'The Last Dance' Reveals Michael Jordan Wanted to Sign with Adidas Before Committing to Nike

Throughout his legendary career, Michael Jordan became synonymous with Nike and specifically the Air Jordan brand that was launched shortly after he made his NBA debut in 1984.

Jordan's famous sneakers featured prominently in Episode 5 of The Last Dance, ESPN's 10-part documentary chronicling Jordan's final season with the Chicago Bulls.

The six-time NBA champion explained that he originally wanted to sign with Adidas instead of Nike, the brand that would eventually make him a global superstar.

"Adidas," Jordan admitted in Episode 5 of the documentary when asked which shoe company he wanted to sign with.

Having been told by Converse that it had too many high-profile athletes—including Magic Johnson and Larry Bird—to make him its No. 1 player, Jordan turned his attention to Adidas.

The German brand, however, was unwilling to give Jordan his own shoe. But Nike was. Unfortunately for the swoosh brand, Jordan was unwilling to meet its representatives.

"I couldn't even get him to get on the damn plane and go visit the campus," Jordan's agent, David Falk, said in the documentary.

As it turned out, the decision to sign with Nike would come to define Jordan's career, with Forbes estimating he has made over $1.2 billion from his deal with Nike.

"Go into that meeting not wanting to be there and Nike made this big pitch," Jordan explained. "My father said, 'You'd have to be a fool not taking this deal. This is the best deal.'"

More than any player in NBA history, Jordan turned shoes into a fashion icon. The Last Dance revealed Nike has sold over 126 million of his shoes.

At times, however, Jordan's love for his sneakers came at a cost.

During what turned out to be his final regular season appearances at Madison Square Garden as a Chicago Bulls player in March 1998, Jordan opted to take the court wearing a pair of Air Jordan "Chicago" 1 kicks as opposed to the Air Jordan "Chicago" 13 he had been wearing during the season.

"Because of the love affair he has with New York City, Michael said he's going to do something special," NBC Sports' Ahmad Rashad reported before the game tipped off. "That special something is wearing his original Air Jordan shoes."

"By halftime my feet are bleeding, but I'm having a good game, I don't want to take them off."

In his final game at MSG as a Bull, MJ put on 14-year-old 'Chicago' Air Jordan 1s that were a size too small. He dropped 42. #TheLastDance pic.twitter.com/KQMP2G4Ajg

— ESPN (@espn) April 28, 2020

Those were indeed the actual shoes from 1985.

Rather than a special pair of retros, the sneakers Jordan wore on that Sunday in March had been produced 13 years earlier, when the Air Jordan 1 became the first, some would say most iconic, model carrying the Bulls star's name to be released to the public.

In his biography released in 1998, Jordan explained he had stumbled onto the vintage kickers by chance, as his wife had found them while doing some spring cleaning.

Having initially planned to wear the shoes just during the warm-up, Jordan instead opted to keep them for the game after realizing a number of people had noticed them.

Unfortunately for him, the pair he wore against the New York Knicks was a size too small.

"By halftime my feet are bleeding," Jordan explains in the documentary. "But I'm having a good game, I didn't want to take them off."

To describe "having a good game" as an understatement, would be a disservice.

Jordan scored 42 points, adding eight rebounds, six assists, and three steals as the Bulls cruised to a 102-89 victory, the second straight W in a month they would end with a 13-1 record.

"It's big pressure to come out here with new shoes and make a statement," Jordan told Rashad in the post-game interview. "But you still have to come out here and play the game of basketball."

The Air Jordan 1 was the first model ever made available consumer but, contrary to popular belief, was not the first shoe Jordan wore in the NBA and was not banned by the league.

That particular honor and treatment were reserved for the Nike Air Ship, which Jordan donned during his rookie campaign in three different color combinations - white/natural grey, white/red, and black/red.

The model, however, was banned by the NBA as the red and black color scheme violated the league's policy, which mandated each player "must wear shoes that not only matched their uniforms, but matched the shoes worn by their teammates."

The policy was the cornerstone of the so-called "51 percent rule" which, until it was lifted in 2000, required players to wear shoes that were 51 percent white and in line with what the rest of the team was wearing.

"In accordance with our conversations," then-NBA Executive Vice President, Russ Granik wrote in a memo to then-Nike Vice President Rob Strasser.

"This will confirm and verify that the NBA's rules and procedures prohibited the wearing of certain red and black Nike basketball shoes by Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan on or around October 18, 1984."

Adding to the myth surrounding the shoe, Jordan allegedly continued to wear the kicks anyway despite being fined $5,000 per game for doing so, while Nike happily footed the bill.

According to various reports, however, that is nothing more than urban legend as Jordan wore the kicks during the 1985 Slam Dunk contest, while opting for a white, red and black color scheme for the remainder of his rookie season.

The Nike Air Ship served as the inspiration for the Air Jordan 1, which was first released on the market from 1985 to 1986 and has since been re-released in 1994 and then again between 2001 and 2004 and between 2007 and 2018.

The version Jordan wore against the Knicks in 1998 was labeled "Chicago" as it featured a lot more white than the original version along with black and red, replicating the Bulls colors.

Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls, Air Jordan
A close-up shot of Air Jordans as they appear on the court during the game between the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois on December 6, 1995. The Bulls defeated the Knicks 101-94. Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty