One of the most fascinating veins of discussion, when it comes to pop culture icons on the level of Michael Jordan, is to imagine what would have happened if things have gone differently – when someone's every minor decision becomes the stuff of legend it's easy to analyze all the many divergent paths that person could have taken and changing the world as we know it in doing so. For instance, as impossible as it might seem now, what if Michael Jordan and Nike hadn't partnered in creating the iconic Air Jordan brand? Those that know the story of how Nike and MJ came together are already aware that it almost didn't happen, a point that was reiterated by Jordan in a recent installment of ESPN's The Last Dance documentary.
As Jordan put it, he was more interested in Adidas than Nike back in 1984, because he simply didn't believe Nike's product was up to the standard of quality he was interested in. He preferred Adidas, but Jordan says the company reps weren't interested in pushing him to the forefront of their product line, or in giving him his own signature sneaker – something that Jordan was evidently interested in even in those early days of his NBA stardom. Converse, which already had endorsement deals with NBA luminaries Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, also weren't about to push Jordan to the top of the hill, but as Jordan explains, there was one other factor that made him decide to agree to a meeting with Nike:
"My mother said, 'You're gonna go listen. You may not like it, but you're gonna go listen…She made me get on that plane and go listen."
Then, after the meeting, it was Jordan's father who persuaded him to sign on the dotted line:
"Go into that meeting not wanting to be there, and Nike made this big pitch…My father said, 'You'd have to be a fool not taking this deal. This is the best deal.'"
The deal, for its time, was a big one (the biggest in history at that point in fact), even though it might seem like small potatoes today. It called for MJ to make half a million dollars per year over a five-year period (plus stock options and a few other financial benefits), with a variety of different stipulations in the contract that would allow Nike to pull out early if Jordan didn't live up to his early promise on the court (or in shoe stores). Even then, Jordan was reluctant, since according to previous statements he's made on the subject he was never a Nike wearer until he signed the deal with the company, and preferred Adidas shoes to Nike's. But with Adidas unwilling to give Jordan the deference that he wanted, and Nike willing to put him at the forefront of their promotional campaign (which included now-legendary TV commercials directed by the one and only Spike Lee), he ended up making the decision to sign with Nike.
The rest, of course, is sneaker world history, as Nike incorporated their in-development Air technology into Jordan's own branded shoe and Air Jordan was born, going on to become a billion-dollar brand and selling $126 million worth of product in their first year – this compared to the measly $3 million that Nike's accountants had projected for the first FOUR years.
The question, then, is what the sneaker landscape would look like now if Jordan had agreed to sign on with Adidas, or if Adidas had seen the same potential in MJ that Nike apparently did. Perhaps it would be Adidas's Jordan sneakers that would be the most popular sneaker on Earth today, or maybe there was something magic in the combination of Jordan and Nike that allowed Air Jordan to become such a phenomenon. It's all speculation, but you have to assume that there are some former Adidas executives who still get a pain in their stomach when they think about what might have been.