In his last game in New York as a Bull, Michael Jordan wore the original Air Jordans that he wore the first time he played at Madison Square Garden back in 1984. By half time, his feet were bleeding. But he had a good game, so he didn’t want to take them off. Jordan said he wore them as a farewell to his favorite arena, but there was also some marketing involved, trying to reintroduce the shoe that officially launched in 1985.
Air Jordans became a status symbol. They became the closest path to becoming like Mike. Jordans represented the revolution in sports style, merging fashion, and culture. The sneakers brought urban culture and crossed it together with sports. Jordan’s play on the basketball floor made all of his endorsements possible. However, promotion behind Jordan’s shoes launched him in a whole other galaxy in terms of shoe brand where to this day, he is untouchable, earning the highest sneaker income over all active NBA superstars with $130 mil. in 2019. In comparison, LeBron is second on the list with $32 mil, according to Forbes.
Jordan signing with Nike and having his signature shoes wasn’t something he envisioned before the deal; MJ wanted to go with Adidas. He liked their sneakers better. However, Nike offered him the best deal, rolling the dice on an NBA youngster. The move turned out historic for both sides involved.
As it turns out, Jordan going with Nike was almost prevented by him signing with Spot-Bilt, an American company founded in 1898. The company was in the quest for athletes to represent their brand. Hoping to increase brand recognition, the company brought O.J. Simpson as a vice president of promotions. Simpson was the one who recognized Jordan as the next big thing and persuaded guys at Spot-Bilt to match Nike’s offer. But the money wasn’t the only factor in Jordan’s decision-making. Spot-Bilt didn’t have sufficient marketing resources to showcase their longterm plans.
“Michael Jordan came this close to being with Spot-Bilt because the spokesman for Spot-Bilt at the time was another athlete who had transcended some racial bounds, a guy named O.J. Simpson. He said to the guys at Spot-Bilt ‘The kid out of Carolina is the next me. Go get him.’ So they matched Nike’s offer, but they couldn’t match the marketing. They couldn’t promise David Falk that they could market Michael the way that Nike would. And that ultimately is what put that deal over the top, financially, for them.”Jason Hehir, via ESPN
Nike offered MJ $250,000. Back then, that was a lot of money, especially given the fact that their biggest rivals were paying their stars around $100,000 to be the face of their brands. Jordan and his parents eventually accepted the deal after getting rejected twice by Adidas, who MJ wanted to go with, but they didn’t want the deal done.
The collab between Jordan and Nike is the foundation of deals today’s players are signing. It is a blueprint of how a brand should promote their athletes. Nike was the first brand that singled out the player playing team sport and directed their marketing efforts towards him. People wanted to identify with Jordan and were feeling that they are doing it by buying his shoes. Nike created a whole little Air Jordan world. A world that many wanted to be a part of and to this day are still trying to be.
Spot-Bilt came close to having the opportunity to do what Nike did. Adidas was the frontrunner on Jordan’s list of preferred brands. But Jordan eventually put his signature on a contract with Nike’s stamp on it, creating the greatest collaboration between an athlete and a brand in sports history.