Here’s why Air Jordans almost didn’t exist
Reported by Robert Stitt
It almost seems like a ridiculous proposal; a world without Nike’s Air Jordans, but where Adidas Jordans or Jordan Converse All-Stars reigned supreme. That would be one odd alternate universe, indeed. And, yet, that is what almost happened. In fact, it is what would have happened if young Michael Jordan had gotten his way.
Nike Air Jordans are arguably the most popular sports shoes of all time. Even in a world where today’s youth are somewhat unfamiliar with Michael Jordan as a basketball player, they know the shoe. According to Celebrity NetWorth, those iconic shoes almost did not come into being; Jordan didn’t even wear a pair of Nikes until after he signed his contract with them.
In college, he wore Converse, just like all the players at the University of North Carolina, since the coach got paid by Converse to make sure they did. In 1984, Converse was a huge name in the basketball shoe game and had contracts with legends like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Dr. J. When Jordan approached them about a contract as he was entering the NBA draft, Converse could not offer him, a player with no NBA experience, a better deal that the superstars they already had signed, but they did offer him the same deal: $100,000 each year.
Jordan went to the Olympic games in 1984 and returned with a gold medal, an agent named David Falk, and a desire to sign with the rising shoe brand, Adidas. Falk did not want Jordan to sign with Adidas, since he had great connections with Nike. After a call to Jordan’s parents, the future NBA legend agreed to at least listen to their presentation.
Nike had a brilliant multi-media presentation, but best of all, the unheard of ability for Jordan to customize and tailor his own shoes. After many meetings and dinners, they offered him $500,000 cash each year for five years. At the time, that was the largest shoe endorsement in history. He would also have stock options and other benefits.
Of course, since he had no NBA experience, there were some disclaimers put in. According to Celebrity NetWorth, Nike’s clause said that the contract could be canceled if Jordan did not perform well during the first three years. Performance meant he must do at least one of three things: win Rookie of the Year, become an All-Star, or average 20 points per game. If he didn’t, then “the company could end the deal two years early, unless he sold at least $4 million worth of shoes in his third year, in which he would get the final two years of the deal.”
Even with this amazing offer, Jordan still wanted to sign with Adidas, and showed them his offer. He told them that if they could come close to it, he would sign with them.
Hindsight being 20/20, the company probably would have given him a different answer if they knew that his shoe line would average $3 billion in annual sales for over 30 years. Then again, if he had gone with Adidas, would Jordan have had the flexibility and oversight that Nike gave him to bring the shoe and brand to life?
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