also help him create for his teammates when he gets into the lane. We wanted to focus more on speed because of that.”

There’s the speed of play, and then there’s the speed of instincts and timing within the game.

“The speed that Luka sees the game at, is totally different than how other people see it,” Gregg said.

The tire tread-inspired outsole traction (Photo by Nick DePaula)

Based on that insight from both Kidd and Dončić, the Luka 3 is an ounce lighter than the second model. The outsole also has a more propelling plate configuration to guide his first step and change of pace moves.

“He was telling us how he looks at the defense,” continued Gregg. “He’s looking at the big man down in the lane and counting how long he’s been in the key. He knows that as soon as it gets to three and he sees the big take that step out of the paint — that’s when he attacks the lane. I’ve never heard anybody describe it like that before.”

As much as the shoe was designed around Dončić’s deadly stepback, the team also took note of an additional move that Luka has been adding to the arsenal.

(Todd Kirkland / Getty Images)

“Playing style-wise, Luka is revolutionizing the way the game is played,” begins Troyer. “We all know the stepback, but if you go deeper, one thing that he’s been talking about is the ‘slow step.’

“When he goes to the rack, most guys go…1-2-elevate,” Troyer continued. “He’ll just stop and waits for guys to fly by or bump him, and then he’ll go up. He’s at his own pace. We’re seeing girls and boys globally start to pick that up with their play.”

While the IsoPlate wedges allow for sudden lateral stops, starts, push-offs, and stepbacks, there’s a softer feel to the upper that provides some relief and comfort when driving and planting.

“You don’t want to go 100 to 0,” Cin said. “We want to have a little give in there.”

When meeting with the Jordan team, Dončić sometimes recalls a late-game scenario in detail. Other times, he’s more direct and short.

Balance,” Dončić simply said when asked what he wants most in his shoe.

(Photo courtesy of Nick DePaula)

The molded IsoPlate is balanced by a forgiving one-piece textile upper that was crafted by Ustina Cuomo, Lead Materials Developer at Jordan Brand. There’s extra padding and zonal relief through the toes to help provide a more targeted, tailored, and soft fit.

“The upper material has this really cozy feel to it,” described Moreau. “It’s like you’re in the best sweatshirt that you own.”

To start, Doncic will debut two key colorways of the 3s as the Mavs begin their opening-round playoff series this weekend. The early inspiration for the debut duo reflects Doncic’s simple appreciation for driving. 

“He was telling us how his ride home from the game is kind of his moment to clear his head, go fast, and be away from everything,” said Troyer. “That insight led to the Midnight Racer story.”

(Photo courtesy of Nick DePaula)

With a black base, the “Midnight Racer” theme is accented by hits of mint, purple, and pink, much like the fluorescent hues highlighted along a sports car’s dashboard at night. The white-based edition is dubbed “Photo Finish” and pulls from shades of neon, orange, and pink found in split-second freeze-frame photography at races.

As the summer continues, Dončić will debut additional colors during the Olympics in Paris when he proudly suits up for Jordan-sponsored Slovenia.

“There’s lots of great colors coming for this shoe,” teases Dončić. “Some look fast. … Some are a bit more old-school Jordan, but they’re all really good.”

In addition to Dončić, WNBA All-Star Satou Sabally of the Dallas Stars and NBA All-Star Paolo Banchero are expected to bring their own themes and backstories to life through player-exclusive editions of the Luka 3. 

“Paolo is the only player that gets to tell his own story through each of our signature models with Luka, Tatum, and Zion, plus the game shoe,” revealed Troyer. 

For each of the current signature athletes at Jordan Brand, there’s a silo system in place that describes both their footwear and their game through the lens of Michael’s traits of speed and flight.

Jayson Tatum‘s line represents “Efficient Flight,” while Zion Williamson‘s series embodies “Explosive Flight.” Russell Westbrook‘s One Take model evokes “Explosive Speed,” while the Luka line leans into “Efficient Speed.”  

(Photo courtesy of Jordan Brand)

The mostly internal framing for each allows the Jordan team to then design and craft creations for each player that suit their needs, while still looking to shape the future of the Jordan Brand for the next generation of players. After landing the trio of Tatum, Zion, and Luka in just a six-month span in 2019, the roster refresh has set the brand up for the rest of this decade.

“The pendulum has swung. We had Melo, CP, and Russ, who were all successful, and now it’s swung back to again having three of the most talented players in the world, all on the roster,” said Gregg. “We have a limited roster compared to other brands. We only work with around 25 NBA players, and if three or four of those guys can be huge global ambassadors for us, that’s huge. The pendulum has swung back in Jordan’s favor with our signature athletes.”

As Dončić continues to forge his own path within the brand throughout the 2020s and beyond, Jordan’s first European-headlined signature series has established a look and feel that is seeing worldwide adoption and success, leading to even more excitement internally for what’s to come.

“As we get to the 3, 4, and 5, we really want to build out the storytelling more,” Cin said.

A perennial MVP candidate in just his sixth season, Dončić is starting to hit his stride as a signature athlete with the brand, building out a formidable signature business within the sneaker game.

“Designing shoes with Jordan, that’s a dream,” he framed. “They ask what I need, study my game, and see how my shoes can help my game — then they bring it to life in the best way possible.”

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Nick DePaula

Nick DePaula covers the footwear industry and endorsement deals surrounding the sporting landscape, with an emphasis on athlete and executive interviews. The Sacramento, California, native has been based in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company headquarters. He’ll often argue that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually an underrated movie, largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.

About The Author
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula covers the footwear industry and endorsement deals surrounding the sporting landscape, with an emphasis on athlete and executive interviews. The Sacramento, California, native has been based in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company headquarters. He’ll often argue that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually an underrated movie, largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.