Jordan’s association with Nike is the single most iconic in sports history, with the Chicago Bulls legend becoming the face of Nike’s revolutionary new “Air Jordan” line.
But things could have turned out very differently, as he explained during the fifth episode of the ESPN/Netflix documentary, “The Last Dance.”
Jorden explained that he wasn’t too interested in the prospect of meeting with Nike execs to discuss a potential shoe deal, because he had his heart set on signing with the “Brand With The Three Stripes,” Adidas.
It took his mother’s insistence for him to jump on a plane and meet with Nike execs, who said they would push him as the No. 1 athlete, just like he had hoped.
“My mother said, ‘You’re gonna go listen. You may not like it, but you’re gonna go listen,'” Jordan explained.
“She made me get on that plane and go listen.”
Jordan harbored desires to rock the three stripes on court, as he felt Adidas was the more premier brand at the time.
However, Adidas execs didn’t see Jordan as the premier athlete to tie to their brand, as they told him he wouldn’t be their No. 1 priority athlete, and they would not give him his own shoe.
The other big-name player in the basketball sneaker game, Converse, also showed no interest in making Jordan their figurehead.
It meant Nike’s pitch was clearly the best available and, at his father’s insistence, he took the deal, which saw him become the world’s biggest name in sneakers.
“Go into that meeting not wanting to be there, and Nike made this big pitch,” Jordan recalled.
“My father said, ‘You’d have to be a fool not taking this deal. This is the best deal.”
It proved to be the best deal for Nike, too. With Jordan as their figurehead athlete, Nike smashed their projected sales targets.
The Swoosh brand had hoped to sell $3 million worth of shoes in the first four years, but with Jordan’s name on their sneakers, they sold $126 million in the very first year.