Michael Jordan was asked if he had a shoe company he wanted to go with.
“That was Adidas,” he said without hesitation.
Today, with Nike’s Jordan Brand — and the Air Jordans — dominating the basketball shoe market decades after Jordan walked off the court for the last time, it’s difficult to imagine any other reality. However, in the fifth installment of ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary, Jordan described how he wanted to go with Adidas, and it was his mother that changed his mind.
Jordan said he met with Converse, the biggest name in basketball shoes at the time, but they already had Magic Johnson and Larry Bird (among other stars) on their roster and were not going to make Jordan much of the face of the brand.
As quoted above, Jordan wanted to go with Adidas, even though that company would not give him his own signature shoe. Nike was willing to provide him with that shoe, but Jordan’s agent David Falk said he couldn’t even get Jordan to consider it.
“Adidas was really dysfunctional by that time,” Falk said. “And they had just told me, ‘Look, we’d love to have Jordan, we just can’t make a shoe work at this point in time.’ I wanted Michael to go with Nike because they were the big upstart. I couldn’t even get him to get on the damn plane and go visit the campus.”
So, Falk enlisted the help of Deloris, Jordan’s mother.
“My mother said, ‘You’re gonna go listen. You may not like it, but you’re gonna go listen,” Jordan said in the last dance. “She made me get on that plane and go listen.”
We know what happened next, Nike offered Jordan $250,000 — more than double Adidas offer — plus a signature shoe.
“[I] go into that meeting not wanting to be there, and Nike made this big pitch,” Jordan said. “My father said, ‘You’d have to be a fool not taking this deal. This is the best deal.'”
Jordan gets his signature shoe, the Air Jordan, and it takes off — it’s not just a basketball shoe, it becomes a part of popular culture. Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon — from “Do the Right Thing” — is yelling “It’s gotta be the shoes” on commercials. Everyone has to have it. Falk said Nike hoped to sell $3 million in Air Jordans in three years, but they sell $126 million.
Nike becomes THE athletic shoe powerhouse in America, Air Jordan’s get spun off into their own Nike company — Jordan Brand — and everyone makes a whole lot of money. Then Jordan gambled away a bunch of that money, but that’s a story for another day.
At this point, Nike may want to give Deloris her own signature shoe. She’s earned it.