Looking Back at Jordan Brand’s Monumental Impact on the Game over the Past 25 Years
Thought exercise time: Jordan Brand doesn’t exist. Trippy, right? Saturday mornings would be less invigorating and probably way less frustrating. Bank accounts would be fuller. Closet space would be more robust. Outfits would be more wack. Connections with other sneakerheads wouldn’t be as strong. Memories would be unknowingly incomplete. The entire game would be entirely different.
Appreciation exercise time: Stop for just a moment and commemorate Jordan Brand’s 25th anniversary.
Flip the calendar back to September 9, 1997, on a 62-degree day in New York City. Michael Jordan held a press conference to unveil Brand Jordan. Yeah, Brand Jordan. Not Jordan Brand. Brand Jordan.
Flanked by Ahmad Rashad, Vin Baker, Ray Allen, Eddie Jones, Michael Finley and Derek Anderson, MJ wore an oversized beige suit and stood on stage to share with the world that he was embarking on a new adventure. He was leaving the house that Nike built, ready to live on his own with his own gear.
He was five titles deep at that point, 12 signatures in, with three kicks already retro’d and the Air Jordan XIII unveiled at that very same press conference. His commercials were all hits and he was just a year removed from the acclaim of Space Jam. Nike’s goal for Brand Jordan was just $250 million. With all of that winning he had already done, it was a layup. And a layup it has been. But not a layup on a regulation hoop with a 29.5 inch ball. It’s been a layup on a 4-foot kiddie hoop with a marble as the ball. That’s how successful it’s been.
Michael Jordan has made over $1 billion from Jordan Brand in the last 25 years.
Here we go again for emphasis: Michael Jordan has made over $1 billion from Jordan Brand in the last 25 years.
That’s numeric proof that the adventure has been stupidly fruitful.
The other proof isn’t as tidily quantifiable. It’s more of a knowing. The Jumpman is every-damn-where. Pole to pole, from Hong Kong to Beaverton, this quarter century has affirmed that Jordan’s sneakers are still the most sought-after, most worn and most popular in all of basketball footwear.
What started in 1984 with the Air Ship (hop on back to page 9) has evolved into a titan. Michael has become the soul of our soles. His longtime agent David Falk loves to tell the story of how Nike’s goal for the first three years of Jordan’s initial five-year contract was to get up to $3 million in sales.
The Air Jordan I made $126 million in the first year of that deal.
The II wasn’t as monetarily successful, but it was still impactful (hop on forward to page 90). The III broke the door off the hinges with striking force. The IV-VIII kept the hits rolling until the XI came through as the ultimate masterpiece.
Money was always extremely involved with Nike and with Tinker Hatfield. He was articulate, rapidly understanding sneaker technology so he knew what he wanted from the III and beyond. With his fingerprints all over the blueprints, the XIII’s arrival coincided with this quote from Mike Wise’s New York Times profile that released on Brand Jordan’s launch day:
“It’s a part of me; it’s a part of the creative personality I have,” Jordan said to Wise back in ’97 about his burgeoning sneaker empire. “When I walk away from the game, this is my means of staying in tune with the game. Not coaching, not commentary. Those are things that I chose not to do and I don’t want to do.”
Numero 23 stuck to his words. Now that the Air Jordan 37 has landed (hop on forward to page 70), he hasn’t done any coaching and he rarely appears on TV talking about hoops. But he’s still active with the Brand. He still gets final approval on what the Brand’s designers call the “game shoe.” This colossal turn in the sneaker business has kept his legend alive in the almost 20 years since he last played. The youth know him as the sneaker leviathan just as much as they know him as the GOAT. On the low, it seems like that’s what he wanted, as evidenced by another quote from Wise’s piece in the Times:
“I got away from the game, I got away from the city a little bit, I got more into things like this,” he said, surveying his own line of sneakers in front of him. “I did a lot of basketball camps this summer, staying in tune with the kids who love the game. I think that’s fun.”
The players who joined him on stage that day became sneaker legends in their own right. Anderson helped to pioneer the Air Jordan XI Low. Finley played in numerous retros that paired perfectly with his Mavericks and Spurs jerseys. Jones and Baker respectively spearheaded the Jumpman Pro Quick and the Jumpman Pro Strong. And Allen…that two-time champion has a tier 0 Jordan sneaker collection. Seen it, can confirm it.
The Brand continued to link up with exemplary players in the NBA, the WNBA, the MLB and the NFL after that first five. It’s been the best of the best, as well as the best of the coolest, that have rocked the Jumpman.
The current roster, led by Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson and Jayson Tatum, holds the future of the League in their hands.
These last 25 years have been characterized by flight. Gravity has been determined to be optional and, ultimately, unnecessary. With just a few steps in his Air Jordans, MJ took off long ago. There’s no return date for this soaring and all we really know about what the future holds for Doncic, Williamson and Tatum is that the Jordan Brand most definitely exists, and that higher and higher is the only way to go.
Photos via Getty Images.