Air Jordan…Part I

24 04 2010

Michael Jordan and his sneakers completely changed the dynamics of the sneaker industry.  They literally took flight and were able to transcend the sneaker subculture into what we see today.  There were many advances with the sneakers; everything from shoe design to marketing was reinvented.  With the most influential player in basketball came the most influential sneakers for an industry.  Many say the footwear industry was knocked off its feet (pun intended) with the emergence of the Air Jordan sneaker.  In the next two posts I will attempt to highlight the story behind those influential sneakers.

By 1984, Nike was a struggling shoe company in terms of market share.  It was seen primarily as a running shoe company and had little credibility in the basketball footwear market.  Although it had numerous endorsements with professional basketball athletes, the company was still lagging behind Converse, Reebok, and Adidas in the market.  In an attempt to appeal to another market segment, Nike was looking to revitalize and reinvent themselves.  In the same year, Michael Jordan was a rookie entering the NBA.  He came in as the College Player of the Year and a promising young talent.  Nike recognized his talent and saw something special in Jordan.  They saw an opportunity and hoped that his appeal would generate sales for the company.  Nike decided to put all their eggs in one basket and offered Jordan his own line of sneakers along with matching sports apparel.  However, Jordan was reluctant to sign a sneaker endorsement with Nike and actually preferred wearing Adidas and Converse brands.  But those two companies were not very interested in endorsing the young star.  Despite his reluctance, Jordan signed a 5 year deal worth $2.5 million with Nike and the rest was history.

After the deal, a legacy was born and Nike released the Air Jordan I.  The concept of an athlete’s signature series, releasing every season, was new at the time.  This paved the way for future stars and endorsement deals, and is common nowadays.  Also, the Air Jordan I made history by becoming the first sneaker to bold black and red colors.  Prior, most basketball sneakers were primarily all white.  This caused the NBA to ban the sneaker, fining Jordan $5,000 a game for wearing them.  The controversy surrounding the sneaker and Jordan’s spectacular numbers that year kept Air Jordans in the public eye.

Air Jordan Sneakers Banned From the NBA

With the release of the Air Jordan II came another first.  The sneaker was the first to not feature the company’s logo on it; making one of the world’s most recognizable brands a non factor.  This was a very radical move by Nike at the time because reaction to the Air Jordan II hadn’t been stellar.  This would also prove to be a critical time for the company and the Air Jordan sneaker.  It was at this time that designer Tinker Hatfield stepped in and helped out.  He did something new and unheard at that time; he sat down with Jordan and asked for his input in the design of the sneaker.  At Jordan’s request, the sneaker was ¾ cut basketball shoe made out of high quality, lighter than average materials.  This non standard approach to the process of designing a sneaker led the Air Jordan III to rocket with sales and popularity.  After Jordan won the 1987 Slam Dunk contest, the Jordan logo changed to the recognizable Jumpman logo of today and was featured on the Air Jordan III.  Both Hatfield and Jordan worked on designing the Air Jordan line up until the XV.  When asked about his work with the Air Jordan series, Hatfield is quoted as saying:

Part of the strategy is in the product design, it’s in the personality of Michael Jordan, and it’s in how we design everything.  But it really also extended into the communication process.

I find it very interesting that he noted all these factors in the design process of the Air Jordan sneakers.  I think it is this basic strategy that proved to be fundamental in the sneakers becoming popular.  Ultimately, I feel like it is this idea that allows people to identify with sneakers and wear them as an extension of one’s self.  Thus, leading to the sneaker subculture we have today.

Michael Jordan Alongside Designer Tinker Hatfield