How the Air Jordan Shoes Empire Was Built

The Nike Air Jordan collection is one of the most famous shoe and apparel collections in the world for Nike, and its numbers hold that to be true to competitors such as Adidas and Puma. It is a billion dollar empire now for Nike and its leading man, Michael Jordan. The NBA legend pulls in hundreds of millions on income just from the Air Jordan line alone. It’s hard to believe that in the beginning of his career, he nearly turned it down and would have let it all go out there door without giving the brand any chance. Michael wasn’t interested in a working partnership with Nike and he himself was still a rookie in the NBA, playing for the Chicago Bulls.

When Michael started in the NBA he was already making a name for himself and earning endorsement deals for his image and obvious talent but he was still a young kid in the eyes of many. At that time, Nike wasn’t doing so well and was looking for the right celebrity athlete to give the company the sales boost it desperately needed to stay relevant and profitable. Michael was looking for a major contract to give him some notoriety and a lot of money in the bank. We all know how that eventually worked out.

Signing the $2.5 Million Contract

They approached Michael but he was less than thrilled to go into business with the shoe company and had his sights set higher on competing brands that he favored and wore himself. It took plenty of convincing from his family and sports agent to take a meeting with Nike and sign a contract. The product line didn’t impress him at all. He didn’t yet see the appeal and direction they were taking with the logo images and color choices; the now famous images that first launched the company to one of the top selling brands ever. He reportedly did not like the red and black sneakers, even though his team’s colors were also red and black. To Nike, the colors were unprecedented in the industry and a perfect match for Michael. He was hesitant throughout the whole courting process, but his agent finally convinced him to take the deal for the money and image, and sign a contract. Nike eventually nabbed their man, and signed Michael Jordan to represent their new line. His contract was estimated to give him $2.5 million and a portion of all sales in royalty money.

banned air jordan shoesAir Jordan I

Once the deal was signed, Michael took to wearing the bold black and red shoes in games, even after being banned by the NBA due to regulations regarding shoe colors. He was constantly fined for them but Nike was happy to oblige and pay up the dough. His numbers on the court were impressive and his reluctance to switch shoes caused the exact publicity Nike needed to grow the brand and make them top sellers. The shoes became a huge hit and Michael was making plenty of money from them now. His fame, and the controversy of the shoes, was rising. He helped the Chicago Bulls get back into the playoffs and everyone wanted to wear the same shoes Michael Jordan was wearing that the NBA didn’t want him to wear.

Air Jordans Initial Logo

Air Jordans Initial Logo

The original Air Jordan sneakers didn’t yet contain the infamous slow motion snapshot of Michael going in for a leaping slam dunk. That design would come later. Instead it detailed the world famous Nike swoosh check logo and a pair of wings, since Michael was known to “fly” on the court. The design was the first to display color and unique branding images to an athletic shoe and it’s the reason for the bold color combinations of Nike shoes today. Michael wasn’t keen on the style yet but he wore them through every game. And Nike had to pay the $5,000 fine for every game; but the payoff was worth it for the company and the man behind the shoes.

A Series of Air Jordan Shoes Follows

The next Air Jordan slumped from a high price tag, and the shoes’ lead designer and developers left to create their own company. The first pair of Air Jordan sneakers were priced at $65, which was high in 1985. The second Air Jordans would be priced even higher and that seemed to be the limit for most Americans. Sales for the Air Jordan II sneakers couldn’t compare. The shoes were too expensive and now Nike needed to come up with someone quick to keep the Air Jordan shoes selling again. If they didn’t they might also lose their star client. Nike needed a new designer to design the third Air Jordan shoe the public would consider worth buying.

Air Jordan 3

Air Jordan 3

Michael was ready to love the company himself with his two former shoe designers gone, but he stayed on with the next man that would help re-launch the product and elevate Michael’s brand power again. They were able to form a mutual partnership and allow Michael to have input into the design process. The two men worked together to design the third model of Air Jordan. Their collaborations of style and Michael’s input gave birth to a basketball shoe with a different design structure and lighter weight to become one of the top selling pairs of shoes in history. They worked as a team until the Air Jordan XV when they both retired their input and Michael retired from the NBA for the second time. The record sales in the third Air Jordans are still one of the highest grossing. Michael still keeps his name attached to the Air Jordan line for royalties and inspiration, but does not continue to design the shoes and oversee all production.

air jordan logoBecause of the phenomenal success, Air Jordan went from being a product to a product line. It became a branch brand of Nike but didn’t use any Nike logos or names. It embossed the now iconic Jumpman Air Jordan logo everyone knows. The brand now is consistently designed in tribute to Michael Jordan and emulated from his lifestyle and tastes, from his cars and favorite colors, to personal wardrobe attributes. The sub-brand launched in 1997, and even now in 2015, it holds a massive market and rakes in huge paydays for Nike and Michael Jordan.