It’s hard to overstate the impact that Michael Jordan has had on the world of sports apparel. Not only did he almost singlehandedly build one of the strongest brands in athletic wear, Nike, but he also created his own brand, Air Jordan and Jumpman. His Air Jordans became the most iconic sneaker of all time, spawning a legacy of shoes worn by countless athletes and fans worldwide.
While now you can’t watch an NBA game without seeing a pair of Air Jordans, there was a time when the league was less than receptive to the shoe. In fact, they even punished Jordan for wearing them. Here’s the story of Air Jordans and why the NBA once saw the sneakers as an adversary.
How Michael Jordan’s Air Jordans were created
According to Marie Claire, Air Jordans were first created in 1984. That was the same year Jordan was drafted out of the University of North Carolina. As the third pick in the draft, MJ drew plenty of attention from sneaker companies. While Nike is the most prominent brand in the current era, at the time Converse was the NBA’s official sneaker.
When Jordan met with Converse, they told him they couldn’t elevate his brand over their existing clients such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. That led Jordan to rule them out. Jordan preferred Adidas, but they were unable to make a deal with him. That’s when super-agent David Falk told Jordan he should partner with Nike, a fledgling (at the time) sneaker company that made mostly track sneakers.
Jordan rebuffed Nike at first. But Falk enlisted the player’s parents to convince him to meet with Nike. He did, they offered him a big deal, and he accepted. The rest was history.
The Jordan 1’s place in the Air Jordan legacy
Jordan’s first pair of Air Jordans were known as the Jordan 1’s. They became household items, something that every basketball fan wanted to own. Jordan brought them back for his last game as a Chicago Bulls player at Madison Square Garden, though he reported they hurt his feet in doing so.
It seems unthinkable to consider this now, but the NBA wasn’t too keen on Jordan’s personal branding strategy and shoe choice at first. According to CNN, the NBA initially banned the Jordan 1’s. Their explanation was that they didn’t adhere to the NBA’s sneaker guidelines that stated all sneakers must be mostly white and share the team’s uniform colors. The league opted to fine Jordan $5,000 every game he wore them.
In hindsight, the fine may not seem like a big deal to someone like Jordan. But remember, this wasn’t the superstar MJ everyone had come to know and love. This was a young player still searching to find his place in the game.
How Michael Jordan and Nike responded to the Jordan 1 ban
The NBA is a global empire now built on the reputation of its superstars, Jordan being the biggest name in the league’s history. But at the time of Nike unveiling his new shoe, Jordan wasn’t nearly the dominant figure he is today. He hadn’t won any championships, still new to the league.
Fortunately for Jordan, from the early stages of their partnership, Nike proved how good of a teammate they could be to him. Seeing a good opportunity for increased exposure to their sneaker and brand, Nike helped Jordan out, paying the fines.
Air Jordans became linked with Jordan’s legacy from there. Nike produced multiple iterations of the sneaker, each one more popular than the last. Today, Jordan and Nike have taken one shoe and turned it into its own individual worldwide brand.