Nike may be synonymous with basketball now, but back in the 1980s, when Michael Jordan was a fresh-faced rookie, the company didn’t have a significant market share on the court. Converse dominated the game back then. Nike, at the time, had been heavily invested in track sneakers. The company, however, was looking to get in the game, and they believed Jordan could be the guy to help them do it. He, however, wasn’t into it. That is until his mom made him take a meeting.
Converse wasn’t ready to prioritize Michael Jordan
A sneaker deal seemed like a logical step for Jordan once he entered the NBA. All of the greats were working with shoe companies, and even though he was fresh off his rookie year in 1984, the timing seemed right to strike a deal. Converse, the major brand in the game at the time, didn’t go for the idea.
According to footage from The Last Dance, Converse executives told Jordan’s agent, David Falk, that they couldn’t see themselves prioritizing the relatively unknown rookie when they were already working with big names in the game. The sneaker brand, made famous by the iconic Chuck Taylor line, was already working with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Julius Erving. They weren’t interested in taking a shot on someone who, at the time, was considered a wild card.
Jordan wanted to work with Adidas
Jordan, reportedly, was OK with Converse’s decision to pass. He had his eyes set on a different brand, anyway. The Chicago Bulls’ guard wanted to work with Adidas on a shoe line. His agent tried to make it happen, but the company was in a period of upheaval. According to the Netflix documentary, Adidas just couldn’t make a sponsorship with Jordan happen.
The Wall Street Journal, however, suggests that there was more to it than simple upheaval. The publication alleges that Adidas’ missed opportunity came down to Jordan’s height. According to an executive familiar with the deal, top brass at Adidas in the 1980s were concerned that Jordan was too short, and that consumers would be more interested in a sponsorship that featured taller players. They focused their efforts on sponsoring the game’s most notable centers. Jordan is 6’6.
It would take Adidas decades to get another chance at a lucrative collaboration. The shoe purveyor wouldn’t miss another chance. The company is home to the Yeezy line of sneakers, which sell out in minutes. Yeezys are primarily seen as a fashion shoe, though. Adidas still doesn’t dominate the basketball courts.
Michael Jordan’s mom made him take a meeting with Nike
So how did Jordan land at Nike? His mom made him do it. According to Falk, Jordan was completely against the idea of signing with Nike. The company wasn’t known for its basketball sneakers and had done little to enter the market. Falk recalled that Jordan was so adamantly against the idea that he refused to take a meeting. Falk eventually called Jordan’s parents, hoping they could talk him into at least visiting the campus for a pitch.
That’s exactly what led to the deal. Jordan recalled that his mother, Deloris Jordan, told him he should at least take the meeting, so he agreed to fly out to the company’s campus. There he signed a $250,000 deal, and the rest is history. To date, there have been 578 different numbered releases, and the Jordan line of sneakers is the most well-known collaboration in history. A pair of Air Jordan Retro 1s are currently up for auction through Sotheby’s. The auction, which ends at noon on May 17, is expected to break records.