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How Did the Jordan Brand Become So Valuable?

We take a deep dive at the Jordan Brand, its rich history, and its eventual ascension to sneaker greatness,

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In April, Netflix released The Last Dance, a documentary featuring unreleased footage of the legendary Michael Jordan and his final run with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. Whether you're a casual fan or a diehard, you were reminded of his unparalleled greatness, both as a person and a super athlete.

That 10-part series further boosted the stock of the iconic Jordan brand. By June, the revenue raked in by its merchandise alone was at $3.6 billion, 15% higher than the previous year. It was the only Nike shoe line that soared in value, as total company revenue dropped by 38% due to store closures brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

How do you even begin to fathom these numbers? How did the Jordan brand continue to dominate the sports apparel market, even after 17 years since its main man walked away from the sport for good?

Today, we'll take a look at the iconic Jordan brand and why it is such a valuable commodity, both in the world of sports, fashion, and culture.

From Three Stripes to Swoosh

There sure were a lot of telling Jordan tidbits in that documentary. For one, MJ originally wanted to sign with Adidas before entering the NBA in 1984. But the company big wigs in Germany deemed him too short at 6'6" because they were looking for a "seven-foot-tall guy."

Adidas ended up passing and committing likely one of the biggest (if not the biggest) missteps in its corporate history.

Family matriarch Deloris then advised her son to hear out Nike's offer. As MJ recalls:

My mother said, 'You're going to go listen. You may not like it, but you're going to go listen.' She made me get on that plane and go listen.

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Nike offered the 21-year-old Jordan $500,000 per year for five years. As a bonus, he got his own shoe. Thus, the birth of the first Air Jordan.

But there was a bit of a snafu: the first Jordans were predominantly black by design and that violated the league's uniform policy at the time. That meant paying a $5,000 fine for every game MJ wore it.

The apparel giant was willing to stick their neck out for the budding star, so they decided to pay every penny. Nike also used this little act of rebellion as a marketing tool to push the brand further.

The ploy worked like a charm. For its initial goal, Nike projected $3 million in revenue for the next three years. They ended up raking in $126 million during the first year of sales alone. Just like that, a sneaker revolution commenced.

It also helped that Jordan had a stellar rookie year, making it easier to release the sequel pair. But that hype train came to an anti-climactic halt when MJ suffered a year-ending injury just 18 games into the season.

Sales rightfully plummeted, as a consequence. Talks with Adidas also reignited, posing a threat that could've cut the Jordan-Nike deal shorter.

The Tinker Hatfield Era

Nike found their savior in the form of Tinker Hatfield, the man behind the Jordan Three design. His brainchild was the Air Max, which at the time, featured innovative technology in sports shoes. The brand name came from the pressurized gas within the midsole to make for a softer cushion compared to foam.

Combining this technology with the new mid-cut design made spurred a new era in Air Jordans. This third installment was also the first pair that had the Jumpman image on the tongue, instead of the "Wings" logo used in the previous two.

As Hatfield put his handiwork forward, Nike provided more traction and attention to the brand. With the help of film director Spike Lee, Air Jordans were more than just basketball shoes. They became a fashion statement.

This was the early '90s when sneaker culture wasn't a thing yet. But the Jordan Threes were selling at $100, widely surpassing the Converse Weapon that was then endorsed by Mr. Showtime himself, Magic Johnson.

A New Sherriff in Town

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In just six years upon his entry into the league, Michael Jordan was well on his way to becoming the sport's icon. And as his star power grew, so did the following of his sneakers.

Air Jordans became a luxury brand, and it showed with the $100 price tag it had on. Celebrities wore them, turning it into a status symbol as a part of the elite. These shoes became such a hot commodity, that fatal violence broke out among teens who couldn't afford it.

With the "three-peat" from 1991 to 1993, MJ's stock continued to skyrocket. Even during his retirement months leading to '94, the Jordan X still sold at $125 per pair.

But when 1995 rolled around and Jordan began his quest for a second championship run, the Jordan XI Concord came with a price tag of $220 by the holiday season. It was quite a jump from its initial cost of $125 just a few weeks prior in November.

It also came with a really cool and captivating TV commercial.

The Adidas Rivalry Refueled

MJ did the retirement-return dance twice in his illustrious career before finally calling it quits in 2003. But even after his swan song, the Jordan brand continued to rule the sneaker scene... Until Adidas decided to spoil the party.

With the inspiration of Kanye West, the company birthed the Yeezys in 2013. Demands shifted to the new guys on the market, and away from the once sought-after Jordans. So what does Nike do? They put out one re-release of retros after the other, resulting in an oversaturation.

For a short while, Adidas were the big boys in the sneaker scene. But it didn't take long before CEO Mark Parker came up with the "Edit and Amplify" strategy, as a response.

In a nutshell, the campaign decreased the number of sneakers dramatically, from needing 350 new design ideas to just 50. With lower supplies, demands went back up and towards their direction.

By 2018, there were releases geared toward women. The Jordan brand officially broke into the younger mainstream crowd, while still tapping into the old school market with a re-release of the concord in December of that year.

The Jordan Brand in 2020

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Today, the Jordan brand has far transcended from just being about footwear. There were shirts, hoodies, even sandals and slides with the Jumpman logo printed on them.

The shoe game got a lot stronger, and that goes without saying. Collaborations with rappers like Travis Scott came to fruition. But when newer retros of the first Air Jordan hit the market, it was clear that Nike was back as the premiere sneaker brand in the game today. Talk about going full circle.

These days, a pair of Air Jordans costs around the $200 to $225 range. That in itself is a testament to the relevance and massive pull of Michael Jordan's name attached to a sneaker brand. It redefined an entire culture of fashion right before our very eyes.

Check Out Exclusive Michael Jordan Merchandise at the NBA Store

From the kicks, we now get to the merch. The NBA Store features some of MJ's rarest uniforms. This is the only place where you can spot Michael Jordan rookie jerseys, both home and away.

These jerseys are a perfect match for the sneakers you already own. Now all you'll need to find is the right pair of shorts, and you have your very own Michael Jordan battle gear.

Head on over to the NBA Store's Hardwood Classics section. Hurry while supplies last!

Get your Michael Jordan jerseys and other retro uniforms of your favorite players from the Hardwood Classics section of the NBA Store.

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