No player in professional sports has a more iconic logo than Michael Jordan. Aside from his basketball career, Michael Jordan’s rise as a brand might be his most defining characteristic. Specifically, his partnership with Nike goes together with him and Scottie Pippen.
As such, one might assume that the greatest basketball player of all time was born in a pair of Nikes, but Nike didn’t interest Jordan until they opened up the checkbook. In fact, another brand had a chance to land Jordan before Nike.
Adidas could’ve signed Michael Jordan?
Surprisingly, Michael Jordan didn’t grow up wearing Nike shoes. Instead, he wore Converse. Back then, basketball shoes were less about the style and more about comfort when it came to basketball.
Jordan even played in his first Olympics wearing Converse sneakers. When the time came for Jordan to sign his shoe deal, he had one brand in mind, however, and it wasn’t Converse or Nike. It was Adidas.
There was only one problem here. Adidas wasn’t interested in signing basketball players. Jordan believed that Adidas would offer him the greatest opportunity to make money and run his brand the way he wanted it to be run. Adidas could have had the most marketable player in the history of sports but passed because they were not given foresight of what was to come.
An Oregon shoe company called Nike believed in Jordan, however, and neither Jordan nor the shoe giant has been the same since. In fact from May 2018 to May 2019 the Jordan brand alone made around $3 billion. That’s one costly mistake for Adidas.
Nike before Michael Jordan
Much before Michael Jordan came along, Nike began in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports, a sportswear company out of Beaverton, Oregon. Phil Knight, the company’s founder, was a former track-and-field coach at Oregon before turning his eyes to sportswear. The name “Nike” started as a type of shoe in 1972 but quickly became the brand’s name in 1978.
Nike began to grow in products and exposure throughout the ’80s, but it was not yet the giant that people know it as today. It would need someone to draw people to it. Michael Jordan was that person, and even though that proved to be a multi-billion dollar gamble, it was not a surefire investment when Jordan was barely out of college.
Welcome to Nike
It might be a shock to some that the original Jordan shoes didn’t have the signature logo, but a pair of wings to represent his flight to the basket. The tag, however, showed a video of Jordan mid-air not slam-dunking, as many would presume, but doing a ballet move. That photo soon became the logo for not only Jordan’s shoes, but for an entire brand of shoes, shirts, shorts, and other gear across many different sports.
A new brand was born, but the NBA was not ready. The NBA deemed the shoes too bright, and fined Jordan $5,000 a game for wearing them. Nike hedged their bets and paid off the fine themselves.
Jordan was still a rookie, and the shoes would take a while to hit on, as they needed a superstar athlete to help define the image they projected. It is safe to say that they got their wish.
Jordan as a brand
Now, nearly two-decades after Jordan’s final stint in the NBA, he is still one of the most recognizable names and faces in sports. People of all ages flock to the stores to get both the latest pairs of Jordans and the reissued classics. This has made Jordan one of the first billionaire athletes that the world has ever seen, and the brand shows no signs of stopping.
The little kid with dreams of being a professional athlete could never have possibly seen his career going where it did. Jordan’s career is fodder for legends, rumors, and constant comparisons that go beyond the basketball court, but just as much a part of that brand as sports is the brand that was born off of the back of it. While Jordan’s playing days are a memory, the Jordan brand is present and still growing.