Why Michael Jordan Almost Never Made a Deal With Nike

Michael Jordan was arguably the best NBA player of his era and one of the best in the league’s history. He also became a very marketable player during his career, doing commercials for major companies that included McDonald’s and Gatorade. But his most important endorsement deal came with shoe manufacturer Nike — a partnership that continues to this day, nearly two decades after Michael Jordan retired from the league.

But Jordan’s deal with Nike almost never happened. Here’s why the deal with Nike almost didn’t happen, and how lucrative the business relationship has been for both sides.

Michael Jordan’s NBA career

After being the third overall pick in the 1984 NBA draft, Jordan played 15 seasons in the NBA — 13 with the Bulls and two with the Wizards after returning from a temporary retirement. He sits near the top of the all-time standings in several major statistical categories.

His 32,292 points are fifth in league history, while he ranks fifth with 12,192 field goals and third with 2,514 steals. Jordan made 7,327 career free throws, which ranks sixth on the all-time list.

Among Jordan’s most impressive accomplishments in the league are winning six NBA championships as part of two separate three-peats with the Bulls — and he was named Finals MVP in all six of those series. Jordan also won five NBA MVP awards and was a 14-time All-Star.

Michael Jordan’s Nike deal almost didn’t happen

Longtime sports agent David Falk talked about Jordan and his impact on modern-day sports marketing. He discussed the story of first bringing the idea of a Nike deal to Jordan and his family in 1984. Falk recalls that Jordan didn’t want to take the meeting with Nike because he “didn’t know anything about it, didn’t like the shoe, didn’t want to go.”

Falk says that Nike shoes weren’t “that great” at the time and Converse was the dominant shoe brand at the time. The roster of NBA players who were endorsing Converse included Dr. J, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson. Converse was also the official shoe of the Olympics back then.

Adidas had “everyone else that mattered” in terms of NBA players endorsing the brand, according to Falk, and Nike was a bit of an afterthought at the time as the company hadn’t become the dominant athletic apparel brand that it is now. And Jordan was a major reason for Nike’s ascent in the apparel industry.

A match made in heaven

It’s a good thing for Michael Jordan and the company that he ultimately went to the meeting with Nike because that led to a deal that became one of the best athlete endorsement deals of all-time, and especially in that era.

Nike released the first Air Jordans to the public in late 1984, and they were so popular that the Air Jordan line is now up to its 33rd iteration; the AJ XXXIII was released in October 2018, and it was the first model in the line to feature a laceless design. Jordan makes $130 million annually from his business relationship with Nike, which is $40 million more than the total he made in contracts in his 15-year playing career.

Jordan’s Nike royalties now account for 90% of his annual income. And Nike has greatly benefited from the partnership as well. Nike spun the Jordan brand out into its own subsidiary in 1997, and it has grown into a multibillion company on its own.

In the fiscal year ending May 2019, the Jordan Brand had wholesale revenues of $3.14 billion, which was a 10% increase from the year before. Not bad for a brand named after a player who retired from the NBA in 2003.