The date was October 26, 1984, and the Chicago Bulls were taking on the Washington Bullets in their season opener. In the starting lineup was an anxious rookie from North Carolina, fresh off of a gold-medal performance as a member of the ’84 US Olympic team and eager to make his NBA debut.
Michael Jordan won Rookie of the Year honors that season while leading his team in almost every major statistical category, including total points scored, points per game, rebounds, assists, steals and minutes played. Over the course of 15 seasons – intermixed with a couple of highly publicized retirements and reinstatements –Jordan proceeded to re-write NBA record books and earn scores of accolades on his way to becoming, who most believe to be, the greatest basketball player of all time.
Equally as impressive as his on-court domination was Jordan’s methodical construction of a now billion-dollar retail empire –Air Jordan. And, despite the fact that he hasn’t taken a professional jumpshot in more than seven years, his dynasty is more secure than ever and growing stronger – and more profitable – each year.
The Air Jordan I was launched in the spring of 1985 and, even though it was banned in the NBA (the red and black color scheme violated uniform regularity rules), the shoe flew off the shelves. In the process, Nike devised a way to capitalize on the controversy, producing a 30-second commercial that claimed, “On September 15, Nike created a revolutionary new basketball shoe. On October 18, the NBA threw them out of the game. Fortunately, the NBA can’t stop you from wearing them.”
Erin Patton, who was later handpicked to lead the marketing and branding efforts of Brand Jordan, vividly remembers the buzz surrounding the first Air Jordan release – particularly within his own circle of friends.
“That shoe changed the game,” he recalled. “There was a sense of rebellion associated with it because it was banned in the NBA, and we saw that as a license to embrace it. That just made us want it and want it more.”
Jordan continued to wear the shoes, racking up thousands of dollars in fines – paid by Nike – to go along with the legions of fans who were clamoring to get their feet in a pair of the iconic sneakers. When the dust settled, Nike had made around $130 million that first year – far surpassing their goal to net $3 million by the end of the third year of MJ’s contract.
By all accounts, the partnership was a phenomenal success, and the AJ I frenzy was only a sign of things to come.