We all know of the "Jumpman" logo that laces the world-renowned "Air Jordan" Brand. Today, "Air Jordan" is worth 2.1 billion dollars and is one of the premier basketball brands on the market.
But do you know how it all got started? The photo, the name, the brand, it was all inspired by Michael Jeffrey Jordan -- who was actually an Adidas guy growing up. In an article by "Ball is Life," David Astramskas detailed how early negotiations involved Jordan going to Adidas twice before finally inking his new deal with Nike.
Michael Jordan grew up wearing Converse kicks like his idol David Thompson. He played at North Carolina in Converse kicks. He played in the Olympics with Converse kicks. But when it was time for the NBA rookie to sign a shoe deal, he wanted to be an Adidas man.
At that time, Adidas was more focused on an international market and didn’t have much interest in basketball players. So he visited Nike and they offered him a Vito Corleone deal most would have thought would be too hard to pass up. Instead of signing right away, Jordan went back to Adidas and said if you can come anywhere close to this deal then I’m yours. They passed and Nike won the lottery that day…although it would take a while for them to realize it.
When Mike finally did finalize his deal with Nike, they got to work making him his own signature shoe (which was a part of the deal). The story of the "Air Jordan" name and its original logo is actually quite interesting.
Of course, the logo would evolve to feature the famous silhouette we know of today. As per the theme of this story, the origins of that iconic photo was not their original intention.
The design team in charge of creating the Jordan brand was led by Peter Moore. Peter came across a photo of Jordan in “Life” Magazine showing him wearing his Olympic jumpsuit and soaring towards a rim with a pair of New Balance shoes on his feet. Since they couldn’t use the image, they decided to recreate the moment on a studio set with Jordan wearing his Bulls colors. One of the pictures captured was Jordan doing a ballet move, not a dunk. That graceful picture was not only worth a thousand words but eventually billions of dollars.
Funnily enough, Jordan wasn't even dunking in that photo. The team wanted to capture Mike in the air and decided that was worth more than him actually dunking the ball. In a 1997 interview with HOOP magazine, he recalled doing the famous pose.
“I wasn’t even dunking on that one. People think that I was. I just stood on the floor, jumped up and spread my legs and they took the picture.
I wasn’t even running. Everyone thought I did that by running and taking off. Actually, it was a ballet move where I jumped up and spread my legs. And I was holding the ball in my left hand.”
Despite being one of the most expensive and sought-after sneakers in history today, the original "Air Jordan I" did not do very well. In fact, they did so poorly the shoes were being put on the clearance rack. Not even the league was a fan, and they actually banned the shoe for being too "vibrant."
When it was time for MJ to step onto an NBA court with his new sneakers, the NBA wasn’t a fan of the look and on October 18, the NBA banned the Air Jordan I from being worn because the sneaker’s color was too vibrant for shoe regulations. Jordan being Jordan, even as a young Jordan, still wore the Air Jordan I’s and was fined $5,000 a game for his actions.
The sneakers weren’t so popular with consumers either. The original Jordans were a hard sell at $65 and ended up on clearance racks for as low as $20 (if only time machines existed).
With all this, the relationship between Jordan and the company was beginning to sour, and designer Tim Hatfield was called in to help reinvent the brand.
He made the "Jumpman" photo the main logo and also drastically changed the design of the next shoe. Matt Halfhill of "Nice Kicks" detailed the next series of events:
An architect and budding footwear designer by the name of Tinker Hatfield was called in to work with MJ to work with him to better the relationship with Nike. While in the sketch phase and before any samples had been produced, Tinker Hatfield saw the image of the Air Jordan 1 photoshoot and a bulb went off.
The Air Jordan 3 was revolutionary like many of Tinker’s designs. It was the first mid-cut basketball shoe, it was the first to incorporate a lifestyle texture of elephant print, it was the first to feature Nike’s Air cushioning in a visible manner, and most notably, the first Air Jordan to feature the Jumpman logo which was placed on the tongue.
The rest is history. As the years passed, Air Jordan only grew in worth and popularity. Today, it's one of the top-tier basketball brands in the world.
But the story of how it all came to be may be one of the most interesting out there and just goes to show that not every success story starts at the top.