Air Jordan is a brand of sneakers and clothing produced by Nike and founded in Chicago. As the name suggests, the brand was created and directly inspired by hall of fame basketball player Michael Jordan.
The Air Jordan brand is currently in a position where it only competes with itself. If you watch any basketball game, you can bet that more than half the players will be in Jordans. Furthermore, Jordans slowly but surely grew into a fashion brand and eventually became the most coveted sneakers for fashion-savvy young people the world over.
The first Jordans
The first Air Jordans were designed and made by Nike for Michael Jordan exclusively in 1984. The sneakers were later released to the public in 1985. Tinker Hatfield, Bruce Kilgore, and Peter Moore were Nike’s leading designers for the project.
The NBA’s color standards
The NBA banned Michael from wearing those first Air Jordans on the court because they did not meet the league’s color standards. Such a setback would have frustrated most sneaker companies. Fortunately for Jordan, Nike was not like most companies. After paying the fine, it started marketing the sneakers in a widespread campaign telling the public that the NBA couldn’t stop them from wearing them.
The campaign was massively successful and led to Air Jordan’s success. Some even believe it had something to do with the removal of the NBA color standards for sneakers.
Making serious money from sneakers
Nike signed a sneaker deal with the then young NBA star Michael Jordan in 1984. Under the agreement, Michael owned the Jordan brand, while Nike owned the sneaker’s production. However, the company was uncertain whether the public would warm up to the sneakers and is on record saying that it ‘hopes the little kids will pick it up in a New York Times article from the same year.
Nike was pleasantly surprised when ‘the little kids’ picked the sneakers up so massively that the brand had made $100 million worth of sneakers just one year into the public release.
By 1997, the brand had grown so big that Nike decided to market it as a whole separate brand. Air Jordan was now making clothing, sneakers, and sportswear.
As a result, Michael Jordan’s cut of the profits from the Air Jordan brand grew to more than $1.3 billion by 2021, making it the most lucrative sports endorsement in history. However, it is also quite a bargain considering that the Air Jordan brand turned Nike over from an underdog in the sneaker business in the 80s to virtually monopolizing it in the 21st century.
The impact of the Air Jordan brand on both Nike and Michael Jordan
Before the Jordan acquisition, Adidas had 50% more revenue than Nike; Reebok was a newcomer that would later surpass Nike in 1987, and Converse was untouchable as the default basketball sneakers manufacturer.
As a matter of fact, Michael wore converse sneakers throughout his time playing for the University of North California. Jordan was also supposed to be made by Adidas. However, the deal fell through once the company failed to agree to his demands. He then settled for the smaller company, Nike, which begged him to hear its pitch.
David Falk’s contribution to the brand
The deal was $500,000 a year for five years, tripling any other basketball deal of the time. Michael had his agent, David Falk, who was close with Nike for the offer. David was also responsible for coining the ‘Air Jordan’ phrase and several other details that define the brand to date.
Nike’s turning point
After the Air Jordans’ success, Nike realized that the basketball sneakers market carried a lot of potential. As a result, the company signed sneaker deals with almost every basketball superstar of the 90s and 2000s, including Lebron James and Kobe Bryant. These basketball sneakers were all a huge success and led to the company’s domination of the industry.
By 2021, Nike, including the Jordan brand, held 86% of the basketball market share, while 70% of NBA players wore Nike or Jordan sneakers in the 2019-2020 season.
Jordan’s cultural influence
Outside the court, Air Jordan quickly became a fashion must-have. Basketball was, and still is, a popular sport in the 90s, and Michael Jordan was the king of basketball. As a result, people started wearing Jordans off-court as a fashion statement. The brand was also lucky to be setting off at the same time as gangster rap music.
Jordan’s influence on gangster rap
At the time, there were not many shoes inspired or named after African American icons, making Jordans an instant favorite for rappers who were predominantly black. Gangster rap saw massive success in the 90s, carrying Air Jordans with it.
The relationship between hip-hop was so tight that there’s hardly a hip-hop video from the era that you can’t spot a pair of ‘Jays’ in. To date, Jordans is the brand of sneakers that has appeared in most music videos, its influence even crossing boundaries from hip-hop to other genres like RnB and house music.
Additionally, some of the most iconic rappers of all time, including 2pac, Nas, Jayz, and even Drake, have made Air Jordan references in their lyrics. There are also countless chart-topping hip-hop songs about Jordans.
Jordan’s influence on sneaker collection
When the first Jordans were released in 1985, sneakers were nothing more than sportswear. However, with Nike’s designers, sneakers became a fashion necessity, growing into the most fashionable shoes in the 21st century. The entry of sneakers into the fashion market allowed Nike to sell them at what would have otherwise been outrageous prices to an eagerly willing market.
Air Jordan soon started making limited editions of their sneakers which later led to the sneaker collection culture. However, the limited editions were so valuable that the people who bought them rarely wore them and often kept them for later resale as their value was guaranteed to rise.
As we’ve established, Nike indeed owns Jordan. However, the Jordan brand is so strong on its own that it’s independent of Nike’s influence.