The Air Jordan brand has become a now historic staple of the Nike label, with the iconic shoes growing into the most famous sneaker line in history.
The shoes have transcended the sport of basketball since their release in 1984. But back then, during Jordan’s rookie year in the NBA, things could have been so much different, had he gotten his way.
When brands were recruiting Jordan, the NBA’s newest rising star, the main players were at the time were Converse and Adidas, with Nike very much in the background.
According to ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary, Jordan preferred these two brands over Nike, and with Converse having the likes of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson on their roster, the Chicago Bulls star was keen to sign with Adidas.
“Adidas was really dysfunctional by that time,” says Jordan’s agent, David Falk. “And they had just told me, ‘Look, we’d love to have Jordan, we just can’t make a shoe work at this point in time.’ I wanted Michael to go with Nike because they were the big upstart.”
Jordan explained that he had no desire to sign with Nike, with Falk outlining that he had to call his parents to convince the star to even take the meeting in the first place.
“My mother said, ‘you’re going to go listen. You may not like it, but you’re going to go listen,'” Jordan recalls. She made me get on that plane and go listen.”
Jordan eventually went to the meeting with Nike, although he claimed he didn’t want to be there, with Falk outlining to Nike that MJ had to have his own signature shoe if he were to sign with the brand.
“Go into that meeting not wanting to be there, and Nike made this big pitch,” Jordan said.
“My father said, ‘You’d have to be a fool not taking this deal. This is the best deal.'”
Nike eventually agreed to the deal which included a $250,000 contract.
“Nike’s expectation was at the end of year four they hoped to sell $3 million of Air Jordans,” Falk said. “In year one we sold $126 million.”
Since then, the Air Jordan line has helped propel Nike into one of the most popular sports brands in the world, with Jordan’s brand, according to CBS Sports, earning its first $1 billion quarter in December of 2019.