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NIKE And Michael Jordan Make The Jordan Brand

Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 17, 1963. However, he grew up down South in North Carolina.

He passed up scholarship offers from prestigious schools such as Duke, Syracuse, and Virginia to attend the University of North Carolina on a basketball scholarship in 1981. This is where his story truly began.

Jordan went on to win rookie of the year in his first year in university, scoring the game-winning points against Georgetown for the NCAA Championship. He also won the player of the year in his third year. Jordan left UNC as a junior in 1984 to declare for the NBA Draft, where the Chicago Bulls 3rd overall selected him in the first round.

So, how was the Jordan Brand "Air Jordan" born?

In 1984, Nike teamed up with Michael Jordan to launch the Jordan Brand, a brand of shoes and athletic wear built around the player. At the time, Nike was a struggling brand selling running shoes to reinvent itself as a company for athletic stars. ESPN reported that it wasn't so easy for the company to sign the then-budding NBA rookie.

Nike reportedly offered Jordan $500,000 a year in cash for five years, hoping it could convince him to come on board. Unfortunately for Nike, Jordan really wanted to work with Adidas. But, Adidas wasn't really an option for Jordan, as the company was undergoing a leadership shift at the time.

Converse, the shoe Jordan wore while playing for the University of North Carolina, wanted to sign Jordan, but it already had celebrity athlete endorsers in Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Converse made Jordan an offer, but he reportedly wasn't excited by it and didn't know where he would fit in the brand's already star-studded lineup. Still, Jordan made one last attempt at his dream company, taking Nikes offer to Adidas and asking them to come "anywhere close" to the offer. It didn't work out with Adidas, and Jordan ultimately signed with Nike.

Nike wanted to build an entire line around Jordan's almost-superhuman ability to dunk, according to ESPN. Once Jordan was on board, he began wearing the brand's shoes on the court. The very first pair that he wore from his eponymous brand was called Air Jordan I. It caused a lot of commotion both on and off the court. This was the birth of AIR JORDAN.

The shoes were originally released to stores in April 1985, and they were an instant hit. ESPN reported that Nike had sold $70 million worth of the shoes by May just a month into the release and that the Air Jordan brand had made Nike more than $100 million by the end of the year. When MJ first donned those Chicago Bulls-colored sneakers, the NBA had a rule about having all players in primarily white shoes. Jordan was fined $5,000 for wearing the shoes, but instead of taking them off the court, Nike decided it was great exposure for the brand and chose to pay all of MJs fines so he could continue to wear the shoes.

Nike made the public believe that Nike Air Jordan was banned by the NBA the first time Michael Jordan wore them on the court. In reality, the banned shoes were black and red Nike Air Ships. The Air Ships were Nike’s top-of-the-line basketball shoes in the early 1980s and were sold for $75 a pair.

Jordan wearing that colorway broke the now-abolished "uniformity of uniform" rule, which required that all players wore sneakers that not only matched the team uniform but the sneakers of other teammates, on October 18, 1984, in a preseason game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The banned Air Ships were customized with ‘Air Jordan’ behind the sneakers, but MJ didn’t wear authentic Nike Air Jordans until November 17, 1984, in a regular-season game vs. the Philadelphia 76ers. Jordan’s Jordans were made to the letter of the law, with white and red, the major colors accompanied by a black swoosh and dark laces. This colorway matched the Bulls all-white kit with red stripes and would later be known as the ‘Chicago’ colorway.

As previously mentioned, Nike used the falsehood of the banned Jordans to their advantage. The marketing campaign for the Air Jordans revolved around the supposed ban. Commercials framed the shoes as too hot for the NBA to handle, with the red and black Air Jordans being hidden by censor bars on television. The "controversy" pushed Jordan and Nike to even greater reach.

Jordan would intermittently wear his brand of shoes during his rookie season in the red and white colorway, but famously wore the red and black colorway – now known as the ‘banned’ edition – during the 1985 NBA dunk contest in February of that year, classily matching the shoes with minimalist gold chains as he finished runner-up that year.

Nike officially released the first Air Jordan sneakers to the public on April 1, 1985, at a retail price of $65.

Here are the numbers at the start of Air Jordan - Nike expected to sell 100,000 pairs by the end of the year. The Air Jordan 1s sold 450,000 pairs in the first month. Nike expected sales to hit $3 million by the fourth year of Jordan’s contract; sales totaled about $30 million in test markets alone after a month. After the first year of its release, Air Jordan had brought in revenue of $126 million. Nike had only brought in $65 million in total revenue the year before.

With the demand so high, measuring for oversupply was difficult. Nike ended up producing too many Jordan 1s. The iconic ‘Jumpman’ logo began appearing on Jordan IIIs, originating from a 1994 Life Magazine photoshoot for the Olympic games that year. The shoot involved Jordan performing a mid-air ballet move from a standing jump, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Jordan brand has played a huge part in Nike’s growth from underdog to the market leader in sportswear, especially basketball. Whilst Converse was previously the dominant force on the court in the ‘80s, Nike now possesses 86% market share of the performance basketball market as of 2020. 77% of NBA players wore either Nike or Jordan shoes during ‘19/20 season.

Whilst brands like Reebok earn lower revenue than they did a decade ago, Nike earned $40 billion in revenue in their last financial year. This was 60% more than Adidas in the same period. Jordan himself has earned an estimated $1.3 billion from Nike's collaboration, a successful partnership for both parties as his on-the-court success continued to propel the brand through the ‘90s. 5x NBA Most Valuable Player and 6 NBA Championships speak for themselves.

Jordan was so dominant; he even won defensive player of the year in 1988.

When Jordan retired (the final time) in 2003, other rising stars such as Carmelo Anthony and Blake Griffin began getting sponsored by the Jordan brand. Schools also began getting Air Jordan sponsorships, leading to increased popularity due to more variety in the sneaker colors. Air Jordan eventually expanded into the WNBA later in the 21st century.