The role of Michael Jordan's shoes brand “Air Jordan” in the rise of Nike as a shoe giant

NBA legend Michael Jordan debuting his Air Jordan shoes
NBA legend Michael Jordan debuting his Air Jordan shoes

Michael Jordan’s shoe brand “Air Jordan” completely revolutionized the shoe industry and helped turn Nike into a mega-brand.

At the time that Jordan was drafted Nike wasn’t even the most dominant brand in the previous decade. Brands such as Adidas and Converse were far more common. However, Jordan’s iconic shoes quickly helped Nike rise to the top of the market. Here’s how it happened.

Prior to Michael Jordan, Nike had positioned itself as a brand for track athletes. However, they made the decision to offer Jordan a marketing deal outside of college with the goal of expanding their basketball influence. The deal was worth $500,000 per year for five years, three times as much as any other sneaker deal at the time.

It was Michael Jordan’s agent David Falk who came up with the iconic Air Jordan name during marketing pitches. Nike’s creative director at the time, Peter Moore, then designed the ball-and-wings logo. He also picked the famous red, black and white colors for the sneakers. Tricolored sneakers were not common at the time.

The debut of Michael Jordan's Air Jordan sneakers

Michael Jordan debuting his Air Jordan shoes
Michael Jordan debuting his Air Jordan shoes

On Oct. 18, 1984, in a preseason game against the New York Knicks, Michael Jordan wore Nike’s black and red "Air Ships" shoes. The shoes were customized with "Air Jordan" on the sneakers.

The colorway broke the NBA’s old "uniformity of uniform" rule. This required all players to wear matching sneakers and uniforms. The shoes were later banned by the NBA, but Jordan continued to wear them and pay a fine.

However, Jordan didn’t debut his own Air Jordans until November 17, 1984, in a regular-season game vs the Philadelphia 76ers. His first official Jordans were white and red with a black swoosh and black laces. The colors matched the Bulls' white jersey with red stripes, and would later be known as the "Chicago" colorway.

Nike later took advantage of Jordan’s original shoe ban in their marketing, though, as they pretended it was the Air Jordans that got banned. This led to commercials hyping up the shoes as the next big thing that the NBA could not handle. The ads even had censors covering the colors of the shoes to play along with the idea that they were forbidden.

“On Oct. 15, Nike created a revolutionary new basketball shoe. On Oct. 18, the NBA threw them out of the game. Fortunately, the NBA can’t keep you from wearing them. Air Jordans. From Nike,” one ad said.

Ads like these quickly led the Air Jordans to be perceived as revolutionary as well as a bold fashion statement.

Michael Jordan wore his shoes throughout his rookie season. He occasionally wore the red and white colorway. However, it was the red and black colorway, which later became known as the "banned" edition, that were most popular.


Nike’s financial success

Nike's logo and slogan
Nike's logo and slogan

Nike later officially released the first Air Jordan sneakers to the public on April 1, 1985, at a retail price of $65. They hoped to sell 100,000 pairs in the first year, however, they ended up selling 450,000 pairs in the first month. Nike also projected sales to reach $3 million by the fourth year of Jordan’s contract. However, sales reached a total of $30 million in test markets alone after a month.

By the end of the first year of its release, Air Jordan had brought in total revenue of $126 million. In contrast, Nike had brought in $65 million in total revenue the year prior.

Overall, the Air Jordan 1s became a cultural phenomenon appealing to people of all ages and social classes. As Michael Jordan grew in popularity and success, so did his iconic shoe brand. Nike then continued to produce new Air Jordan shoe models year after year. The now iconic “Jumpman” logo later made its first appearance on the Air Jordan IIIs.

Nike went on to grow from an underdog to a market leader in sportswear, with a stronghold in basketball. As of 2020, Nike had an 86% market share of the performance basketball market with 77% of NBA players wearing either Nike or Jordan shoes. Today Nike now has an estimated net worth of over $150 billion.

For more on the rise of Air Jordan, click here.

You can also check out some rankings of Air Jordan shoe models here and here.


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Edited by Arnav Kholkar