No other athlete in the history of pro sports is an icon the way Michael Jordan is an icon, so it’s only fitting that no other signature shoe or brand is as iconic as Air Jordans. These kicks are the most popular shoe of all time. People spend thousands of dollars collecting them, and every time there is a release (or re-release) people camp out in front of malls all across the world to get a pair.
But as popular as these shoes are, how much do you really know about them? If you answered “not that much I guess,” then this list is for you. It’s part trivia, part history, and part attempt to get ridiculed for my ignorance by experts who know a hell of a lot more about Jordans than I do. Have a look. You’ll either learn something or laugh at my lack of encyclopedic knowledge of Jordans.
When Michael Jordan signed on with his superagent David Falk, basketball players didn’t get “signature” products. Kareem was getting $100,000 from Adidas, and James Worthy got an 8-year, $1.2 million deal with New Balance, but nobody had an entire product line named after them.
You know who did have product lines named after them? Tennis players. So that’s what Falk was going for. He wanted shoe companies to treat his future basketball superstar like a tennis player.
I’d say the shoe is on the other foot today.
The only brand that comes to mind when you hear the name “Michael Jordan” is Nike. Well, that, and maybe Hanes. But certainly not Adidas. However, old-school MJ loved Adidas. In fact, he even called himself an “Adidas Nut.” So when he left UNC, he told his agent that if a deal with Adidas was possible he’d take it.
So was there such a deal? Yes, there was. Adidas offered Jordan $500,000, which was twice what Nike offered. But then Jordan’s agent, David Falk, got Nike to do something no one had ever done: include a percentage of the revenues in the deal. So Jordan signed with Nike, and the rest is history.
Back in 1984, when Jordan signed his deal with Nike, it was considered difficult to market an African-American athlete, especially for a team sport. For that reason, Nike worked an out-clause into their contract: if Air Jordans didn’t earn Nike $3 million in the first 3 years, or if Jordan didn’t make the NBA All-Star Game in his first three years, then Nike could dump him.
Of course, those concerns proved laughable. Jordan made the All-Star game, and his shoe made Nike $130 million in 1985 alone. Now, when they re-release vintage Jordans, people riot.
When Jordan was first shown sketches of his signature shoe, which were red and black, he reportedly said, “I can’t wear that shoe. Those are the devil colors.” However, the devil to which he was referring was not Satan. The former UNC Tar Heel just had a problem wearing shoes the color of his school’s main rival at the time: NC State.
Of course, Mike eventually got over his problems with the black and red scheme…
When Michael Jordan was a rookie, the NBA had very strict rules about the color of players’ shoes. Specifically, there had to be white in them.
Well, guess what: the Jordans that Jordan wore every single night were red and black. So the league fined him $5,000 every time he stepped onto the court in them—and Nike footed the bill and used the whole situation to gain more publicity.
Who came up with the great ball-and-wings logo? That would be Nike designer Peter Moore, the guy responsible for designing the Air Jordan Is and Air Jordan IIs. It was a kind of spur of the moment design, hastily sketched out.
It didn’t take long for Air Jordans to make brand history at Nike. The Air Jordan II, designed by Moore and Bruce Kilgore, was the first Nike shoe ever to not feature the iconic swoosh logo. It was a huge gamble at the time. Nike was sacrificing brand identity for the sake of pure design, betting that the name of their emerging superstar would be enough to carry the shoe.
Of course, Jordan actually preferred the Jordan I, wearing the Jordan II in only 18 games.
When Peter Moore quit Nike in 1987, Tinker Hatfield took over the Jordan line and “saved” it. Apparently Jordan was ready to leave Nike after the Jordan II, but Hatfield’s design for the Jordan III—featuring the visible air bubble on the heals, tumbled (i.e., textured) leather, a faux elephant skin look, and, most importantly, the new “jumpman” logo instead of the winged ball—convinced MJ to stay at Nike.
Of course, the jumpman logo was actually designed by Moore. But he never thought to make it the primary logo. Hatfield did, and that proved to be an excellent decision.
Until Air Jordans came along, the sports shoe market wasn’t “luxurious.” Sneakers were practical and rarely something anyone would lust after. But then came Jordan I with it’s $65 price tag, the made-in-Italy Jordan II, and the tumbled leather Jordan III. All of a sudden, sneakers were fancy and luxurious, and a whole new market was born.
Thanks for making my sneakers to expensive, Mike!
For the Air Jordan V, designer Tinker Hatfield wanted to make the shoe flashier than ever. Thus, he put a reflective material from 3M on the tongue, as Nike had previously done one of their running shoes, and MJ’s shoes glittered and flashed under the arena lights and camera flashes.
During the 1991 NBA Finals against the Lakers, Jordan injured his foot. The Bulls trainers asked him if he wanted a special shoe to help protect the foot and reduce the pain, or if he wanted his Jordan VIs. Jordan told them he’d take the pain.
He averaged 31.2 points per game and won his first NBA Championship.
In 1992, Jordan and Nike took a big risk by make a Super Bowl commercial featuring Jordan and Bugs Bunny playing against a group of Martians. I mean, really, MJ and Bugs? Is that a winning combination? Well, nike thought so, and they even worked a Bugs Bunny version of the jumpman logo into some of their apparel.
Of course, the campaign was well-received and it spawned a hugely successful movie: Space Jam. It was cross-promotional marketing gold.
You’d think that, after a while, MJ might have deferred to the expertise of the designer that made Jordans what they are. However, Jordan wanted the shoe the way he wanted it. And when Hatfield came to Mike with the final design for Jordan Xs, he didn’t like the strip of leather across the toe. So he made Hatfield make the changes, and the end result had no strip across the toe.
When Mike retired from basketball the first time, the head honchos at Nike wanted Tinker Hatfield to mothball the Air Jordan line and work on other things. However, Hatfield knew that (a) the Air Jordan line was now bigger than the player himself, and that (b) MJ would probably be back. So he kept going, producing Jordan IXs.
Could you imagine if Hatfield had listened to them?
Tinker Hatfield said that the futuristic patent leather wrapping around the bottom of the shoe was inspired by a lawnmower he once saw. How? In what sense? I have no idea. He said it had something to do with the way the lower part of the mower was beautiful and yet sturdy and protective…but, um, I still don’t see this classic shoe (maybe the most popular Jordans ever?) as a lawnmower.
Hatfield gave Jordan a sample pair of Jordan XIs during the 1995 playoffs. Jordan loved them. Hatfield told him not to wear them, because they weren’t finalized and wouldn’t go on sale for another four months. Jordan wore them anyway. Sneaker fans wen nuts.
In 1997, Air Jordan XIIIs were released. However, for the first time, they weren’t Nikes. They were Air Jordans. The line of shoes started by Nike in 1985 had become it’s own brand (owned by Nike). And this changed the aspirations of athletes and the way they think about themselves. They no longer were just guys who played sports. They were living, breathing “brands”…or at least potential brands.
Of course, to this day, despite their best efforts, no one else has quite become a brand in the way Jordan has. But hey, LeBron still has time.
On March 8, 1998, with Jordan knowing his second retirement was coming soon, he decided to commemorate his last appearance at Madison Square Garden by busting out an original pair of Air Jordan Is. They were a bit small, since his feet had grown a size sine 1985, but he still scored 47 points. Cause, you know, he’s Jordan.
The Chicago Bulls had an interesting decision to make when creating the state of Jordan that sits outside the United Center in Chicago: what Jordans should Jordan be wearing? The decision they made was appropriate. Jordan (the statue) was wearing the only Jordan (the shoe) that Jordan (the person) never wore as a Chicago Bull: Jordan IXs.
When Air Jordans debuted in 1985 they cost $65. That was an outrageous price for pain of sneakers back then, and today that’s the equivalent of about $136. However, Air Jordans took the price of sneakers to yet another level in 2002 when the XVIIs became the first to retail for $200.
Of course, they did come in a metal briefcase, which was nice.
Jordan XIXs were inspired by the Black Mamba snake (not Kobe Bryant). So the obvious advertising campaign would have featured this snake. However, Michael Jordan is apparently deathly afraid of snakes, so they had to tone things down a bit so as not to freak out the CEO of the company.
If you purchased a pair of XXI, you were in for a real treat: inscribed on the shoes was a secret message. The only problem was that, to see this message, you needed to put the shoes under a black light.
So what did it say? Well, out of respect for the people who actually paid $175 for the shoes and another $50 for a black light just to find out, I’m going to tell you. But I will say this: it does not lead to buried treasure.
If you’re a Jordan fanatic (and, frankly, if you’ve gotten this far, you probably are) then you know that Jordans always come out on a Saturday. But why is that? After all, movies come out on Fridays, and albums usually come out on Tuesdays. Why would shoes come out on the weekend?
Well, the answer is actually obvious: they don’t want kids skipping school to get them. Because, you know, spending $200 of your parent’s hard-earned money is fine, but good heavens don’t skip school.