Converse’s $195 million MJ mistake
Michael Jordan and Nike form one of the strongest combinations in the world. They go together like ham and cheese, or butter on popcorn.
From countless shoes that have taken over the sneaker market, to the "Air Jordan" apparel which can be found on basketball courts across the globe, both Nike and Jordan have benefited hugely from the iconic partnership.
At the end of the last financial year the famed Jordan Brand, under the Nike umbrella, was worth $3.14 billion, up 10 per cent from the year prior, according to Forbes.
But the biggest shoe deal on the planet almost never eventuated with Jordan not even wanting to meet with Nike ahead of his NBA career getting underway.
Back in 1984 Converse was the shoe of choice for NBA stars, the brand boasting Celtics icon Larry Bird and LA Lakers pin-up Magic Johnson among a host of others on their books. And as Jordan recalls, it was one meeting with the company that persuaded arguably the game's greatest player to look elsewhere.
"Converse had big players and told me, 'We cannot envision you being put ahead of them'," Jordan says on The Last Dance.
It was to prove a costly mistake.
Jordan's agent David Falk and his firm, ProServ, had a host of high-profile tennis players and it was Falk's vision to treat Jordan the same way.
"The strategy was to try to take a team sport player and treat him more like a golfer or a boxer or a tennis player," Falk says in the ESPN and Netflix docu-series.
After the meeting with Converse fell through, it was on to Adidas, who Jordan ideally wanted to be associated with.
"Adidas was really dysfunctional by that time. They had just told me, 'We'd love to have Jordan, we just can't make a shoe work at this point in time'," Falk says.
"I wanted Michael to go with Nike because they were the upstart."
Jordan had no intention of joining Nike, which at the time was more focused on track shoes instead of basketball shoes, and Falk had trouble even getting the young star to attend a meeting, resorting to calling his parents to force his hand.
Deloris Jordan then gave her son the hard word with Michael recalling her saying: "You're gonna go listen. You may not like it, but you're gonna go listen."
In the end Jordan relented and met with Nike. The company's deal, which Jordan's dad wanted his son to take, blew every other offer out of the water. Nike executive Howard White said it was worth "probably $250,000" for a player who had yet to play his first game in the NBA.
"It was like … you will pay him what? A young rookie, that's done nothing? You must be out of your mind," White says on The Last Dance.
But it wasn't just the inflated amount of money the brand offered Jordan. In negotiations, Falk set in motion what would become one of the most recognisable phrases in basketball.
"When I negotiated the Nike deal, I said to them, 'You're a small company and if you want Michael Jordan, he's gotta have his own shoe line'," Falk says.
"Nike had just come out with this new technology for their running shoes called Air Soles. And obviously Michael played in the air, so I said, 'I got it, we're gonna call it Air Jordan'."
The deal was set and Nike released its first shoe with its new client, the "Air Jordan 1". What happened next blew everyone away and would have left Converse executives shaking their heads.
"Nike's expectation, when we signed the deal, was at the end of year four they hoped to sell $US3 million worth of Air Jordans," Falk says.
"In year one, we sold $US126 million."
In Australian dollars, that equates to approximately $195 million.
We told you Converse's mistake was a costly one.
From there Jordan and Nike's partnership went from strength to strength. The Bulls star was the player everyone wanted to be and it all started with what was on your feet.
"For a kid, it was almost like holding a lightsaber from Star Wars," rapper Nas says on The Last Dance.
"You needed that shoe to be like him.
"It was more than a status symbol. You knew this guy was the guy. They came in different styles, the other brands didn't change too much, (Air) Jordans changed with the times."
Singer Justin Timberlake echoed Nas' sentiment.
"Everybody was like, 'You gotta get a pair of Jordans, every year we would save up money. I would cut grass and do chores and save up and wait in line at Foot Locker," he says.
Jordan not only revolutionised the game of basketball with how it was played, he changed the entire landscape of the game with what he wore on the court.
How different it all could have looked if Converse hadn't have told a young Jordan they couldn't put him on top of their pile.