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.
May 20, 2013, 11:52 AM EDT
The video above was a reminder to Alonzo Mourning that there is no privacy anymore. Not anywhere. (And if you think Jordan’s legacy would be the same in today’s world of cell phone video and 24-hour news/blog cycle as it was in his era… you should ask Steve Kerr about that rock show on the…
May 20, 2013, 11:03 AM EDT
There are a lot of coaching interview rumors right now — basically the same handful of guys interviewing for every open job while those fan bases dream of Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy. What follows is a wrap up of the weekend news from the coaching searches going on. • The Suns are going…
May 20, 2013, 10:33 AM EDT
If you watched Carmelo Anthony at all as he tried to carry the Knicks through the playoffs (often too single-handedly, but that’s another issue for another day), you could tell that his left shoulder was really bothering him. So it’s not a shock that a team doctor is about to have a look at it,…
May 20, 2013, 9:22 AM EDT
Zach Randolph recovered the opening tipoff in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, and he didn’t touch the ball again until the possession following the Grizzlies’ first timeout. Moments after cameras caught Randolph and Tim Duncan sharing a laugh coming out of that timeout, Randolph ran a seemingly designed pick-and-pop with Mike Conley, caught…
May 20, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT
Anyone need a 6’9” floor-stretching forward who hit 44.2 percent of his threes last year? A lot of teams could, which is why Mike Dunleavy Jr. is starting to draw some interest around the league, reports the Journal-Times. Apparently, Dunleavy’s fine playoff showing after a quality regular-season performance has impressed some other NBA folks as…
May 20, 2013, 7:58 AM EDT
Veteran NBA swingman Terrence Williams, who played last season with the Celtics, was arrested Sunday, according to multiple reports. The charges stem from a domestic violence dispute in Kent, Washington (a city between Seattle and Tacoma that is part of the metropolitan area near where he grew up), according to the Kent Reporter. The victim…
May 20, 2013, 1:26 AM EDT
I’m not sure about some of you. Did you really think Kobe Bryant was going to allow the last image of him on an NBA court to be that of him limping off after his Achilles injury? Does that seem like him? At all? Yet, when Kobe said he was going to make a major…
May 20, 2013, 1:02 AM EDT
When Lionel Hollins and the rest of the Grizzlies coaching staff put together the new game plan for Tuesday’s Game 2, job number one has to be stop Tony Parker and his penetration. Parker carved up the Memphis defense Sunday, as you can see in the video above. Hollins said after the game the Grizzlies…
May 19, 2013, 10:01 PM EDT
In getting to the Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies played two teams that couldn’t put together solid execution on the offensive end of the floor anywhere near consistently over the course of those playoff series. A lot of the credit for that goes to the Memphis defense, of course. But in the first round, the…
Report: Dwight Howard will consider multiple teams in free agency, is said to be most intrigued by the Rockets
May 19, 2013, 8:34 PM EDT
We already know what we’re in for in terms of the steady stream of reports and rumors that will flood us leading up to the free agent decision of Dwight Howard this summer. It even has a nickname, and although he’s technically not a free agent for another six weeks or so, the Dwightmare has…
May 19, 2013, 7:11 PM EDT
When the Spurs started the 2010-11 season with a 17-3 record – on their way to a conference-best 61-21 finish – Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated profiled a team that no longer resembled previous San Antonio squads. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had played together under Gregg Popovich since the 2002-03 season, and…
May 19, 2013, 6:35 PM EDT
The San Antonio Spurs are never the “it” team. Never the sexy squad with high-flying stars casual fans gravitate toward in the postseason. The collective national will was behind Stephen Curry and Golden State last round. Then a whole lot of prognosticators — very smart, good ones — picked Memphis this round. The Grizzlies were…
May 19, 2013, 5:07 PM EDT
In honor of the way Tony Parker is currently carving up the Grizzlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, here’s a look at a compilation of his top 10 plays of the 2012-13 regular season. And just think — this doesn’t even include the circus shot he hit over the Warriors, which would…
May 19, 2013, 3:34 PM EDT
Now that the Conference Finals are upon us and there are just four teams left for both local and national media to cover, the amount of focus on each, along with everything that’s said will be magnified exponentially. Our first case study of this postseason comes out of Miami, where reporters talked to Heat players…
May 19, 2013, 2:01 PM EDT
PBT continues profiling likely first-round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. Today we look at a key member of the NCAA title team in Louisville. Rim protection matters. It mattered in college at Louisville and it matters in the NBA. And that is what Gorgui Dieng brings to the NBA — and can bring…
May 19, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT
J.R. Smith had an incredible regular season for the Knicks, and was every bit deserving of the Sixth Man of the Year honor he was given for that performance. He also was brutal in the postseason, struggling to find his shot ever since he was suspended for Game 4 in the first round of the…
May 19, 2013, 11:00 AM EDT
This video was recently released by the folks that run the website for LeBron James, and it gives us a glimpse into the types of motivational words and teachings that young NBA prospects received from James and Chris Paul five years ago. The highlights come from a 2008 summer camp that took place before the…
May 19, 2013, 9:30 AM EDT
One of the more popular cries from the Thunder fan base after the dismal all-around postseason performance of Kendrick Perkins was that the team should rid themselves of his contract (two more seasons at nearly $19 million total) by using the amnesty provision on him this summer. In the new collective bargaining agreement, teams have…
May 19, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
SEASON RECORDS Memphis: 56-26, fifth seed in the West San Antonio: 58-24, second seed in the West PLAYOFF RECORDS Memphis: Beat the Clippers 4-2 in the first round. Beat the Thunder 4-1 in the second round. San Antonio: Beat the Lakers 4-0 in the first round. Beat the Warriors 4-2 in the second round. SEASON…
May 19, 2013, 12:01 AM EDT
The Pacers sent all five members of the starting lineup to the podium for the postgame press conference following their 106-99 Game 6 win over the Knicks, which goes a long way in telling the story of how they were able to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The team defensive effort that Indiana exhibits…
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