In 2022, we cannot think of Michael Jordan without thinking of Nike and vice versa. The man and the brand are synonymous, but it has not always been so. In 1984, Jordan was a rising star who wanted to sign a shoe deal with Adidas. Nike was a rising brand that couldn’t (yet) compete with Adidas or the biggest basketball shoe company in the world, Converse. That all changed when Nike gave Jordan the pitch of his life with a little help from the Pointer Sisters.
The state of the sneaker industry in 1984
When Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984, Converse dominated the basketball shoe market. It was the brand worn by stars of the past and modern-day heroes like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
It was even the brand that had a deal with Jordan’s alma mater, North Carolina. At Jackie MacMullan’s Icon Club Podcastthe longtime NBA insider notes that Jordan didn’t really want to sign with Converse, but he took the meeting at the behest of Dean Smith (and to jack up the price with his No. 1 pick, Adidas).
The other major player in 1984 was Adidas. This is where Jordan wanted to sign.
By the mid-1980s, Hip Hop culture was growing, especially on the coasts, and Adidas was the go-to brand for the country’s hipsters.
In true Jordan style, he now admits he wanted to sign with Adidas but doesn’t like to talk about it for professional reasons.
“I hate to repeat that because I don’t want Adidas to get anything out of it,” Jordan told MacMullan. “Once, I liked their shoes.”
So, before playing a game in the NBA, Jordan had to sign the biggest shoe deal in history with Adidas.
However, Nike had a plan.
Nike used a video featuring the Pointer Sisters’ ‘Jump’ to woo Jordan
Back in 1984, Converse was the backbone of all brands, Adidas was the cool brand, and Nike was, well, really just the running shoe brand.
Everything changed when Nike and Michael Jordan sat down to talk.
One of the key elements of Nike’s introduction to Jordan was a highlight reel of himself, on “Jump” by the Pointer Sisters.
Along with the skillfully produced video, Nike shoe designer Peter Moore also showed Jordan a prototype black and red shoe that would eventually become the iconic Air Jordan 1. The company would also let the player participate in the design of the shoe. for his taste.
On top of all that, Nike offered Jordan a five-year, $500,000 contract, the biggest ever, along with “royalties, annuities, and stock.”
The shoe company, however, has some incentives in place for the future NBA star. During the first three seasons of his NBA career, Jordan had to either average 20 points per game, win NBA Rookie of the Year, or become an All-Star. At the end of the 1984-85 season, Jordan did all three.
Also, if Nike can’t sell $4 million worth of Air Jordans in two years, it could void the contract.
The Air Jordan 1 made $126 million in the first 12 months.
Jordan Brand changed the game of athletic shoes and apparel
Nike’s approach to marketing Michael Joran was unique in 1984. The company wanted to introduce Jordan as its “brand star,” says Jackie MacMullan in Icon Club, and feature both her shoes and clothes. The latter was a new concept.
As MacMulan notes, “No one was walking around in sweatshirts that featured a Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] skyhook or a foul line dunk from Dr. J.”
The goal of the Nike Air Jordan brand would be to “dominate from head to toe”, recalls Jordan.
In a perfect branding and basketball storm, Jordan became the greatest player of all time, and Nike became the world’s largest athletic footwear and apparel brand in the ensuing three decades.
In fiscal 2021 alone, Jordan Brand brought in $4.7 billion for Nike, per yahoo. Jordan himself earned over $1 billion from this partnership.
Not bad for a fledgling shoe company, an NBA rookie who wanted to sign with another brand, and a Pointer Sisters video.
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