Jumpmania: The Best Air Jordan Marketing Campaigns in History
The 2018-19 NBA season is here, and the release of the Air Jordan 33 is only a day away, so we figured what better excuse to trawl through old Jordan clips on YouTube than to compile a look back at the best Air Jordan marketing campaigns of the past 33 years. From 'banned' sneakers to toon team-ups, the Jumpman has been attached to some of the most memorable campaigns in the game, so read on for our top picks!
Air Jordan 1 — 'Banned' (1985)
The NBA didn't take too kindly to the uncharacteristically dark appearance of Michael Jordan's Nike footwear worn in the preseason of his debut year in the league. They slugged him with a hefty fine for breaching the 'uniformity of uniform' rule, but Nike weren't going to accept failure and retreat. Instead, they turned the controversy into one of the greatest marketing campaigns in all of sneaker history, famously paying Jordan's fines each and every game as he continued to wear the black and red sneakers — or so the story goes. Nike spread Jordan's rebellious image through a series of commercials, making sure the public knew all about the ban. The 'Banned' campaign would be resurrected again and again, most recently for the release of the Air Jordan XXXI 'Banned'.
While the legend has long been attached to the Air Jordan 1, largely in part to the marketing campaign, it wasn't actually the Air Jordan 1 that attracted the attention of the NBA — it was the Nike Air Ship! Bravo, Nike, on creating one of the greatest marketing campaigns in history off the back of an urban legend. Now, bring us a 'Banned' Air Ship retro — stat!
Air Jordan 5 — 'Is it the Shoes?' (1990)
In 1986, acclaimed film director Spike Lee released his breakout feature film, She's Gotta Have It? In addition to writing, directing, editing and producing the smash-hit flick, Lee also made a cameo as wise-crackin', Jordan-rockin' Brooklynite Mars Blackmon. In response to his prolific on-screen endorsement of Nike's newest star athlete, the team over at the Swoosh officially hired Lee to revive his Blackmon character for a series of commercials throughout the late 80s and early 90s — not to mention countless items of tie-in merchandise. Each and every commercial was memorable, but the most iconic is undoubtedly the 'Is it the Shoes?' campaign devised for the Air Jordan 5. Blackmon questions what makes Jordan the 'best player in the universe', before concluding 'it's gotta be the shoes!' His Airness denied his then-current sneaker, the Air Jordan 5, had anything to do with with his success, but that didn't stop Nike from tacking on a disclaimer that 'Mr. Jordan's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Nike, Inc'. Nice save, Nike!
Air Jordan 7 — 'Hare Jordan' (1992)
Did you think that Space Jam was the first time Jordan teamed up with the Looney Tunes? Think again! In 1992, with Michael the hottest property in the NBA, Nike forked out the big bucks for an Air Jordan Super Bowl spot and recruited an equally high-profile star for a cameo: Bug Bunny. The minute-long advertisement featured Bugs recruiting Jordan to help with some pesky ballers disturbing his rest, utilising the same blend of real-world footage and 2D animation that would form the basis of Space Jam. MJ wore the 'Bordeaux' Air Jordan 7s in the commercial, while Bugs laced up in the white/off-white pair that would go on to be known as the 'Hare' AJ7s, after Bugs' self-appointed nickname in the commercial. The campaign was accompanied by print ads, official Looney Tunes Jordan apparel, posters, and even promotional Air Jordan 7s made to fit Bugs' whopping feet! Bugs and Jordan would team up again in 1993 to save the world's sneakerheads from Marvin the Martian and, of course, in 1996 to save the Looney Tunes in Space Jam.
Air Jordan 11 — '100-Foot Hoop' (1995)
Can an Air Jordan commercial still be impressive without a single line of dialogue? The answer, quite simply, is yes! The mid-90s was a difficult time in Jordan's life. On July 23, 1993, just over a month after MJ secured the Bulls' third-straight Finals win, his father, James R. Jordan Sr., was shot dead while he napped on the side of US Highway 74. In response, Jordan stepped away from the NBA and attempted to make a name for himself in professional baseball as a debt of gratitude to his late-father. It seemed like the GOAT's basketball career was done and dusted — and even Nike believed so, turning the AJ10 into something of a tribute to his career accomplishments — but it seems his love for the game was too strong. On March 18, 1995, Jordan hit us with the news we had all been waiting for. Through two simple words delivered by his business manager David B. Falk, Jordan announced his return to the NBA and his beloved Chicago Bulls — 'I'm back.'
Jordan returned to the court the very next day, on March 19, wearing the #45 and spent the rest of the 1994-95 NBA season brushing up on his skills. Once the rust had been stripped away, the old Jordan began to shine brighter than ever — and he had equally shiny shoes to match! MJ debuted the patent-leather Air Jordan 11 in the 1995 Playoffs, and the accompanying Nike commercial was rather poignant in contrast to the earlier Air Jordan commercials. Jordan charges down the court with a 100-foot high hoop ahead of him. Overcoming seemingly impossible odds, Jordan slam dunks the ball through the hoop. All without a single word spoken. The commercial wasn't completely devoid of humour, however. With hands still clutching the hoop, MJ looks sheepishly at the camera, questioning how exactly he's going to get down. Brilliant!
Air Jordan XX3 — 'Maybe It’s My Fault’ (2008)
With the number 23 representing Jordan’s player number throughout most of his career — except when prevented by circumstance — the Air Jordan XX3 was always going to be a very special release. Jordan Brand certainly didn’t disappoint, releasing arguably the most beautiful Jay of Jordan’s retirement — even to this day! The shoe stood out from other basketball sneakers of the time due to its mature design, created in collaboration by Tinker Hatfield and Mark Smith. Jordan Brand put out an equally sophisticated marketing campaign to go along with the release, which took a surprisingly apologetic tone. In a moment of seeming self-realisation, Jordan opens the commercial by claiming ‘Maybe it’s my own fault’, before reeling off the achievements of his career that raised the bar for the generation to follow. At the end of the commercial, however, Jordan changes his tone from apologetic to inspiring, claiming ‘or maybe you’re just making excuses’. The screen cuts to black and the words ‘Become Legendary’ appear on screen, filling us with all the motivation we needed to drop whatever we were doing and hit some hoops right then and there. Now that’s how you inspire a generation!