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.
Aug 20, 2014, 5:07 PM EDT
Video game Curry doesn’t come close to shooting as well as the real life version.
Aug 20, 2014, 4:12 PM EDT
If Bledsoe decides to play for the qualifying offer, he’ll almost certainly bolt as an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT
Aug 20, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT
Strangest comparison ever. And pretty accurate.
Aug 20, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
Photo is excellent.
Aug 20, 2014, 12:09 PM EDT
Miami could use the depth, but at this point the pickings are slim.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:17 AM EDT
Move would be purely financial for Philadelphia, but if Stoudemire is contributing at that time, Knicks may pass.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:35 AM EDT
He makes some points.
Aug 20, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT
It goes much deeper than that.
Aug 20, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT
You cannot push all the way back from knee surgery without having pain.
Kobe Bryant says he will not be same player as before, says he’s evolved into something equally good
Aug 20, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT
Kobe has plenty of doubters now to fuel him.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Best NBA Jam duo on a current team? Give me Durant and Westbrook.
Aug 20, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Bryant appears on latest Sports Illustrated cover.
Aug 19, 2014, 10:29 PM EDT
Highlights only serve as a reminder of just how bad things were in Los Angeles.
Aug 19, 2014, 8:57 PM EDT
Derrick Rose, not so much.
Report: Agent for Greg Monroe pursued sign-and-trade deals with five teams, including Thunder and Blazers
Aug 19, 2014, 7:21 PM EDT
Monroe will sign qualifying off with Pistons if no deal is in place by Oct. 1.
Aug 19, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Bonner now drives a 2014 Chevy Impala.
Aug 19, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
I would pay good money to see this, even though I wouldn’t understand a word.
Aug 19, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
I think the Pelicans are a playoff team next season.
Aug 19, 2014, 3:18 PM EDT
He’s fine, it’s just precautionary.
- Report: Suns discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe 4
- Report: Sixers may look to trade for Amar’e Stoudemire at this season’s deadline 27
- Kevin Durant reiterates that rest was his reason for withdrawing from Team USA 8
- Kobe Bryant says he will not be same player as before, says he’s evolved into something equally good 19
- Report: Agent for Greg Monroe pursued sign-and-trade deals with five teams, including Thunder and Blazers 25
- Derrick Rose sits out another Team USA practice, not likely to start Wednesday 22
- DeMarcus Cousins practices with team USA Tuesday, says he’s 50-50 for Wednesday game 2
- Jim Boeheim says of Carmelo Anthony, “it would have been better to go to Chicago” 31