Before the Air Jordans, sneakers were not a fashion statement. Sneakers were comfortable and, generally, low-cost footwear. These days, your Jordans are your statement. Kids, like my 20-year-old son, have closets full of kicks that are paired with specific T-shirts, caps, and even socks.
Michael Jordan and Nike created a new trend and a mega brand, cementing themselves in both fashion and sports history.
My son readily admits he's addicted to the shoes. He's willing to lay down a few Benjamins for the right pair of Jordans. (Fortunately, he works at an athletic apparel chain that allows him employee discounts.)
Here are 10 things you might not have known about the super-hyped shoes and the brand that was built.
- Before Air Jordans, the only athletes with shoe endorsements were tennis players. Jordan -- and marketing teams at Nike -- changed the way the world views sneakers. Gone were the classic Converse All-Stars, replaced with a clunky high-top in flashy colors.
- While playing for North Carolina, Jordan was a self-described "Adidas nut." He wanted to wear Adidas in the NBA, but they never offered him a contract. Their loss can be calculated in astronomical figures.
- In 1985, the Jordan brand earned Nike $130 million. In 2012, it generated $17.5 billion. Nike's original contract with Jordan earned the sports star $500,000 annually plus royalties; his royalties now amount to about $60 million annually, which accounts for the majority of his annual $80 million earnings.
- The Jordan brand now represents 58% of the entire global basketball shoe market.
- Jordan was actually fined $5,000 per game when he started wearing his classic shoes on game nights, which of course prompted increased publicity. While $5,000 seems like a pittance today, in 1985 dollars it was sizeable. Over the course of an 82-game season, Jordan's fines totaled $410,000. His salary at the time was $630,000. Nike took care of the fines.
- The fact that Jordan was basketball's shining star in the 80s and 90s only helped the visibility of the shoes skyrocket. The shoes made regular appearances on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," so much so that a recent release featured Fresh Prince colors. To this day, having "game" typically includes having a pair of clean Jordans.
- When Air Jordans were first released in 1985, a brand new pair, from outlets like Foot Locker, cost about $65. These days, the shoes retail new for about $200 per pair.
- With limited releases and special promotions, Nike managed to make the Air Jordan brand as "collectible" as possible. Highly desirable original vintage pairs in mint condition sell on sites like eBay for close to $1,000 or more.
- There are shoe conventions (yes, they exist) filled with eager fanatics trading and selling rare pairs of Air Jordans. Several conventions occur each year in major cities like New York and Chicago.
- As part of Nike's careful brand management, a few new styles are released every month -- retro models are incredibly popular. My son, who knows the release schedule like the back of his hand, claims customers frequently offer to slip him a few bills to hold a pair in a certain size. Each release has its own nickname. For example, this month's release includes "Oreos," which are black and white. A release earlier this year was nicknamed "Bel Air" because the color scheme was reminiscent of the "Fresh Prince" TV series -- the release was called a "quick strike" because of the hard-to-get nature of the edition, making it highly sought after. There are several mobile apps that track sneaker news, including release dates. My son recommends Unlaced.
As the brand nears its 30th anniversary in 2015, it's as strong as ever, if not stronger. Nike and Jordan hold the keys to not just a brand or a mega brand, but an empire. And kids, like my son, keep coming back for more.