How Nike Air Jordan trainers went from being banned by NBA in 1985 to making $3billion in 2020 – The Sun | The Sun

IN 1984, the perfect marriage began.

Nike, then a struggling sportswear company and not worth a fraction of the $34billion it's said to be worth today, picked Michael Jordan to endorse their trainers.

Incredibly, 38 years later their brand Nike Air Jordan still manages to make $3bn-per-year – and is enjoying a resurgence since the premiere of Netflix documentary The Last Dance.

In fact the very first trainers Jordan wore, the Air Jordan I, fetched a then-world record $552,000 at a 2020 auction at Sotheby's.

Here's how it all began… and it very nearly didn't!



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Fresh out of the University of Carolina, where he starred for the Tar Heels college team, then-rookie Jordan was approached by Nike after being drafted with the Chicago Bulls.

At that point, Nike was most famous for their running shoe – but that business had dwindled in the mid 80s and the company was suffering.

He liked the idea of becoming a global face of Adidas or Converse.

But the latter didn't fancy an unknown, having already snapped up Boston Celtic legend Larry Bird and former LA Lakers star Magic Johnson on huge contracts.

Adidas didn't offer him a deal either, and it was only on the advice of his former agent David Falk and his mother Deloris that Jordan went to see Nike at their Portland HQ.

Speaking on The Last Dance, he said: "My mother said, 'You're going to go listen, you may not like it, but you're going to go listen."


The story goes that Nike's sales pitch didn't enamor Jordan.

Their head designer at that time Peter Moore is said to have shown the NBA legend sketches for the designs of the Air Jordan I trainers, tracksuits, and other sportswear all in black and red.

On being presented with them, Jordan reportedly replied: "I can’t wear that shoe, those are Devil colours."

Never-the-less, Jordan signed a five-year deal worth around $2.4million, with royalties on top.

He was prepared to take a dance with the devil.


It was the trainer that kick-started the revolution. Going against the trend, the Air Jordan I featured bold black and red styling and caused controversy.

The NBA banned it – insisting footwear on the court had to be white. But Jordan didn't listen, continuing to wear them whenever he turned out at the Chicago Stadium.

That resulted in fines of up to £4000-per-game, but Nike were happy to pay that off.

It gave their shoes the best publicity they could hope for, and at $65 they were flying off the shelf – selling $144million-worth in the first year.

Famously, Jordan wore the red and black shoe when he scored 63 points against Bird's Celtics.

Rapper Nas explained in The Last Dance: "For a kid, it was almost like owning a lightsaber, from Star Wars, you needed that shoe to be like him.

"It was more than a status symbol—you knew that this guy was the guy."


Sports first-ever billionaire, Michael is still raking it in from the Nike Air Jordan.

Since the launch of Air Jordan I, Nike produced a further 33 pairs of trainers. In 2019, the brand had a resurgence – making an astonishing $3bn worldwide.

Jordan's cut of that was around $145m – four times as much as LeBron James earns with his Nike sponsorship deal – that's 17-years after he retired from basketball.

In his final game for the Bulls at Madison Square Garden 1998, the home of NY Knicks and where Jordan loved playing, Jordan wore the original pair of Air Jordan I trainers from his debut season.

They were a size too small and cut his feet, but that didn't deter him from leading the Bulls to a 102-89 win, while finishing the game on 42 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

It was a fitting send-off for the man, and his legendary trainer.

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