MJ explains to Letterman that the NBA banned his shoe because it didn’t have any white in it. Letterman: “Well neither does the NBA”

MJ explains to Letterman that the NBA banned his shoe because it didn’t have any white in it. Letterman: “Well neither does the NBA”

Players these days wear shoes of all different colorways and change them for almost every game. That wouldn’t be possible back in 1984 when the NBA was a bit more like Wimbledon. The most famous tennis tournament in the world has a strict dress code; everyone has to wear white. The NBA has a similar rule for shoes.

NBA policy stated that players “must wear shoes that not only matched their uniforms but matched the shoes worn by their teammates.” That led to the “51 percent rule” – shoes had to be 51 percent white and in accordance with what the rest of the team was wearing. It resulted in a very uniform look on the court. A rookie in 1984 had different ideas.

“It’s like a young kid, when your parents say you can’t do something, you want to do it.”

Michael Jordan

MJ changed the game on and off the court. He made an unprecedented deal with Nike and got a piece of the action of every shoe sold. That motivated him to stand out and promote his shoes. No such thing as bad PR, right? The Jordan 1s had a colorway that didn’t meet the 51 percent rule, so the NBA sent a letter to Nike informing them there would be consequences.

Russ Granik’s letter to Nike

Nike loved it and used the issue to promote the shoe. Getting your hands on a pair of Jordan 1s was impossible for a while. The shoe company proceeded to say they gladly paid the $5000 fine for every game Jordan wore the shoes in. The only problem is, MJ never wore them in a game. He considered them ugly, as he jokingly explained it to David Letterman.

The only time MJ wore the shoes was during the 1985 Slam Dunk contest. Once was enough to make iconic photos of MJ wearing two golden necklaces, dunking in “forbidden” shoes. Air Jordan was born.