For those who have grown up with Michael Jordan and his sneakers, a pre-Jordan basketball world seems unimaginable. It was a sport stuck in the grey shadows of the sporting industry. Though it boasted stars Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain, popularity was low against the likes of Football and Tennis. The court was made up of players wearing shorts above the knee and basketball sneakers were strictly clean white. Gameplay was equally strict. Rules favoured defenders, leaving little room for the playful attack that is regularly seen today. When Michael Jordan entered the game, the sport and the culture surrounding it would change forever.
Michael Jordan made his break in NBA Basketball in 1984 after propelling the US Basketball team to a gold in the Olympics. He was famously signed by the Chicago Bulls and his basketball skill that he had built from a young age proved he was one to watch - the only one to watch. Soon after being signed, Michael was approached by Nike with a deal. However, Michael was sceptical, he had his eye on deal with Adidas or Converse because of their more advanced designs. But Michael accepted the Nike deal anyway, and made sure there was a break in contract. Despite the preconceptions, this would be the start of the Air Jordan brand.
In the early 80s, Nike still hadn’t reached its elite status that it has achieved today. In the American market Chuck Taylors flooded the streets, Reebok was seen most in aerobic classes and Adidas on the Basketball courts. Nike only had running sneakers going for them but they needed more to establish themselves as a prominent brand. The Air Force 1 and Air Ship were the only basketball models they produced, and they needed a new line urgently if they wanted to continue producing footwear for the sport. They heavily relied on Michael Jordan to save their presence in the market.
Enter the Jordan I. The start of the Jordan brand story. The Air Jordan 1 defied all things that made up basketball sneakers at the time. It came with a controversial introduction to the court. The NBA banned the model because it didn’t confine to all-white sneaker rule. But, Nike agreed to let Michael play in them and pay the $5000 fine per game for as long as the ban should exist. The ban worked in the brand’s favour as it increased the everybody’s desire to have the 1’s.
Over the next few years, Michael Jordan pioneered basketball and sneakers. Jordan brand rose to the top of the basketball sneaker market, riots started in lines for drops and other basketballers adorned Jordan sneakers on the court. While designing sneakers, Michael Jordan ensured that he honoured Chicago: the team that helped him rise to fame. The Jordan I featured the iconic red, white and black colourway- in the same colours as the Chicago Bulls uniform, and to this day remains the most sought-after basketball sneaker.
By the Jordan III model, cracks started to show in the foundation of the Jordan Brand. Peter Moore, the original designer for Jordan I and II, had walked away from Nike to start his own brand and, Michael Jordan recognised the forthcoming end to his endorsement with Nike. Almost at the brink of terminating his contract, it was the soon-to-be designer of the Air Max models, Tinker Hatfield, who convinced Michael Jordan to stay by offering him more design freedom and a hand of guidance for as long as he should want. The Jordan III marked the introduction of the Jordan logo. Taken from a LIFE Magazine image of Michael Jordan leaping for the hoop, the “Grand Jete” was selected as the logo and placed on the Jordan III.
As Michael Jordan went on to win championships for Chicago Bulls, there became a rising presence of Jordan’s on the streets as well as on the court. The people of Chicago felt a homely connection to the Jordan, and with that, the rappers, artists and film stars to come out of Chicago also felt a responsibility to rep the brand. Michael Jordan and the Jordan brand were continuously referenced in 90s rap songs most notably by A Tribe Called Quest, Biggie and Jay Z. It was recognised as a symbol for hope and perseverance for Black artists. Before Kanye West went on to create the Yeezy, he was one of the biggest ambassadors of Jordan brand, and famously wore the 2001 “Bred” Air Jordan 1’s to London Fashion Week. This brought Jordan’s into the high fashion stratosphere, provoking fashion collaborations with Levi’s and Supreme.
The Jordan brand legacy is stronger than ever, resonating with fans who weren’t even alive during Michael Jordan’s final basketball run. In 2018, profits recorded hit $2.9 billion- far greater than any signature celebrity line to date. While many people know about Michael Jordan, and know the Jordan brand, it’s the stories in between that still remain untold. A Jordan Education by Footasylum will give a comprehensive look at the brand from the past right through to the present day, where we aim to unfold all you should know about Jordan brand.