When Michael Jordan was a sneaker free agent in 1984, he had two notable suitors, specifically Nike and Adidas. As he narrated in his documentary “The Last Dance,” MJ admitted that he was leaning towards signing with Adidas, but thanks to his beloved mother, Deloris Jordan, he was swayed and eventually signed with the swoosh brand. Jordan’s five-year contract with Nike was a $2.5 million deal, which was a record-breaking deal at the time.
Nike’s gamble paid off.
Nike took the risk by offering Jordan (who was a rookie) a lucrative contract, and it immediately paid dividends. In his first season, the 5-time champion was already considered an All-Star and was selected in the All-NBA Second team, in addition to winning the league’s Rookie of the Year award. And by the time his career ended, Michael reportedly made $1 billion from Nike thanks to his shoe line, the “Air Jordan,” popularity and greatness on the court.
Despite bringing rise to and cementing Nike’s legacy during his career, Jordan isn’t a major owner of Nike. According to Jordan’s former teammate John Salley, it’s because Nike doesn’t want the greatest player of all time to take over the business.
It’s more than just giving Jordan power.
In an interview with the VladTV podcast recorded in 2019, Salley talked about why MJ isn’t a major owner or shareholder of the brand he practically brought rise to. Salley said it has something to do with Jordan’s race, and Nike’s unwillingness to give MJ the power to run the company.
“What’s so funny is that the blacks make all of the standards. It is the craziest thing that is the standard in sports, entertainment, and art. It’s the standard, but it doesn’t get to run the company that will know how to manipulate or to exploit that entity,” Salley said. “It makes sense. You don’t want any of the captives coming from the cages to be up with the emperor, it’s just not how it works,” Salley added.
Superstars like Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, Zion Williamson, and Russell Westbrook all decided to sign with the Jordan brand. That speaks to the position MJ built under the Nike umbrella. Ultimately, Salley believes that it’s only right that Mike created his own shoe brand, especially if he isn’t a part owner nor a shareholder of Nike.