Last year, 58 percent of all basketball shoes sold were from the Jordan brand.
It’s been 17 years since Michael Jordan played a meaningful NBA game (I have repressed the memory of the Wizards years) and yet his shoes and brand remain by far the most iconic in basketball. We almost all own a pair (or two in my case). He made more than $100 million last year off his deal with Nike. Jordan lifted Nike to the top of the American shoe market and got crazy rich in the process, it’s the most profitable athlete/shoe company collaboration in history.
Who should get credit for getting these two sides together?
In an entertaining read at the USA Today, Jordan names recent Hall of Fame inductee George Raveling as the man.
“In all honesty, I never wore Nike shoes until I signed with Nike,” Jordan said. “I was a big Adidas, Converse guy coming out of college. Then actually my parents made me go out to (Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.) to hear their proposal.
“Prior to all of that, Sonny (Vaccaro) likes to take the credit. But it really wasn’t Sonny, it was actually George Raveling. George Raveling was with me on the 1984 Olympics team (as an assistant coach under Bob Knight). He used to always try to talk to me, ‘You gotta go Nike, you gotta go Nike. You’ve got to try.’
It was Raveling — the Iowa coach at the time, his team on a Nike contract — that introduced Jordan to Vaccaro, according to Jordan (who now owns the Charlotte Bobcats). Then it was Vaccaro that helped finalize the deal after Jordan was blown away by the Nike presentation.
Vaccaro says that everyone in the story — Jordan, Raveling, Nike CEO Phil Knight — are all lying to destroy his name. I can only assume he did the interview while wearing a tin foil hat. (Vaccaro was fired from Nike in 2001.)
Raveling backs up Jordan’s story in the USA Today piece, adding that Vaccaro had pushed him to try to set up a meeting with Jordan. However, Raveling said it was not the first meeting with Vaccaro over dinner that won Jordan over; it was the “Air Jordan” line pitch up at Nike HQ that changed Jordan’s mind.
The rest is history. Very lucrative history.