Looking back, perhaps no one in 1984 could have predicted just how successful Nike’s Air Jordan sneakers would be. The man who popularized the shoes was just a rookie, albeit one picked third in the draft. So when Nike signed him up, it was cautious, proposing all sorts of conditions. But Michael Jordan had other ideas.
Jordan quickly became an extremely popular player, loved by fans for his rampant scoring. His 28+ points a game won him the title of Rookie of the Year in 1985. And the shoes that he wore sold like hotcakes, and by 2012 Air Jordans made up more than half of basketball shoes sold. Youngsters desired to “Be Like Mike,” although Jordan himself was forbidden by the NBA from wearing the shoes because they were multicolored.
But Jordan had wanted to wear Adidas, his desire thwarted by organizational problems in the company. Nike didn’t waste time: it promised Jordan he could have the lower-to-the-ground style of shoe that Adidas offered. It also promised him flash cars and big money. The deal on the table was for $500,000 a year, more than three times the previous record for sneaker promotion.
However, Nike did have some stipulations. It added in a demand that Jordan must reach one of three targets in the first three of the contract’s five years. The first was to win Rookie of the Year, the second was to become an All-Star and the third was to score 20 points a game on average. If he failed to achieve any, Nike could quit the deal.
However, David Falk, Jordan’s agent, had a different idea. He asked Nike, “What happens if he doesn’t do any of those three, but still sells shoes?” So the company responded that if, in the third year of the deal, NBA’s rising star could sell $4 million-worth of sneakers, Nike would honor the rest of the contract. Jordan took the deal to Adidas and asked it whether it could at least get somewhere near it. However, Adidas didn’t, and the rest is history.