1984: Starring Michael Jordan’s 23
Mitchell & Ness releases Michael Jordan’s rookie jersey today!
Anyone who knows me personally knows I’m a huge University of Michigan fan but, before that, the Georgetown Hoyas ruled my scene. In 1982 when Michael Jordan hit the game-winner against the Hoyas to win the National Final, the world outside of basketball was livened to the electricity of his superstar rock shock ya ability.
We all know what happened in the Draft but when did you notice how bad he was with the NBA pill? I noticed when I picked up the newspaper and saw the sickdiculous scoring binges. Thirt-seven one game and 45 the next. Crazy cock back bangers over the baddest centers and forwards of the time or just helpless guards daring to aspire to his once in a lifetime competitive fire. Trust they took a seat in his poster. What? Is this cat a rookie? Wow.
Basketball fans around the world were witnessing the blossoming of one the greatest athletes to ever grace the planet. I met Sean McKinney when he and Michael Bivins watched the last game in the Spectrum with their eyes as wide as mine. He dropped me an email about the exclusive release of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls rookie jersey this weekend to pub the event. Here’s our conversation…
SLAM: Where can NBA and Michael Jordan fans purchase the Jersey?
Sean McKinney: It’s only launching on Monday up at our store (1318 Chestnut Street, Philly), the NBA store on 5th Avenue in New York City, at the Chicago Bulls Store and on NBA.com.
On top of the box where it says the Jordan Collection, it says Volume 2. The reason for that is three years ago, we really dropped the first release. That was during All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. At that time, we distributed to 23 retailers around the country. That was like the first of its kind. We were like, how’s this gonna do? We did 500 of them, dropped them in 23 spots and next thing you know, I’m in Vegas getting phone calls from people telling me there’s lines going outside of the stores in New York. There are police that are lining these kids up. People lined up outside the Philly store. So we were like ‘Wow, that’s what we wanted it to do.’ This time around, it’s been limited to those four locations but the main focus is the NBA Store.
Michael, they will be launching at exactly 7:30 p.m. ET…the moment the game actually tipped off 25 years ago. The jerseys retail for $375.
SLAM: Goodness gracious.
SM: NBA TV is going to be airing the game tonight at 7:30. There is going to be two different lines. Some kids are gonna get a chance to get first in line and others will have to be in the regular customer line. There may be some athlete appearances that night. We wanted it to be a special event in New York. We’ll have something small in our store but that’s gonna be nothing more than dropping the collection that morning when the doors open. What we did was put out something to our VIPs, like you got, and also to other Philly or Philly area retailers.
SLAM: It’s ironic how I look at this jersey and it’s almost like I’m looking at Julius Erving’s jersey when Mike was amazing the world. When Kobe came along, Doc seemed to be cemented as an icon. Now we are looking at LeBron and it seemed like Jordan’s jersey is twice removed in a sense and becoming that more special. When you see someone walk by with Mike’s jersey, there is a flash of Air era memories and Jordan becomes that much more larger than life.
SM: It does. You know what? In a lot of ways…especially people of our era…he was larger than life. A kid like me…being here in Philly…had my walls covered with Michael Jordan posters growing up.
He was that guy.
I think for Mitchell and Ness, our whole brand is all about not only recognizing sports history but celebrating sports history. When we do this, we like to do it by telling a story. That’s what we thought these packages did. We want to mark the moment of Michael walking on the court for the first time ever. He’s also going into the Hall of Fame this year. So we want to note the beginning and also celebrate his legendary career.
That’s why we came up with doing 1,264 (the amount of games MJ played in). For us, that told the story more than anything. We want people to take this black silver 25th anniversary collection as not just a jersey, but as a piece of history.
Every single customer that gets one, has a unique piece and can say that no one has the jersey that they have. You can get number 1,168…whatever it is, it’s still a one of a kind piece.
SLAM: Obviously it fits the specifications of the NBA, but could you talk more about the jersey itself and what people are getting when they have this jersey in their grasp.
SM: The thing about our company is we make everything one hundred percent as it was worn back in 1984. This is as close as you can get to the jersey that Michael and the Bulls wore that night. When we make it, we research it obviously. We actually got the NBA Hall of Fame send us the original for a period of time. We had it here in our office. We photographed it. We measured it. We made sure everything was accurate. We did not send it overseas. We made it right here in the USA. We made it in exactly the size that Michael wore his rookie year… size 44.
Everyone has a jock tag that will say No. 1 of…, No. 2 of…, etc. That jock tag is what matches up to the silver plate in the box. It will also give you the story of what Michael did that night.
There’s a lot of research. We had to literally go through 1,264 games and go though who the Bulls played, was it home or away, the date, Michael’s box score. The NBA had to do their own research and approve everything from an accuracy standpoint. One of their stat guys had to go through every recap.
SLAM: Is Michael Jordan involved in this project?
SM: Michael is involved to the point where his close inner circle of managers…that’s who I worked with. Michael doesn’t get involved in the creative side of it. We come up with what the stories are, the creative and how we want to position it in the market.
Two weeks ago, I get a phone call from his guy George Koehler. Michael was out in San Francisco at the President’s Cup. Michael wanted some jerseys to give to some of the golfers. So we sent some boxes out there and one of the guys who got one was Tiger Woods. I sent four out there…including number one. I know Michael gave one to Phil Mickelson’s wife Amy. I’m sure you know what she’s going through (cancer). So from that degree, I know he was blown away with what he saw. We’ve got all the special numbers set aside. No. 44 for President Obama. There’s obviously a Chicago connection there. I was just on the phone with some agents and we have No. 2 set aside for Derek Jeter and No. 6 for Ryan Howard. We’ll make the World Series presentation to those two guys next week.
Because of how we handle Michael’s brand and our brand, I think Michael has a lot of respect for what we do.
SLAM: How did you become so involved in the Mitchell and Ness brand?
SM: When I got out of school — once I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete — I knew I wanted to be in the sports business. I worked for AND 1. I was there for a long time. I’ve been in the business for 11 years. For a short period of time, about five years ago, I moved down to North Carolina to head up a sports company down there. This company was called AVI. We made accessories like balls and bags…you name it. We did that for the NBA, MLB, etc. One of the brands we did that for was Mitchell and Ness. Clearly, I knew the brand being from Philly and being in the business, but now I got to work with Peter Catolino (at the time) and they were looking for someone to take the brand to the next level. So now I’m back in my hometown with an incredible brand name and a huge upside. It was a no-brainer.
SLAM: Mitchell and Ness is a one of a kind company. It’s funny, I was just wearing my Randall Cunningham jersey. I love wearing it and have to put it up to keep from wearing it. It’s like the best thing I have. That green No. 12…
Can you speak on how the company has evolved over the years and the relationship you have with fans having such a unique brand?
SM: Ever since the mid eighties when Mitchell and Ness started with just baseball, I think when you really know the story of the brand and how it came about…the company goes back to 1904…when it comes to sports licensing, it was the first of its kind. There wasn’t any throwback jerseys before Mitchell and Ness. There wasn’t any Cooperstown Collection. No Hardwood Classics. We are the pioneer in that field.
What we have tried to do is recognize those core players across all the leagues. Those classics that we should always have in stock. Like you with the Cunningham. You have guys coming in all the time wanting those classic Eagles jerseys. They sell year in and year out.
In the NBA, it’ll be Magic and Larry… Julius. In terms of evolving, we always try to drop something special every year. A quick shot… get in and get out. We’ll make a couple hundred of them; we rarely make a jersey that is over 500 units. So if you only have three-, four- or five-hundred and you are a jersey collector, you have one shot to get it, and it’s gone.
We have to keep it fresh. Our goal is not to have our jerseys available everywhere all the time. I think, to a large degree, that takes away of the uniqueness of our product and how special it is.
SLAM: Over the years, what are some of the jerseys you’ve thought maybe weren’t high in demand but have flown off the shelves?
SM: That’s a great great question. All the years doing this, I’ve never gotten that question. What comes to mind is because we are a specialty brand, we create the story and market based on what we think. So we are doing a specific jersey for a reason. We’ve gotten so many requests over the years so we know there’s a audience and demand for it. For the most part, the jerseys we’ve put out there have been successful. I can’t think of a jersey sitting here today where we were uncomfortable with.
SLAM: What are some of your personal favorites over the years?
SM: Growing up in Philly, not only Julius, but Allen Iverson. Doc is as classic as you get but if you look at what Allen Iverson was to the NBA when he came into the League, he was that new wave and we just talked about Kobe and LeBron.
You remember all the stuff that was written about Allen… the people who said he had to conform to what the League was at that time. He did his own thing. I’m 34, so for me, those are two separate eras. Each of those guys represent something different for me.
Same thing for Randall. I grew up on Randall and Mike Schmidt. I’m very Philly driven but I still appreciate an old flannel Yankee pinstriped [Mickey] Mantle. It doesn’t get more Americana, historical and classic than that.
SLAM: Are you surprised when someone comes in and buys a jersey you assume they wouldn’t have any knowledge of? I ask this with demography in mind.
SM: That definitely happens. I think what’s great about this brand is that we have such a diverse base. If you look at our flagship store on Chestnut Street, you’ll get the straight urban market — the fashion market — but then you’ll also get the tourist that come into town. You’ll get the doctors and nurses from Jefferson Hospital four or five blocks away. If you sat in that store for a half hour, I’d bet you’ll see as wide a range of customers demographically as any brand out there. It’s young, old, Black, White. Sports transcend that to a large degree. We have such a wide range of product, that anyone can come in and buy something they are looking for…whether it be a jersey, jacket, t-shirt, hat or what have you.
People label our brand and I tell them to just sit in the store for a while. Power House is this weekend (October 23) and Mario and Jeremih are in the store right now doing some shopping. We get rappers, athletes, country music stars. It’s pretty crazy how diverse this brand is.
SLAM: What can we expect from Mitchell and Ness going forward?
SM: From a Michael Jordan perspective and the beautiful position we are in right now, we are the only brand that is able to make authentic Michael Jordan jerseys. We are very respectful of his name and his brand when we roll that product out. You’ll see the Michael Jordan Collection continuing. We’ll do what we did this time and keep it under wraps. We’ll drop a cool story and let it happen a couple of times a year. I think you’ll see something around All Star time or something marking the most defining moments of his career.
The NHL business is on fire for us. Not only from a jersey standpoint, but NHL heads wear and jackets — whether it’s Rick Ross or Michael Bivins that comes in — the NHL with its colors and fashion is natural with consumers.
We’re in Philadelphia, so we have a team that has gone to back to back World Series. Our Philly product is ridiculous right now.
In Spring 2010, we’re launching the Arch Street Collection. It’s where the store was based for years and originated in 1904. We took our whole design around Arch Street — vintage, beefed garment wise and distressed — stuff you will see carried in a Nordstrom or Bloomingdales and all the top boutiques as well as the type of product we’ve always been known for.