How Michael Jordan Made Sneakers as Magical as Lightsabers and Forever Changed the Industry With His Nike Deal

Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984 and during his rookie season, his agent pushed for him to get a shoe endorsement.
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“For a kid, it was like having a lightsaber from ‘Star Wars,’” rapper Nas says in “The Last Dance.”

It's well-known that Michael Jordan changed the game of basketball, but the legendary athlete forever altered the sneaker industry as well, ESPN's 10-part docuseries "The Last Dance" revealed Sunday.

Jordan entered the NBA in 1984 and during his rookie season, his agent pushed for him to get a shoe endorsement.

By the late 1970s and 1980s, Converse sneakers had the NBA in the palm of their hand, as stars like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird endorsed and wore their high tops. While Converse tried to court Jordan, the player’s agent realized he didn’t want his client joining the crowd. Instead, he wanted the crowd joining Jordan.

Jordan, who was outspoken that his favorite sneaker brand was Adidas, told his agent to get a meeting with the Germany shoe company. But the company, who were gaining popularity in the American streets thanks to hip-hop endorsements from Run DMC and Beastie Boys, turned down the idea to make a basketball sneaker.

Nike, however, was willing to take a chance on the rookie. Nike, whose primary focus were track shoes, wanted to broaden their horizons and with the hype around Jordan so big, they were willing to go all in.

Jordan at first was reluctant to sign with the company. He wasn’t a fan of the shoe and wasn’t that impressed, but his mother made him take the meeting and forced him to speak to the company. When the family and his agent met with Nike, they did everything they could to court the young superstar.

While NBA vets were making $100,000 in endorsements at Converse, Nike was willing to give Jordan, who was unproven in the NBA, $250,000. They also wanted to craft a new line of shoe for him called “Air Jordan.” Jordan signed.

Once the sneakers hit the street, they became the most desirable item anyone could own.

“For a kid, it was like having a lightsaber from ‘Star Wars,’” rapper Nas says in “The Last Dance.”

The company says in the docuseries they were hoping to make $3 million in sales from the Jordan 1 sneaker. They ended up making $121 million.

“What he did was a game changer,” sneaker enthusiast Joe Tron told “No one did it before him and if they did it wasn’t at his scale. Nike was getting popular slowly on the street due to the Air Force 1 and Cortez, but he added fuel to the fire.”

Jordan became the talk of the NBA his rookie season and his signature red and black Jordan 1 was the hottest sneaker on the market.

“My game is my biggest endorsement,” Jordan said in “The Last Dance,” explaining how he was able to capitalize on his sneaker brand.

“Because he did that it showed his initiative to be the best and he knew he was going to be the best,” YouTuber, designer and sneaker enthusiast Seth Fowler told “You have a company like Nike backing you, it shows legitimacy. It worked out for him and Nike.”

Jordan’s sneakers didn’t just become the talk of the mid-80s, as he grew in fame and popularity, so did his brand.

Each season, Nike and Jordan would release a different sneaker, but in limited quantities. The smaller the supply, the higher the demand.

“With the limitations on the shoe, it is like they knew 100 people want them but they only make 50,” Tron said. “Michael Jordan set the bar for sneakerheads. The shoes came out one time and never came out again."

“It is like buying a collector's item in the high end market,” Fowler added. “When they first came out it, everyone wanted to fly like Mike and ‘Be like Mike.’”

And nearly 20 years since his 2003 retirement, the sneakers seem to be bigger than ever. Other iconic players like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have paid homage to Jordan's shoes, which are constantly name checked in hip-hop songs and movies.

“Michael Jordan will never disappear from anyone's memory,” Tron said.