It was 1984 when Michael Jordan won the NCAA title with the Tar Heels and went on to win Olympic gold at the Los Angeles Olympics. He went on to be the 3rd overall pick in the NBA draft.
Like any promising athlete, Jordan was looking to sign a sneaker deal, but you may be surprised to learn that Jordan was not originally looking to sign with Nike. As a long-time Adidas fan he tried (but failed) to sign with them; then he hoped to sign with Converse which had most of the major endorsements in the NBA.
Nike was not the sports apparel giant it is today. It was specialized in running shoes and was looking to expand its operations, lest risk falling off the map as the running shoe trend was coming to its end. The company felt that Michael would be a huge star in the NBA and his charisma and charm would make him the perfect spokes person to help the company grow in the right direction. Boy, were they right.
Nike went all out offering to name the new line after him, thus Air Jordan’s were born. Still not convinced, Jordan’s agent and father suggested he fly to Nike headquarters and take a look at the presentation Nike had prepared, complete with a video and soundtrack (the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump”).
At the urging of Jordan’s father and agent, Nike did eventually sign Jordan; soon after the Air Jordan I hit the shelves and revolutionized the sneaker industry. Up until that point basketball sneakers were mainly white; Air Jordan’s were red and black and flashy and the public loved them. The NBA did not. Jordan was fined hefty sums (around $5000) each time he took the floor with them.
By the time the Air Jordan IIIs rolled out, Michael himself was getting more say in the sneaker design. That elephant print they’re so famous for (the pattern that gives the shoes the worn effect)? This design element was added to the shoe after Jordan requested that his sneakers look worn even when new. These were the first of the Nike basketball shoe line to introduce the jumpman logo (the original logo featured a pair of wings) and the Air Jordan IIIs were also the first pair to show the air sole in the heel of the shoe. The Air Jordan III turned out to be Michael’s favorite shoes; he went to win MVP and best defensive player that year (1988), and re-signed with Nike.
Jordan and Nike would go on to be so successful that Nike created “The Jordan Brand” as a sub-brand of the company.