Not only did the Chicago Bulls star, Michael Jordan become a legend on the basketball court, but thanks to his footwear, he became a cultural icon as well. When Nike and Jordan signed a contract, little did we know that it would usher in the birth of a billion-dollar industry and the start of a new era. 34 years later and over $1 billion in sales, Air Jordan's legacy lives on and continues to dominate the market with high-quality shoes, uncompromising performance, and rich history.
The Story of How It All Began
Before it became Nike as we know it, the company, originally known as Blue Ribbon Sports, was founded by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman in 1964. The name Nike refers to the Greek Goddess of victory and the iconic Nike logo was introduced in 1971. So, you must be wondering. how did Nike’s and Jordan’s relationship come to be? Well… It’s September 1984 and the venue is Madison Square. The story goes that the late David Stern, the league’s commissioner at the time, took a hard line and banned the original Air Jordans (Jordan 1) on the basis that they didn’t comply with the league's approved colors (which was mostly white). Rumor has it that Jordan was fined $5,000 each time he wore the red and black Jordan 1 sneakers and that Nike paid the fines every time. Given his rise to fame, this created a lot of buzz and who knew the “ban” would work in Nike’s favor? Except maybe for the geniuses who took it a step further to create an ad surrounding the ban. And it paid off.
Air Jordan was an instant hit, just like Michael Jordan himself, and with everyone wanting to look like “Mike” sales blew through the roof when the shoes were released in April 1985. The popular NBA “ban” combined with Jordan’s fame and Nike’s creative ads drove the shoes to sell $75 million by May 1985, just one month after release. Nike went on to make over $100 million by the end of the year, a fact that’s still attributed as one of the best athlete endorsements of all time.
Nike Wins Over Jordan
According to sources, the then upcoming NBA rookie wanted to work with Adidas so badly but due to leadership shifts, it didn’t seem like the best time. Around the same time, Converse also wanted to sign Jordan (who wore the brand while playing for North Carolina), but he declined since it was already star-studded with the likes of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. One time, Nike offered Jordan $500,000 a year for five years, but still he wasn’t convinced. Instead he took the offer to Adidas and asked them to come anywhere close to the offer. When they couldn’t, Jordan decided to sign with Nike – and the rest as they say, is history.
The Retro Era
The success and popularity of Jordan 1, the first shoe from Jordan Brand, and the only one with Nike’s swoosh was not fading away anytime soon. In 2001, the Jordan Brand released the “Bred” (for black and red) retro, but the pairs were limited to only 38,345 pairs. It looked exactly like the original, with the Nike Air branding on the tongue. In 2009, the brand released another retro but decided to leave out the “Nike Air” branding, replacing with it the Jumpman logo instead. It didn’t come as a surprise that the shoes weren't received with much zest. Perhaps the most celebrated retro edition of the “Banned” Jordan 1 was the 2011 version, released in June. Donning an “X” label at the back and packaging referencing the original ad, the shoes were only available at outlets, and enthusiasts lined up to get themselves a pair.
Michael Jordan’s Legacy Lives On
It goes without saying that the Jordan Brand has grown and expanded. From Air Jordan 1 (AJI) to the latest Air Jordan 34 (AJXXXIV), dubbed as one of the lightest shoes ever, the Air Jordan franchise continues to shape the athletic footwear industry. The Jordan nostalgia was brought back with ESPN’s 10-part sports documentary with enthusiasts and collectors alike relieving the greatest moments in the history of basketball and sneakers. Interestingly, the 35-year old Original Jordan 1’s demand has been re-ignited, and sales are only expected to increase. With new editions and models coming out every year, looking cooler, better, and highly advanced, you can't deny the fact that Michael Jordan is synonymous with greatness. To date, Nike Air Jordan remains the most loved, iconic, and classic sneakers of all time, with hundreds of versions designed and produced since the idea was born.
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