Michael Jordan and Nike are synonymous with each other.
Both brands have played prominent roles in basketball and shoe culture, growing together since Jordan entered the NBA in 1984.
But if Adidas were a little smarter, perhaps the Nike-Jordan partnership never would have begun.
In 1984, Adidas made a misstep that presaged others. A University of North Carolina basketball star named Michael Jordan wanted a sponsorship deal with Adidas when he went professional, say people familiar with the matter.
Adidas distributors wanted to sign Mr. Jordan, says someone who was an Adidas distributor then. But executives in Germany decided shoppers would favor taller players and wanted to sponsor centers, the person says, adding: “We kept saying, ‘no—no one can relate to those guys. Who can associate with a seven-foot-tall guy?’ ”
Adidas signed centers of the era, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—it still sells sneakers named for him. Mr. Jordan in 1984 signed with Nike, which built his name into a blockbuster basketball business. Mr. Jordan and Adidas decline to comment.
It’s interesting to think how this could have changed history. Jordan would still be Jordan, but what about Adidas and Nike? Those companies might have experienced very different fates.