Phil Knight famously proclaimed that he wasn’t in the shoe business – he was in the entertainment business. Luckily for Phil, when Nike signed Michael Jordan in 1984 they secured the greatest entertainer the NBA has ever seen. That landmark deal has since become basketball folklore. Nike agreed to pay the rookie player a vertiginous $500,000 per year – plus stock options! Fine print stipulated that Nike could walk away if sales didn’t reach the ambitious total of $4 million by the end of the third year.
Fuelled by MJ’s charisma and effortless showmanship, cash registers racked up over $70 million in sales just two months after the ﬁrst Jordan shoe was released in 1985. If basketball is deﬁned by statistics, the numbers on these boards may just be the most impressive of Jordan’s career.
The ‘Air Jordan’ brand would go on to become the most inﬂuential partnership in the history of basketball – and sneaker culture. Endorsed by the hood, MJ embodied the spirit of the nascent hip hop generation. As each new Jordan model released, layers of mythology and product storytelling added cultural depth to the brand. By precisely engineering supply and demand, Nike continues to orchestrate Jumpman hysteria to the tune of $3 billion annually.