During the final preparations for the grand opening of Flight 23, a sizable red carpet befitting the occasion was unfurled on the sidewalk in front of the Jordan Brand‘s first flagship store in midtown Manhattan. A few minutes before Jordan president Larry Miller, FootAction CEO Jake Jacobs and Spike Lee would cut the ribbon–or, in this case, untie the huge elephant-print shoelace–someone went out on the red carpet and started vacuuming.
The presence of a Dirt Devil might have been a red carpet first; I rarely watch the E! Network, so I’m not entirely sure. But it made perfect sense for a brand that has grown ever bigger over the years, yet continues to sweat the small stuff, to great effect.
As Dime noted on its walkthrough, Flight 23 had been curated to the finest detail, representing both the rich heritage and bright future of Michael Jordan’s eponymous brand.
“For us,” Miller told Dime, “this is kind of like a continuation of the evolution of the brand — our own retail location where you can see the variety of the Jordan product, where we can continue to best service consumers.
“It’s a great evolution for us, to be able to have a location like this.”
A joint venture with FootAction, whose flagship store is next door, there were murals devoted to classic Air Jordans, plus a display with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony‘s 10 signature models. The hardwood floor was styled like a basketball court, while the eye-catching gold chandelier overhead featured 340 Jumpman logos in the shape of a 23.
Much like the dÃ©cor, the product was also a mix of iconic and innovative, with several popular retros–most notably Bel Air 5s and the Golden Moment Package–amid newer entries like the Air Jordan XX8 SE and the Melo M10. There were also T-shirts exclusive to the Flight 23 grand opening.
“The idea here is to have the breadth of our product, but we’ll also be having special things that you can only get here,” Miller said. “So, people will be able to look at you and say, ‘You must have been in New York, because you’ve got that, and that’s the only place you can get that.'”
Even juxtaposed against Super Bowl Boulevard a couple blocks away, the opening had a big event feel. The line of customers stretched way down 34th Street, while Power 105’s DJ Envy held court outside, cleverly focusing on tracks that mentioned Jordan. Carmelo, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia and music executive Kevin Liles joined Spike for the festivities, as did Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, as part of a somewhat noteworthy weekend for him.
(50 Cent was perhaps the most high-profile luminary to come through, arriving resplendent in a mink coat. He took a break from shopping to have a phone conversation in the middle of the store, and was promptly surrounded by people snapping photos for Instagram. At one point, he looked around and said with a laugh, “You guys are making me feel real special.”)
The store was a watershed moment for a brand that has reached new levels of ubiquity in recent years. According to Forbes, the Jordan Brand–originally a spin-off of Nike Basketball–captured 58 percent of the basketball shoe market in 2012. Nike itself ranked second with a 34 percent share; obviously, truly nothing is jumping over the Jumpman.
With strong roots in both performance footwear and streetwear, Jordan generated nearly $2 billion in revenue and grew an estimated 25-30 percent in 2012. That said, might there still be more room for growth?
“There’s absolutely still incredible potential to grow,” Miller said. “We think there’s tremendous opportunity, not just here in the U.S., but around the globe. We’re actually seeing tremendous growth in China and Europe right now.
“I think bringing Jordan more into the retail market, and focusing in on digital, is really big for us. For our consumer to be able to, on their phone, buy the product, to take a picture of a shoe and be able to tap it and buy it. Those are the things we’re looking at in terms of continuing to evolve the brand. And (Flight 23) is a great step for us.”
Forget about cartoons: The Flight 23 opening, with its lines around the block, was a perfect illustration that Saturday mornings now belong to Air Jordan, both online and in malls everywhere. And though Miller’s parting shot specifically referred to 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend, which will take place in New York, one couldn’t help but detect greater meaning.
“We’re going to blow up big in this city,” the president of Jordan Brand said. “Be ready.”