The History of Air Jordan Part I

With such an iconic history, the Air Jordan continues to have a profound impact on the sportswear and sneaker culture.

Air Jordan Echo Charlie
Air Jordan Echo Charlie

In sports history there were the Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars. Next came Reebok Freestyles. And then came the Air Jordans. Each era of sport has an iconic jersey and a memorable outfit. But often, the sport paraphernalia that is put on the highest pedestal is the shoe. Sometimes they become dated and out of fashion. Other times they are embraced as timeless. Either way, they have made a lasting mark.

While the Chuck Taylor is considered timeless and the Reebok Freestyles elicit giggles and memories of Jane Fonda, the Air Jordan has been adjusted to keep up with the sport and with science and technological advancements. Its ability to last through the decades, yet remain highly relevant is what makes the Air Jordan so fascinating.

 

A Little Background On The Facts

When it comes to the Air Jordans, there is much folklore. A few things are true and other things are not. Several stories, however, fall somewhere in between. To state the facts though: Michael Jordan and Nike were far from an ideal match. At the time, Nike was known for its running shoes and really nothing else. It was Converse and Adidas that were big players in basketball shoes and Jordan knew this. He attempted to strike endorsement deals with them, but they were not interested. Then Nike reached out. Jordan was hesitant, to say the least. But Nike offered proposed a deal that was unheard of at the time. They said that they would give him his own shoe and clothing line, as well as $2.5 million over five years.

Now, in today's day and age, this deal does not seem too outlandish. In 1984 though, this was unprecedented. First of all, the most any basketball player would see in endorsements each year was roughly $100,000 (Kareem Abdul Jabbar was getting this from Adidas at the time). Second, the only athletes that had their own product lines were tennis players. Oh and third, Jordan was a rookie.

Another fact is that while Nike gave Jordan a better deal than any other player was getting, they were nervous about the partnership. Because of this, Nike added a clause stipulating that they could dump Jordan if he did not make the NBA All-Star Game within his first three years, or if his shoe did not make the company $3 million over the first three years. This clause never had to be enacted, because not only did Jordan make the All-Star Eastern Conference Team in each of his first three years (as well as the next six years and then five more years after his return to the NBA), the Air Jordan made $130 million in its first year alone.

A final fact is that the Air Jordan 1 shoe was never banned. This is a myth that was started by Nike, and it was arguably this marketing strategy, along with Jordan's amazing rookie season, that made the shoe so popular. The real story though, is that the NBA Commissioner at the time banned the prototype for the Air Jordan. And while the commissioner simply banned the shoe because of the NBA's strict dress policies (51% of the shoe had to be white), it sparked an idea with Nike's marketing team. Because the prototype and the actual Air Jordan looked so similar, Nike's marketing campaign claimed that it was actually the Air Jordan that had been banned. And they went further to say that it had been banned, not because of the lack of white, but because the Air Jordans were a performance enhancer.

 

A Little Background On The Possibilities

But then there is the grey area. There are no facts to support the assumptions and statements made in this area, but there are some compelling arguments. This includes the idea that the partnership between Nike and Michael Jordan is what shot both of them to stardom. Yes, Nike made a good running shoe, but that was it. Maybe they would have succeeded through pursuing athletes in other sports, but there are few other sports as high profile as basketball that has apparel which can transfer into streetwear. Maybe they would have succeeded through pursuing another basketball player, but there were few other, if any, basketball players of the same era that had the star power, talent, and work ethic that Michael Jordan exemplified.

And what about Michael Jordan? Of course, he would have always been an outstanding athlete, and did not need an endorsement from Nike or his own line of shoes and clothing to accomplish that. But would he have become as famous as he did without the Nike partnership? Would his name be known all over the world? Would the word ‘Jordan’ be more closely associated with basketball than a country in the Middle East? He certainly would not have as high of a net worth, and his face would not be as well known. But this is, of course, just the grey area.

 

The Controversial Side Of Air Jordans

There were a number of reasons why the popularity of Air Jordans was so surprising. For one thing, Michael Jordan was a rookie when they were first released. He was by no means an unknown, thanks to his successful college career, but there were plenty of other players who had already made a name for themselves in professional basketball. And then there is the fact that the shoes were being made by a company that specialised in running shoes. What did they know about basketball? This was a contentious point, but it was the price of the shoe that many thought would be its downfall.

When the shoes were first released, they were priced at $65. This was markedly higher than any other comparable basketball shoes at the time, but that did not matter. They were still in high demand. In fact, some high schools had to ban students from wearing Air Jordans, as fights would break out as students attempted to steal each other's shoes.

But all of this is just the beginning. To find out more about the evolution of one of the greatest shoes of all time, read Part 2 here.

Keep reading. Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.

SPORT, STYLE

Adrian Bortignon

SPORT

Adrian Giannarelli

PEOPLE, SPORT

Adrian Giannarelli

PEOPLE, SPORT

Adrian Giannarelli

SPORT, VISION

Anthony Ierardi

SPORT

Anthony Ierardi