Wednesday, January 30, 2008

History of the Air Jordan

The Air Jordan is a brand of Nike basketball shoe named after Michael Jordan. Jordan signed an endorsement deal with Nike in 1984. Today, Air Jordans are generally classified by their release and model: Originals (OG), Retros, Retro+’s, Samples. Air Jordans are worn and endorse by athletes such Roy Jones Jr and Carmelo Anthony. The company started to break ground in 1985 with the release of the Air Jordan I.

Early in 1984, Nike was a struggling shoe company. The running shoe phenomenon that has fueled their sales in previous years was slowly dying and they needed a way to revitalize and reinvent themselves in order to appeal to another segment of the market. At the same time, rookie player Michael Jordan was already endorsing several products, but Nike hoped that his appeal would generate sales. Jordan, though, had other ideas. He had always preferred Adidas or the Converse shoes endorsed by North Carolina Coach, Dean Smith, and hoped to sign on with either company. Converse, with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson on board as spokesmen, were not interested in offering a better deal than Nike, and Adidas wasn’t interested at all at the time; perhaps due to Kathe Dassler’s death the same year. While Jordan, himself, did not initially see the significance of Nike’s offer, his agent, David Falk, saw a golden opportunity in Nike’s offer to create a new line of shoes called “Air Jordans.” and urged him to give Nike a chance.

At that time, there was not a tremendous impact from a shoe endorsement, and few companies were willing to risk so much of their marketing budget to bet on one athlete to promote their products. An athlete as paid for wearing the products but little else resulted from an endorsement.It’s possible that Jordan’s reluctant attitude stemmed from this fact as much as his allegiance to Converse and Adidas products.

Nike saw something special in Michael Jordan, though. They saw a chance, an opportunity. He was a champion with personality, charisma, and heart, and they were willing to put the company on the line. They knew from the beginning that he would be a star and wanted to help him get therer. Finally, after much persuasion from his manager and parents, the reluctant rookie agreed to fly to the Nike headquarters in Portland, Oregon to view a special video presentation and proposal though he later stated in retrospect that he went with no intention of signing with Nike.

The video presentation featured slow-motion clips of Jordan’s college career and some of his high-flying Olympic moves with a background of then hit music “Jump” by the Pointer Sisters. Nike Head Designer, Peter Moore presented sketches of AJ1 shoes, jumpsuits, and sports apparel, all in black and red. Michael’s remarks upon seeing the designs were less than enthusiastic. He is reported to have said,

“I can’t wear that shoe, those are Devil colors”

Throughout the entire meeting Jordan was reported to seem disinterested and bored, but as he and Falk left the meeting, Jordan said to his agent, “Let’s make the deal.”

With those four words, the Air Jordan legacy was born. Nike signed Jordan to a $2.5 million deal for 5 years, plus royalties and other fringe benefits. Peter Moore created the first AJ Logo with a basketball with wings lifting it. The introduction of the Air Jordan I turned the athletic shoe industry upside down. Before the AJ I, most basketball shoes were white, but the bold black and red styling of the Jordan I flouted this convention. The NBA banned the shoe from the league in response, but Jordan wore them anyway, racking up serious fines of up to $5000 a game. Nike, of course, was more than happy to pay these to keep the shoes on Jordan’s feet and in the public eye. All this controversy and Jordan’s spectacular numbers that year served to put the Air Jordan line on the road to becoming a household name.

After winning 1986-87 Slam Dunk competition at Seattle Colliseum, the Jordan logo changed to the familiar Jumpman logo of today, but when it came time to talk about the Air Jordan III, Michael was ready to bolt. Reaction to the Air Jordan II, due in part to the high retail price, hadn’t been stellar and designers Peter Moore and Rob Strasser had left Nike to start their own company. They began to court Jordan, hoping to develop the business around him This was a turning point for the line; a make-it-or-break-it moment. It was at this time that Tinker Hatfield stepped in to help the struggling shoe line. Immediately, Hatfield did something completely new and unheard of. His first instinct was to sit down and talk with Michael one on one and ask for his input about the design. Hatfield has stated that this was a very tense time. No one had ever approached the business of designing a shoe like this and Jordan had never had anyone ask his opinion until that time. Ultimately, though, it was the good advice of Michael’s father that saw it through. It’s reported that he advised his son to staty with the people who had done a good job for him. Eventually the process of designing the shoes and matching apparal drew Jordan in and helped reinforce his commitment to Nike. At Jordan’s request, the Air Jordan III was a three-quarter cut basketball shoe made of high quality, lighter than average materials. This non-standard approach to the process of designing basketball shoes led the Air Jordan III to rocket off the charts with its popularity, and Tinker went on to design all the Jordan models up to the Jordan XV. With the release of the Air Jordan XV and Jordan’s second retirement, both Hatfield and Jordan stepped back from the Jordan line and other designers took the reigns to continue to the legacy.

Air Jordan Shoes were a part of the Nike, Inc. family until late in 1997 Nike unveiled a new marketing plan and Jordan became its own sub-brand of Nike. To mark this change, the new Jordan Brand released the Air Jordan XIII, Air Jordan Team, and Air Jordan Trainers. From this point on, Jordan Brand products no longer featured the Nike name or Nike Swoosh, and their only connection to Nike,Inc is a fine print address for Nike headquarters to be used for insurance purposes.

Air Jordan shoes have consistently been among the best selling basketball shoes since their creation in 1985. The Jordan brand is a household name and people of all ages and social strata line up eagerly for the release of the latest model. Some of this success can be attributed to the fact that the shoes, from the Jordan III to the most recent model, have always started with their namesake, Michael Jordan. The designers take his ideas, hobbies, and life into account and incorporate these feelings into the shoes. A number of Jordans have been designed after Jordan’s cars and some of the more recent models, like the the Jordan XXI (Jordan 21) on the way, some wonder when the Air Jordan line will be retired while others speculate that, in honor of the man, the last Air Jordan will be the Jordan XXIII (Jordan 23). No matter what happens to the signature Air Jordan line, it’s a good bet that the brand and its tradition of quality, high-fashion basketball and athletic shoes will continue long after Air Jordans have retired.


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