Michael Jordan has had several noteworthy–and interesting–partnerships over the years. He had Scottie Pippen on the court, the perfect sidekick, the Robin to his Batman. He had Spike Lee/Mars Blackmon for his sneakers, who became the precursor for everything in basketball shoe branding, from Lil’ Penny to the Kobe and LeBron puppets. He had a unique friendship with Charles Barkley, a competitive one with Isiah Thomas, and a respectful one with Kobe Bryant.
But the partnership that really sticks out is the one MJ formed with…Bugs Bunny. And now on the 30th anniversary of the Air Jordan franchise, we’re getting blessed. Not only did we see “Hare” and “Lola” versions of the Air Jordan I earlier this spring, as well as a special “Lola” edition of the Air Jordan VII, but this weekend at Champs Sports will see the return of the vaunted “Hare” Air Jordan VII, considered one of the greatest pairs of Air Jordans ever made. To celebrate, Jordan Brand even released a Bugs Bunny interview spoof where he admits he has Mike on speed dial and that they are “tighter than a pair of wet canvas kicks.”
This is not just a spectacle worth waiting for because so many sneakerheads consider this colorway a grail. It’s also worth it because of the history.
“Each is an iconic figure and legend in his own right, but together Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan are an unbeatable combination on and off the court,” says Brad Globe, President, Warner Bros. Consumer Products.
Everyone remembers Space Jam, one of the defining sports movies for anyone from my generation. But Michael and Bugs connected a few years prior, where they laid the foundation that would later form in the flick.
It all started with a commercial for the Air Jordan VII more than 23 years ago. Not long after Michael had won his first championship in the NBA, Nike dropped a campaign on Super Bowl Sunday starring MJ and Bugs. It ushered in a new era for both the brand and for sneakers in general as it represented a changing of the guard for Air Jordans. Since the Air Jordan III, everything had centered around Mars Blackmon, a street city fast-talker, someone who looked and dressed and talked the same way fans of the game and sneakers did. However, Bugs Bunny was mainstream America and his presence helped solidify Jordan as a cultural icon.
Larry Miller, President of the Jordan Brand, says that the idea came about because both the cartoon and player had unwavering commitments to greatness. It was a whole new way to celebrate the fun of the game.
During the first commercial, Jordan and Bugs teamed up to take over a pickup run at a local gym. Mike wore the “Bordeaux” Jordan VII while Bugs rocked a unique colorway that came to be known as the “Hare.” It featured off-white paneling along the upper and that infamous tongue, sporting a graphic and unique color scheme that’s also found on the outsole.
“Air” and “Hare” made for quite a team. The following year saw the partnership expand to include more Looney Tunes. The original white colorway for the Air Jordan VIII was even nicknamed the “Bugs Bunny” and yet another commercial included not just Bugs but also Marvin the Martian.
This all laid the groundwork for what became Space Jam. Not only was the film well-received and popular among basketball fans of all ages, it also helped to re-launch Michael Jordan’s brand. Remember, he had been retired for 17 months before returning in March of 1995, only to struggle with his game and get bounced in the second round of the playoffs to the younger and better Orlando Magic. The filming for the movie took place during the summer of 1995 and offered Jordan the perfect platform to get back into basketball shape with special private pickup games with some of the game’s best players. By the time the flick released to the public in November of the following year, Jordan and the Bulls had finished up the greatest season in NBA history with a title. Air Jordan was all the way back.
The influence of Michael Jordan and his sneakers can still be felt today. From the prevalence of signature sneakers to the popularity of retros to even the entire culture as a whole, Jordan has had a hand in all of it. But as far as how brands market sneakers in 2015, the 1990s Bugs Bunny campaign is one of the most memorable and inspirational. Thankfully, it’s not over quite yet.
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