Defiance is at the heart of Michael Jordan’s success. Throughout his career, the champion faced hurdles — injury, repeated defeat, illness — and continuously soared above them to realize the unexpected. Along the way, he redefined basketball’s relationship to style, the sport’s connection to youth counter-culture and the game’s creative potential.
When Jordan’s footwear arrived during his rookie season, it shared with the world some of its namesake’s tradition-breaking bravado. A black and red colorway violated the league’s uniform policy, earning a stern letter from league officials and generating a $5,000 fine each time the player wore the shoes on court. “Around this time, if you knew anything about Nike…Nike stood on this kind of rebel behavior,” recalls Jordan Brand VP Howard “H” White, in reference to the runners and tennis players connected to the Swoosh. “This Jordan, that color of the Air Jordan I, kind of galvanized that universal scope.”
“The shoe represented that spirit that he brought to the basketball court by being so different," adds Larry Miller, President Jordan Brand. "Michael kind of threw the rules out on how you were supposed to play the game. The shoe kind of threw the rules out on what a basketball shoe was supposed to be… People who weren’t even into basketball found out about the shoe and it became this catalyst for where we are today."
The Air Jordan I set the tone for Jordan’s future, and his eponymous brand, transcending the court and finding favor across a broad spectrum of society, even with, as White reminds, skateboarders. “You just can’t make those stories up,” he says. “If somebody said, ‘Hey, here it is: Take the pen, take the pencil and draw it up just the way you want it,’ you probably couldn’t have drawn that up the way it came out.”