How Michael Jordan was convinced to pursue a deal with Nike

Sometimes a mother knows best, and the story of Michael Jordan agreeing to entertain Nike’s endorsement deal offer falls in that category.

In short, all the stars aligned.

For Nike, the Jordan Brand quickly became a magnificent money-making machine. Led by its high-flying pitch man, Nike also became a global status symbol.

So what happened in 1984?

As discussed in Episode 5 of “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s ongoing 10-part documentary series on the final season of the Chicago Bulls dynasty, Jordan was not interested in a Nike contract.

Preference for Converse, Adidas

Initially, the Bulls rookie preferred to explore potential endorsement deals with Converse and Adidas.

After all, established stars Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas had Converse contracts. And in those days, Nike was known for its running shoes.

But Converse didn’t plan to make the University of North Carolina product the headliner, according to Michael Jordan.

“Converse had big players,” Jordan said in Episode 5. “They told me, ‘We cannot envision you being put ahead of them.’ OK, fine.”

According to published reports, Adidas offered Jordan a $100,000 a year, but his own shoe wasn’t in the cards.

David Falk embraced Nike

Moreover, his agent, David Falk, had other ideas

“Adidas was really dysfunctional by that time,” Falk said in Episode 5. “They had just told me, ‘We’d love to have Jordan. We just can’t make a shoe work at this point in time.’ I wanted Michael to go with Nike. They were the upstart.”

Falk saw a brighter future with Nike.

Here’s a part of Falk’s recollections as stated in Episode 5: “Our firm ProServ had a lot of very high profile tennis clients like Jimmy Connors, Stan Smith and Arthur Ashe. Arthur Ashe had his own shoes and tennis racket. So the strategy was to try and take a team sport player and treat him more like a golfer, boxer or tennis player, and the very first deal was shoes.”

A trip to Nike headquarters

Good idea, but Falk encountered a problem.

“I couldn’t even get him to get on the damn plane to visit the (Nike) campus, so I called his parents,” Falk remembered in the documentary.

To realize Falk’s visionary plan for Michael Jordan and Nike, the Bulls rookie had to be convinced it was a sensible plan.

It started with a phone call to Jordan’s mother.

What followed was Deloris Jordan’s life-altering instructions for her son.

“My mother said, ‘You’re going to go listen. You may not like it, but you’re going to go listen,’ ” Jordan said in Episode 5. “She made me get on that plane and go listen.”

Good decision.

Cultural phenomenon

Air Jordan was the result of Falk’s fruitful talks with Jordan and Nike.

The shoe company also handed the rookie a $250,000 contract for his first year.

To call it a good investment, doesn’t capture the overall significance of what occurred.

Just ask Falk.

“Nike’s expectation was at the end of year four they hoped to sell $3 million of Air Jordans,” Falk said in the fifth episode of “The Last Dance.” “In year one we sold $126 million.”

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.