Jordan didn’t initially want to sign with Nike, and didn’t truly believe in them until after the Jordan 3 dropped and the entire sneaker game was thrown on its head. In the beginning when he was coming out of North Carolina, Jordan wanted to go with adidas. They were more well known, and Jordan had worn them throughout high school before being forced to wear Converse at UNC. Converse had star NBA players on their roster like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. They made sense. And adidas was Mike’s longtime love. They made sense, too. But Nike was smaller, and thus offered Mike a chance to be their main guy, where they would craft everything around him, from the shoe to how he was represented to the colors to the storylines.
“They really made a great effort of trying to have my input on the shoe,” Jordan later told Darren Rovell.
That made Jordan do a 180. Suddenly, he was signing with a company that had so little appeal to MJ that the player had never worn a Nike before in his life.
If you were into sneakers, growing up as a kid in the ’80s or ’90s was different than it is today. There were more places to turn for hot gear, and there wasn’t a giant hanging over the proceedings. But in 2014, MJ and the Jordan Brand are running the game, having dominated for over two decades. And if you aren’t up on Jordans in 2014, it’ll be hard to convince anyone of your status. Back in the day? It was a little different.
“There was so much parity,” New York-bred sneakerhead Jay Corbin (@SneakerSensei) told me recently. “We had so much to pick from. We didn’t have the problems that they have today. There were no lines. There was no nothing because you could have so much. You could have New Balance. You could have Etonic. You have Presusius. There were seven or eight different silhouettes within the Nike category. You had Air Force IIs. Air Force IIIs. Air Force Ones. If you wanted to get trainers, there were Bo Jacksons or Andre Agassi.”
Over the years, between getting banned for introducing new colors into on-court sneakers (something else MJ and Jordan changed about the game), using new materials, introducing retros, from the 3 to the 11, from Wieden & Kennedy and Spike Lee, from the Jordan Brand’s split from Nike to the recent XX9 unveiling, the signature sneaker line turned into a monster. For the sneaker industry and the culture as a whole, there’s no turning back.
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