Michael Jordan Credits His Mom for Guiding Him to Multibillion-Dollar Partnership with Nike

On June 8, Nike dropped the New Air Jordan 6 Retro sneakers, of the brand’s 1991 iconic model. While Nike and sneaker heads are celebrating, the decades-old partnership between Michael Jordan and Nike almost didn’t happen.

CHARLOTTE, NC – FEBRUARY 16: Michael Jordan speaks at the All Star Breakfast held by the National Basketball Retired Players Association at the Renaissance Charlotte Suites Hotel on February 16, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

When Michael Jordan first thought about which shoe company he wanted to sign with, his answer was clear: Adidas. Yet, it was his mother, Deloris Jordan, who ultimately guided him towards a different path — one that would forever change the landscape of basketball and athletic apparel.

Mom Knows Best

In the fifth installment of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary in May 2020, Jordan revealed that his mother played a crucial role in his decision to partner with Nike instead of Adidas.

Jordan initially met with Converse, the leading name in basketball shoes at the time, but they already had Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, among other stars, on their roster and were not going to make Jordan the face of their brand.

Jordan’s preference was Adidas, despite the company’s reluctance to offer him his own signature shoe. Nike, on the other hand, was eager to provide Jordan with that opportunity. However, Jordan’s agent, David Falk, faced challenges in getting him to consider Nike.

“Adidas was really dysfunctional by that time,” Falk said. “They had just told me, ‘Look, we’d love to have Jordan, we just can’t make a shoe work at this point in time.’ I wanted Michael to go with Nike because they were the big upstart. I couldn’t even get him to get on the damn plane and go visit the campus.”

Recognizing the potential of Nike’s offer, Falk enlisted the help of Deloris Jordan. She saw the opportunity as groundbreaking and insisted that her son at least listen to what Nike had to say.

“My mother said, ‘You’re gonna go listen. You may not like it, but you’re gonna go listen,’” Jordan recalled in “The Last Dance.” “She made me get on that plane and go listen.”

Deloris Jordan’s persuasion didn’t stop there. She emphasized the importance of exploring all options and understanding the potential long-term benefits of Nike’s proposal. Her insistence and guidance were pivotal in getting Michael to attend the meeting with Nike.

Nike offered Jordan $250,000 — more than double Adidas’ offer — plus a signature shoe. “[I] go into that meeting not wanting to be there, and Nike made this big pitch,” Jordan said. “My father said, ‘You’d have to be a fool not taking this deal. This is the best deal.’”

Jordan accepted the offer, and the Air Jordan was born. The shoe quickly became more than just basketball footwear; it evolved into a cultural phenomenon. Spike Lee, portraying Mars Blackmon from “Do the Right Thing,” famously exclaimed “It’s gotta be the shoes” in commercials, and soon everyone wanted a pair. Nike initially hoped to sell $3 million in Air Jordans over three years but ended up selling $126 million worth.

Michael Jordan’s groundbreaking deal with Nike in the 1980s not only revolutionized the athletic shoe industry but also established a cultural phenomenon with the creation of Air Jordans. Over the years, the Air Jordan line has become a cornerstone of Nike’s brand, generating billions in revenue and spawning a dedicated sub-brand, Jordan Brand.

According to Front Office Sports, Michael Jordan earns approximately 5% of Jordan Brand sales through his licensing deal with Nike. In 2022 alone, this deal brought Jordan $256 million. According to Inc., Jordan has made over $1.5 billion his Nike Jordan brand partnership. Reportedly, Jordan brand brought in $6.59 billion in revenue–or 12.9% of Nike’s total fiscal year 2023 sales.

The legacy continues to evolve with the release of new Air Jordan models and collaborations with contemporary designers and artists, keeping the brand relevant to new generations of sneaker enthusiasts.

Nike has risen the leading athletic shoe powerhouse in America, with Air Jordans spinning off into their own Nike company — Jordan Brand. The partnership generated substantial revenue, establishing Jordan’s legacy in both sports and business.

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