Feb 15, 2013, 9:10 AM EDT
It seems like another world now — like discussing Pompeii or prohibition — but there was a time when Nike was just another struggling shoe company. In 1983, Nike had revenues of less than $1 million.
In 1984, Nike signed Michael Jordan.
Today, Nike owns the basketball shoe market. Owns it. When you factor in all the Nike brands — Nike, Jordan, Converse — you are talking nearly 95 percent of the basketball shoe market. And the Jordan Brand remains the biggest seller by far.
Michael Jordan turns 50 this weekend and yet his legacy and his shoes are such that when you talk to players coming out of college about their goals in the NBA, becoming part of the Jordan Brand family still comes up a lot. I mean with most of them. Players who were in kindergarten the last time Jordan won a ring.
It’s doesn’t gotta be the shoes. It is much more than that.
All this because of a big gamble back in the 1980s where a company that needed a star bet on the guy who would go on to become the general consensus greatest player ever, and that player bet on the company’s marketing skills.
Roland Lazenby, the author of “Blood On The Horns, The Long Strange Ride of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls” (which is being re-released right now by Diversion Books as an ebook edition in honor of Jordan’s birthday) and also the author of a new Jordan biography due out in the spring of 2014 (by Little, Brown), said that even MJ admits it was all fortuitous.
“As Michael told me in discussing his career, ‘Timing is everything.’” Lazenby said. “He came along at a time when Nike, a struggling company, was suddenly willing to gamble millions, far more than had ever been gambled, on an untested NBA player, giving him an unprecedented deal before he had even played an NBA game.
“Nike turned its full efforts to marketing Jordan. Then suddenly he emerged as this amazingly athletic figure, wearing a shoe that was banned by the NBA.”
People sometimes forget that part of the story. David Stern and the NBA banned the first pair of Air Jordan’s in 1985, just weeks before the start of the season, because they were completely Bulls red and black with no white on them.
There is no better marketing endorsement than having the man say, “you can’t have it.” That shoe and that moment spawned today’s sneakerhead culture.
“Nike took that circumstance and pushed it, which would have meant nothing if Jordan hadn’t played the way he played,” Lazenby said. “It was a departure from the past that showed it was also immune to the future.”
Jordan’s play was the key. It started because of his athleticism, his “jumpman” dunks that went on to become the Jordan Brand logo. He could fly, and Spike Lee was yelling “It’s gotta be the shoes.” But everything grew exponentially as Jordan started to win and win big. He became the best player in the game and owned his generation, booming the popularity of the NBA.
And booming the sales of Nike and his shoes. Because everyone wanted to “Be Like Mike.”
“As I say in my book, he became the godhead of a global sports marketing machine,” Lazenby said. “Godheads aren’t flashes in the pan. They paid Jordan so much, and his shoes sold so well that he essentially became a partner in Nike long before they officially recognized it.
“He became enmeshed in culture like no athlete before or after.”
And with him, so did Nike.
Now they are a key part of the lucrative running shoe market (they maintain more than half the market) and Nike is a global apparel brand with it’s swoosh on pretty much everything but refrigerators.
But none of that would have been possible without a big gamble on Jordan that paid off better than anyone expected.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:04 PM EDT
We’ve got a real nice feud brewing. Patrick Beverley and Damian Lillard are both tough point guards on contending Western Conference teams. They both overcame long odds to reach the NBA and play with justified pride now that they’re here. And both are unafraid to speak their mind. Lillard lobbed the opening salvo after Houston’s…
Mar 10, 2014, 7:07 PM EDT
Does he mean Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani or J.R. Smith?
Mar 10, 2014, 6:11 PM EDT
Phil Jackson seems destined for New York. I argue that’s a good thing… but only if Jackson has a Jedi mind trick that can keep James Dolan at bay.
Mar 10, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
Kansas’ Joel Embiid — potentially the top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft — has sought out a second opinion on his back injury. Just a reminder of why he should jump to the NBA rather than stay another year in college.
Mar 10, 2014, 4:05 PM EDT
As if his season hasn’t been a big enough disappointment, Cleveland’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett will miss at least 10 games with a knee strain.
Mar 10, 2014, 3:48 PM EDT
Nobody thinks Mike D’Antoni is the long term answer for the Lakers, but what is the point of switching out coaches this late in a lost season?
Mar 10, 2014, 3:07 PM EDT
All the buzz has Phil Jackson taking a front office job with the Knicks (he’s just deliberate in making decisions like this)… but nobody asked Carmelo what he thought? Really?
Mar 10, 2014, 2:41 PM EDT
With a number of top teams stumbling — Oklahoma City, Miami, Indiana — it is the Spurs who have gotten healthy and looked good going 6-0 since the end of the rodeo trip. The West now dominates the top of the rankings, the Sixers are looking to set records at the bottom. 1. Spurs (46-16,…
Mar 10, 2014, 1:49 PM EDT
Bulls fans have taken to chanting “M-V-P” when Joakim Noah heads to the free throw line — and he does not like it one bit.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT
“Quick, 15-20 seconds, throw few punches, then referees jump in and break this thing up.”
Mar 10, 2014, 12:13 PM EDT
As a member of the Jazz, Al Jefferson once encouraged Utah fans to boo their own team. When he returned to Utah in December as a Charlotte Bobcat, Jazz fans cheered him. Now, another former Utah big man, Paul Millsap, is encouraging Jazz fans to boo him when he returns with the Atlanta Hawks. Paul…
Mar 10, 2014, 11:32 AM EDT
This 15-second sequence tells you all you need to know about the Rockets point guard.
Mar 10, 2014, 10:36 AM EDT
Who held the record previously? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Mar 10, 2014, 10:07 AM EDT
Dad was focused on the game just a l’il bit.
Mar 10, 2014, 9:35 AM EDT
Durant shooting even more – even if those extra shots are relatively inefficient – would make him more similar to history’s other high-end scorers. And that option remains on the table for him.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Odds of a warm welcome by the fans? Zero.
Mar 10, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
The fewer the minutes for a team’s best players, the more likely teams are to be tanking and vice versa. Except in Detroit.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:59 AM EDT
A career-high 42 points on just 18 shots. Not bad.
Mar 10, 2014, 12:27 AM EDT
The mess in L.A. wasn’t so bad on Sunday.
Mar 9, 2014, 11:48 PM EDT
Houston a real contender in the West? Sure looks like it.
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- Phil Jackson reportedly close to taking Knicks job, nobody asked Carmelo about it 34
- PBT Power Rankings: Tell me again how the Spurs are too old…. 11
- Sunday NBA grades: All hail the unstoppable Jodie Meeks 13
- Harden’s 17 fourth-quarter points spark Rockets’ comeback win (VIDEO) 12