It’s Gotta Be The Shoes: How Nike bet on Jordan, Jordan bet on Nike and both won. Big.


It seems like another world now — like discussing Pompeii or prohibition — but there was a time when Nike was just another struggling shoe company. In 1983, Nike had revenues of less than $1 million.

In 1984, Nike signed Michael Jordan.

Today, Nike owns the basketball shoe market. Owns it. When you factor in all the Nike brands — Nike, Jordan, Converse — you are talking nearly 95 percent of the basketball shoe market. And the Jordan Brand remains the biggest seller by far.

Michael Jordan turns 50 this weekend and yet his legacy and his shoes are such that when you talk to players coming out of college about their goals in the NBA, becoming part of the Jordan Brand family still comes up a lot. I mean with most of them. Players who were in kindergarten the last time Jordan won a ring.

It’s doesn’t gotta be the shoes. It is much more than that.

All this because of a big gamble back in the 1980s where a company that needed a star bet on the guy who would go on to become the general consensus greatest player ever, and that player bet on the company’s marketing skills.

Roland Lazenby, the author of “Blood On The Horns, The Long Strange Ride of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls” (which is being re-released right now by Diversion Books as an ebook edition in honor of Jordan’s birthday) and also the author of a new Jordan biography due out in the spring of 2014 (by Little, Brown), said that even MJ admits it was all fortuitous.

“As Michael told me in discussing his career, ‘Timing is everything.’” Lazenby said. “He came along at a time when Nike, a struggling company, was suddenly willing to gamble millions, far more than had ever been gambled, on an untested NBA player, giving him an unprecedented deal before he had even played an NBA game.

“Nike turned its full efforts to marketing Jordan. Then suddenly he emerged as this amazingly athletic figure, wearing a shoe that was banned by the NBA.”

People sometimes forget that part of the story. David Stern and the NBA banned the first pair of Air Jordan’s in 1985, just weeks before the start of the season, because they were completely Bulls red and black with no white on them.

There is no better marketing endorsement than having the man say, “you can’t have it.” That shoe and that moment spawned today’s sneakerhead culture.

“Nike took that circumstance and pushed it, which would have meant nothing if Jordan hadn’t played the way he played,” Lazenby said. “It was a departure from the past that showed it was also immune to the future.”

Jordan’s play was the key. It started because of his athleticism, his “jumpman” dunks that went on to become the Jordan Brand logo. He could fly, and Spike Lee was yelling “It’s gotta be the shoes.” But everything grew exponentially as Jordan started to win and win big. He became the best player in the game and owned his generation, booming the popularity of the NBA.

And booming the sales of Nike and his shoes. Because everyone wanted to “Be Like Mike.”

“As I say in my book, he became the godhead of a global sports marketing machine,” Lazenby said. “Godheads aren’t flashes in the pan. They paid Jordan so much, and his shoes sold so well that he essentially became a partner in Nike long before they officially recognized it.

“He became enmeshed in culture like no athlete before or after.”

And with him, so did Nike.

Now they are a key part of the lucrative running shoe market (they maintain more than half the market) and Nike is a global apparel brand with it’s swoosh on pretty much everything but refrigerators.

But none of that would have been possible without a big gamble on Jordan that paid off better than anyone expected.

Rumor: Mark Jackson “hot name” to be Knicks next head coach

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This summer is going to be nothing like last summer. Way back in the summer of 2017, while you were desperately trying to avoid hearing again dancing to “Despacito,” NBA coaches were feeling safe — there was not one coaching change in the offseason.

Already this season Earl Watson in Phoenix and Jason Kidd in Milwaukee both were fired, and both of those teams will be conducting coaching searches this summer. The buzz around the league is there will be an opening in Orlando, too, and possibly Detroit depending on whether Stan Van Gundy wants to pull a Doc Rivers from last summer.

Then there’s the Knicks — Jeff Hornacek would like to know his status. Understandably. The scuttlebutt around the league is he may want to sharpen his resume and get in touch with a realtor, but nothing is official.

Marc Stein of the New York Times took it one step further in his weekly newsletter, saying former Warriors coach and current ABC/ESPN commentator — not to mention Knicks player — Mark Jackson would be at the front of the line to get the Knicks coaching job.

The former Knicks guard Mark Jackson keeps coming up as a hot name to succeed Hornacek, amid a growing belief the Knicks’ new front-office chief — Scott Perry — will want to install his own hand-picked choice heading into next season.

It’s difficult to fault Hornacek for much of the chaos that has engulfed the Knicks during his two seasons in charge. But there’s no avoiding the fact he was a Phil Jackson selection, which could well doom him now that the organization seems intent on cutting every non-Porzingian tie to the Phil era as possible.

Already there have been denials of a couple of things Stein had in his newsletter. The Pistons and Chauncey Billups both shot down the idea they have discussed a front office spot for him after Van Gundy is pushed out of the GM role, and Alex Lasry denied that the Bucks have a list that includes Jeff Van Gundy. So, use as much salt here as you would like with the Jackson rumor.

The Jackson-to-the-Knicks rumor makes some sense — Jackson built the defensive foundation on which the Warriors have won titles, and he’d be an easy sell to fans and any cantankerous owners who may have a say in the matter. However, the Knicks would be wise to do a broad search and get the best possible guy, not just the guy easiest to sell. Jackson was beloved by his players but pushed out in Golden State for legit reasons, all of which must be considered. Talk to the highly respected David Fizdale. Bring in Monty Williams. That’s just the top of the list, but the Knicks need to nail this — they have the hardest thing to get in building a team, a franchise cornerstone piece in Kristaps Porzingis, but they need to do a better job of creating a culture/foundation/system, and putting players that fit said system around KP. Also, once they pick a system, stick with it fully for at least three or four years — give it a chance to breathe.

It’s too early to call this anything other than a rumor, but it’s something to watch as we head to summer.


Report: With his knee not progressing as hoped, Kyrie Irving to get second opinion

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Kyrie Irving has missed the last three Celtics games — two of them losses — due to a sore knee. This is the same knee where he fractured a kneecap in the 2015 NBA Finals, and GM Danny Ainge admitted that in the next few years Irving may need a maintenance surgery to keep the issues down.

Now comes a report that just time off has not yet had the desired effect on Irving’s knee, so he will seek a second opinion, Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports broke the story and Brad Stevens of the Celtics confirmed it (with some more details by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports).

There is no timetable for Irving’s return, but he will not be on the Celtics’ four-game road swing through the West that starts Friday.

Getting a second opinion is the smart move. NBA team doctors are very good at their jobs, but as with any serious medical issue, a second opinion is a good idea (plus, team doctors are paid by the team, which can create a conflict of interest). Most likely the second doctor says “rest is all you need,” but better to be safe than sorry.

Boston is going to be ultra conservative in bringing Irving back. The simple fact is that in the wake of injuries to Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart (who maybe could return in the second round of the playoffs), it’s unlikely the Celtics get out of the Eastern Conference this season. They lack a high-level secondary playmaker on offense after Irving (Boston’s offense is eight points per 100 possessions worse when Irving is not on the court this season) and with the injuries their defense can’t carry them far enough. Boston has always played the long game with this rebuild, and they will do it with Irving as well.

Jordan Clarkson says he believes dinosaurs were pets of bigger people

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Kyrie Irving debuted his flat-earth beliefs on Channing Frye‘s and Richard Jefferson‘s podcast.

Now, another Cavaliers guard is following in those footsteps with another zany theory.

Jordan Clarkson on Road Trippin’:

I don’t believe in dinosaurs, either. Well no, I actually do. I believe that – this is gonna get a little crazy, alright? I’m gonna take y’all a little left on this. OK, so y’all know how we got dogs and stuff, right?

So, I think it was bigger people in the world before us, and, like, the dinosaurs was their pets.

How big were these people? Clarkson:

Oh, you look at a dinosaur. They got to be three times bigger than them.

I too have seen The Flintstones:

Stephen Curry cleared for return by Warriors doctors, Friday vs. Hawks likely date

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For the second half of their last game, a loss in San Antonio, the Warriors were without all four All-Stars — Kevin Durant (ribs), Stephen Curry (ankle), Klay Thompson (thumb), and Draymond Green (hip contusion).

Starting Friday against the Hawks at Oracle Arena, at least one of those guys should be back — Curry.

This was expected. If this had been the playoffs, Curry would have returned last weekend,  but considering his multiple ankle sprains this season and his importance to the team, the Warriors decided to be extremely cautious. They will do the same with Durant, Green, and Thompson, with the goal of having them all healthy at the start of the postseason.

Curry is averaging 26.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 42.4 percent from three this season. The Warriors offense is 14 points per 100 possessions better this season when Curry is on the court.