In 1984, the athletic shoe company Nike was going through a rough patch. The jogging craze that swept the nation in the ‘70s was cooling down, aerobics was heating up and consumers were looking to companies such as Reebok and LA Gear to fulfill their new athletic shoe needs. Nike was forced to drastically reduce its number of sponsored athletes and to lay off 10 percent of its 4,000 person workforce. The company needed something drastic to revitalize its flailing image.
Enter the Air Jordan. This new shoe – designed for basketball and not running – brought a breath of fresh air to the Nike image. First of all, the shoe introduced exciting new technology. Air Nike shoes were made with a layer of gas trapped within the sole of the shoe. They were intended to revolutionize the way basketball shoes were made. Second, by contracting with the then relatively unknown rookie Michael Jordan, Nike was attempting to change the face of its brand. Instead of middle-aged joggers, Nike was represented by one the most dynamic athletic talents on the planet. Jordan was paid $2.5 million for a five-year contract plus royalties, and as his success skyrocketed so did Nike’s visibility on the basketball floor.
The fact that the NBA banned Air Jordans (the red and black colors of the shoe defied the NBA dress code) only made the shoes more popular. Michael Jordan wore the shoes anyway and paid a fine of $5,000 for every game in which his black and red Air Jordans hit the basketball floor. Nike gladly picked up the bill.
Air Jordans were so popular that the first two shipments of Air Jordan shoes to the Los Angeles store sold out in three days. In three months during 1985 Nike sold the number of Air Jordans they had projected to sell during the entire year.
Jump to 2009 and there are over 25 different versions of Air Jordan shoes plus a variety of Michael Jordan inspired Nike apparel. The shoes have consistently been best sellers. Despite this staggering success, there has been some criticism of the Air Jordan line. Some have argued that Nike’s advertising for Air Jordan targets inner city youth. Several murders in the 1990’s over expensive Nike shoes have made it clear that the shoes are very much wrapped up in drug and gang culture, and that Nike has profited from sales resulting from drug money.