Michael Jordan was the first NBA star to sign a truly massive contract with a sneaker brand. Amid fierce competition, Nike landed in Jordan in 1984, launching the now-iconic Air Jordan. Keep reading to learn why Michael Jordan signed with Nike.
How Did Nike Sign Michael Jordan?
Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the best basketball player ever to play the game. Jordan captured six NBA Championships with the Chicago Bulls, along with six Finals MVP awards, and he never lost a series in the NBA Finals. In 1984, Jordan’s rookie year, sneaker companies such as Adidas and Converse were dominating the basketball market. Converse had superstars Magic Johnson and Larry Bird under contract, and Adidas had signed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a few years prior. Even Michael Jordan wore Adidas and Converse in college.
Ultimately, Jordan signed with an up-and-coming sneaker company by the name of Nike. Jordan helped turn Nike into the powerhouse brand they are today, eventually getting his sub-brand of Nike, Jordan Brand. Nike offered Jordan a five-year, $500,000 per season deal, which was the biggest sneaker deal in history at the time. Even Jordan had his reservations about Nike. He famously told Adidas if they could get anywhere close to the amount Nike offered, he would sign with them. Adidas opted not to match Nike’s offer, citing Jordan’s lack of size.
Part of the reason Jordan was so willing to sign with Nike was their extensive marketing plan for unveiling his sneakers. At the time, NBA Commissioner David Stern had a rule that players must wear all-white sneakers, regardless of what brand of sneakers they were. Nike’s plan was for Jordan to wear his sneakers with the Bulls’ team colors, red and black. Jordan would then be fined $50,000 per game. Jordan wore non-white shoes, but Nike told Jordan they would pay the fine for him because the exposure was far more beneficial to the company.
Before signing Jordan, co-founder Phil Knight invited Jordan to Nike headquarters, where they showed Jordan around and explained their vision for Jordan as a Nike athlete. Top Nike executive Rob Strasser showed Jordan two die-cast Mercedes cars, subtly implying that Jordan would receive them if he signed with Nike. Nike executives did not know how the meeting went, as Jordan was mostly emotionless during the conversation. The next day, Jordan called Nike and explained he didn’t want to take any meetings with other companies.
What Happened When Jordan Signed With Nike?
Though Nike’s deal with Michael Jordan was a gamble, it paid off spectacularly, mostly due to Jordan’s exceptional skill on the court. In his rookie year alone, Michael Jordan won the Rookie of the Year Award, was named to the NBA All-Second Team, and participated in the All-Star Game for the Eastern Conference. The end of Jordan’s rookie season coincided with the release of the first Air Jordan sneaker line in April 1985. Nike had set a goal of making $3 million from the shoes in their first year on the market. Instead, they were treated with an astonishing $126 million in sales in the first year alone.
Launch of Jordan Brand
Since the release of the first Air Jordans, Michael Jordan’s Nike shoes have dominated the markets, with new releases regularly selling out even during pre-orders. In 1997, Nike expanded its deal with Michael Jordan by launching Jordan Brand, and since then, the brand has consistently stayed at the top of the market. To showcase just how much Nike’s Jordan deal has exceeded expectations, as of 2022, Nike made the same amount of money as their initial 1984 goal, $3 million, in only five hours of sales.