Air Jordan’s – The Shoe to Die for


Will the Air Jordan brand be a life support for Nike or eventually fade out?  When addressing this question there are many things to take into consideration other than the fact that Michael Jordan is retired from the NBA and may soon be forgotten.  Nike is known for using a business strategy that puts a lot of emphasis and money into their celebrity endorsers.  Nike has been particularly successful with NBA hall of famer, Michael Jordan.  Once he signed with Nike his shoe quickly became famous among children across the United States.  It would seem to make sense that a new talented star in the NBA would be idolized by children and as a result replace the popularity of Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan brand.  However, the reason children continue to wear the Jordan brand is not because of Michael Jordan’s basketball fame, but the positive connotations that have become associated with the brand.  A major issue that has become associated with Jordan’s shoes is the desire yet inaccessibility of the shoes by inner city youths who are unable to afford them.  The response to the shoes being unattainable for this specific group led to acts of violence as a solution for these kids to obtain a pair of Air Jordan’s.  This problem brings up the question if Nike has social responsibility for these crimes.  The Air Jordan brand will continue to have a substantial impact on Nike from a financial standpoint because of Michael Jordan’s effect on the inner city culture.

What differentiates Nike from their competitors is the business strategy they use which entails spending large sums of money on their celebrity endorsers.  Michael Jordan is Nike’s top endorser and was the first star athlete they took a chance on.  When Jordan finished his basketball career at the University of North Carolina in 1984, he had multiple options as to which company to endorse.  Nike’s basketball talent scout, Sonny Vaccaro, was made aware that Jordan was contemplating signing with Adidas, and as a result advised Nike to do everything they could to sign with them instead.  Nike became apprehensive when Vaccaro urged the company to pay Jordan $500,000, all of the money they had to spend on an endorser; however, they complied with his suggestions (Rovell).   Spending that amount of money on an endorsement deal was unheard of at that time, especially since Jordan had not yet played a single game in the NBA.  Nike had Jordan sign a five year, $2.5 million contract with them, which of course included his own signature shoe line (Badenhausen).  Nike’s big risk ended up paying off when Jordan went on to become arguably the greatest basketball player to ever live.  To this day, Nike continues to spend substantial sums of money on their celebrity endorsers, knowing that in the end, it is the major contributor to their revenues.

Anyone who has followed Michael Jordan through his career in the NBA knows that he was a man of character.  He was a leader on and off the court by showing his kindness through charity events and demonstrating his motivational attitude at press conferences.  His positive appearance in the media has significantly contributed to Nike’s success with his endorsement.  Nike has found success in their unique way of advertising which focuses their commercials and ads on the celebrity endorser rather than solely on their products.  This is the exact advertising strategy they used with Michael Jordan.  Through research, I have devised three main reasons why Michael Jordan’s shoes have become and remain so popular.  The first reason is due to the fact that Michael Jordan, who is considered by many the most dominant force in professional basketball, wore the shoes himself.  Some children want the shoes purely because they idolize Jordan while others believe the shoe will actually enhance their performance making them a better basketball player and ultimately making them “Be Like Mike”.  Aside from the perception of children, manufacturing wise, the shoe was considered a good basketball shoe due to its lightweight and good ankle support.  Michael Jordan’s first shoe to come out was a black and red high top which differed greatly from the normal NBA shoe which was completely white.  The NBA fined Michael Jordan $5,000 for every game that he wore the shoes in, but Nike gladly picked up these hefty fines, knowing that it was well worth the price to have those stand out signature shoes on his feet (Greenberg).  The second reason kids wanted to wear Michael Jordan’s shoes is because other popular celebrities in the media, outside of the NBA, were wearing them.  For example, Will Smith is seen wearing Michael Jordan’s shoes in multiple episodes of the popular 90s television sitcom, “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”.   Even kids who did not watch basketball were being exposed to the shoes through the reputation of them among their favorite celebrities resulting in the expansion of the customer cliental for Jordan’s shoes.  The third reason Michael Jordan’s shoes are so popular amongst kids is in conjunction with the response to the first two reasons, which is kids want to wear the same shoes that all of their peers are wearing.  The shoe was not only used for playing basketball, but it became a fashion statement as well.  Once a new pair of Jordan’s came out, people were lined up outside of store doors so that they could be the first ones to sport the latest fashion trend.  A more modern understanding of this craze is comparative to society’s reaction to the release of a new Apple product, in which loyal customers are willing to wait hours in lines to be the first to test out the latest technology.

Some people may argue that the Jordan brand will eventually fade away and will not be the life support for Nike because eventually Michael Jordan will be overshadowed and replaced by new NBA or sports legends that are idolized.  Other players are now on the rise to approaching Jordan’s legendary status such as Lebron James, although he has yet to fully reach such a high level of excellence that has been set.  However, it seems that when Lebron, or another up and coming basketball phenomenon becomes the most dominant force in the NBA, their endorsement with Nike will be the new big project.  Why would a kid want to wear Jordan’s shoes, when they never got that chance to see him play, when they can wear the shoes and apparel of a current basketball legend that they idolize?  The main reason kids will continue to want to wear Jordan’s shoe is because it is no longer about the player, it’s about the name.  It is important to look at the facts when approaching the question whether or not the Jordan brand will fade in due time.  Jordan won his sixth and final championship in 1998 and retired for good from the NBA in 2003, and even after a significant amount of time has passed, the Jordan brand is still booming!  “Brand Jordan today sells about twice as much product around the world as when he was playing,” said Knight (Rovell).  This is why I believe it can be argued that the Jordan Brand is not being referenced with the player but instead the brand’s name. 

Most kids who now wear Jordan’s shoes did not get the opportunity to see Michael Jordan play because they were either too young at the time or not even born.  Contrary to the popularity of the shoes today being based mostly on the brand’s name and fashion purpose, the reason for the popularity in the shoes when they first came out and several years to follow was because they were associated with greatness.  Often today a kid who wants to buy a new pair of Jordan’s is not enticed to buy the shoe because he idolizes Michael Jordan but because he wants the “coolest” shoes on the market.  This is the reason why the Jordan Brand brings in annual revenues of over $1 billion, even after Michael Jordan has been out of the game for over 8 years (Badenhausen). 

The importance of owning a pair of Air Jordan shoes among youth to dress to the height of fashion has caused outbreaks in crimes among inner city kids.  This is because the Air Jordan shoe is priced so high that inner-city youths are not capable of purchasing them.  However, some kids want the shoes so badly that they are willing to spend the little money they do have to get the latest Jordan shoes instead of other necessities.  Other kids have resorted to selling drugs to make it possible for them to purchase the shoes and in some cases even muggings or murders were committed as a desperate attempt to obtain the shoes.  When Michael Jordan was made aware of the issues surfacing from the products he endorses he responded with concern, “I’d rather eliminate the product (the shoes) than know drug dealers are providing the funds that pay me (Telander).”   

With these muggings and killings, the Air Jordan shoe was taking on a whole new meaning; they were literally “the shoe to die for”.  There are many reports of these muggings and killings specifically one of them being the story of a 15-year old boy named Michael Eugene Thomas who was killed for his shoes.  “A ninth grader at Meade Senior High School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Thomas was found strangled on May 2, 1989. Charged with first degree murder was James David Martin, 17, a basketball buddy who allegedly took Thomas’s two week old Air Jordan basketball shoes and left Thomas’s barefoot body in the woods near school (Telander).”  It really makes you wonder when parents have to worry about their child’s safety because of the shoes they are wearing.  Some of these children value their Air Jordan shoes so much that they will refuse to hand them over when threatened which potentially leads them to injuries and in Michael’s unfortunate case, even death. 

The violence and harm caused by Michael Jordan’s shoes made me raise the question of whether or not Nike has social responsibility for any muggings or killings that occur over their shoes.  Milton Friedman says that the ultimate goal of a business is to increase profits as well as the idea that a “business” as a whole does not have responsibilities outside of the ownership (Friedman).  Therefore, he would argue that Nike cannot have social responsibility for these acts of violence.  I would argue against Friedman that Nike does have social responsibility because the corporation as a whole faces ethical and moral issues that need to be addressed and acted on.  In this case the issue they are responsible for is the idea that the high prices of their product are creating more issues among troubled youth.

Nike’s million-dollar advertising campaigns have a major impact on their youth customer base.  These ads portray to today’s youth that Michael Jordan’s shoes are a necessity that will help them acquire status.  This type of effect is exactly what Nike hopes for and yet it creates a problem for the inner city youths who cannot afford to buy the shoe.  After Nike’s product has been the ongoing cause of muggings and killings, they must acknowledge and act on the idea that their shoe is being valued so highly by certain kids that they are willing to take extreme measures to obtain these products.  Nike has a social responsibility to the inner city youth, who value the Jordan shoes more than any other cliental.  This social class is not given the same opportunities as the middle and upper class children are given by means of education and life choices.  This is one of the reasons why the Jordan emblem holds so much meaning to the inner city youth; because the celebrity endorsers represent self-made success.  If Jordan’s shoes were not priced so high and instead were made affordable to these children, they would not have to resort to violence to get them.  Nike’s social responsibility is to stop the violence and crime that occurs over their product.  A possible solution could be to make a shoe that is appealing and affordable for inner city youth without hurting brand recognition.  Jordan again responds to the issues caused by his products when he states, “I never thought because of my endorsement of a shoe, or any product, that people would harm each other.  Everyone likes to be admired, but when it comes to kids actually killing each other…then you have to re-evaluate things (Telander).”

In conclusion, I definitely do not see the Air Jordan brand going away anytime soon.  I truly believe that the shoes popularity has shifted away from relating them to Michael Jordan, the player, and more on the brand’s name.  The Air Jordan brand is essential to Nike’s success; however, Nike must also be considerate of the issues that have arisen from their expensive, unattainable shoe to inner city youth.   Nike has social responsibility to these inner city youth in creating an affordable, yet desirable Air Jordan shoe that can be purchased by all people of all socioeconomic statuses.  Nike is a successful company that thrives on their smart advertising strategies as shown by the Air Jordan brand.  Using these strategies, Nike will continue to have a substantial impact on the inner city culture. 

Works Cited

Badenhausen, Kurt. “The Business Of Michael Jordan Is Booming – Forbes.” Information for the World’s Business Leaders – Forbes.com. Web. 02 Nov. 2011. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2011/09/22/the-business-of-michael-jordan-is-booming/&gt;.

Friedman, Milton. “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.” New York Times 13 Sept. 1970: SM17. Print.

Greenberg, Steve. “Game-changers: The Case for Michael Jordan – NBA – Sporting News.” Sporting News – Real Insight. Real Fans. Real Conversations. Web. 02 Nov. 2011. <http://aol.sportingnews.com/nba/story/2011-05-24/game-changers-the-case-for-michael-jordan&gt;.

Rovell, Darren. “CNBC Special: Swoosh! Inside Nike – Business – CNBC TV – Msnbc.com.” Msnbc.com – Breaking News, Science and Tech News, World News, US News, Local News- Msnbc.com. Web. 02 Nov. 2011. <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23071595/ns/business-cnbc_tv/t/cnbc-special-report-swoosh-inside-nike/&gt;.

Telander, Rick. “Your Sneakers or Your Life.” The ChucksConnection. Web. 02 Nov. 2011. <http://chucksconnection.com/articles/your-sneakers-or-your-life.html&gt;.

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One Response to Air Jordan’s – The Shoe to Die for

  1. Tihanna McCleese says:

    Gunfire and violence broke out outside several footwear stores today in the Bay Area. People had lined up overnight, anxiously awaiting the new Air Jordan’s to go on sale. It prompted me to begin looking back at some of the homicides and muggings that occured in the 80’s and 90’s over this shoe brand. Where is the social responsibility? Why are these shoes, that can be blamed for so many violent crimes, still on the market? Why is no one doing anything about this?? Would love to talk to you about your post.

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