Perhaps the coolest part of Nike’s initial pitch meeting with a skeptical Michael Jordan was his reaction when he first saw their proposed black and red sneaker.
“I can’t wear that shoe,” Jordan said. “Those are the Devil’s colors.”
As retold in David Halberstam’s Playing for Keeps, Nike execs gently explained to their future standard-bearer that he now played for the Bulls, and that Carolina Blue was a thing of the past. With Jordan conceding that point, they were able to win him over with a visionary approach to marketing a star player, and the rest is sneaker history.
As demonstrated by the buzz for this Saturday’s retro of the “Banned” Air Jordan 1 — released concurrently with a matching AJ XXX1, an homage to its ancestor — the reverberations of that groundbreaking first sneaker are still being felt today. But the amazing thing about the Jordan Brand’s continued relevance after three decades is just how much had to go right before it even got off the ground.
What if Jordan had been hell-bent on sticking with Converse, a staple for NBA superstars which he’d worn to great effect at UNC? What if adidas, which he favored in practice, had realized what he brought to the table? And perhaps most importantly, what if his parents hadn’t practically dragged a reluctant M.J. onto a plane to Portland to hear the Swoosh’s pitch?