There are few logos more identifiable than Jordan Brand’s Jumpman silhouette. One of the rare logos that could rival the Jumpman in recognition is Nike’s Swoosh symbol. Prior to 1997, you could find the two logos together on an Air Jordan sneaker. Michael Jordan’s signature shoe was created with the help of Nike, but the Air Jordan line became so popular that it eventually didn’t need the Swoosh to back it. The Nike and Jordan partnership achieved a level of success that allowed Jordan Brand to become its own company in 1997, and it has never looked backed.
For its first 13 years of existence Nike’s Air Jordan Brand was completely reliant on its namesake to keep it alive and flourishing. Michael Jordan’s magnificent basketball career established the line of shoes and clothing as a sales juggernaut. The designs of the shoes were always top shelf—but would anyone care about those designs if “His Airness” didn’t dominate the NBA in them? Nike and Jordan Brand understood, and probably feared, the idea that one day MJ would have to retire permanently from the game of basketball. Despite Michael returning twice from retirement, he did eventually step away from the game for good. What would become of Jordan Brand? Would it also retire with the man who represented it so amazingly well? Could the shoes and line of athletic clothing survive without Michael Jordan being an active member of the NBA?
Nike was of course responsible for giving birth to the Air Jordan series, but from the start Nike tried to let its creation have its own identity. The Air Jordan II, for example, was revolutionary at the time for not including the famous Nike Swoosh anywhere on the sneaker. While that design independence made the Air Jordan line stand out, it also made it difficult to market without the help of its rock star endorser.
The Birth Of Jordan Brand
In 1997, Jordan Brand and Nike decided to let the Air Jordan line operate 100% independently. It was a bold decision that showed the strong belief Nike had in the brand. The decision was probably heavily influenced by the fact that at the time it was widely believed that the ‘97-98 basketball season would be Michael Jordan’s last. Nike had to do something gigantic to let it be known to the consumer that the Jumpman logo wasn’t going away and that it was here to stay.
Jordan Brand was more than accepting and understanding of the fact that it was built on the back of the most beloved athlete in history. To survive separately from Nike, they would need talent from the sports world to endorse their company’s products.
The first group of athletes to join Jordan Brand included basketball stars Vin Baker, Eddie Jones, Derek Anderson, Michael Finley and Ray Allen. At the time all of those players were young stars with bright futures ahead of them in the NBA. They all had a strong competitive nature and skills sets that were electrifying to watch. The youthful group also personified elegance—on and off the court. That collection of players, known as the “Class of 1997,” were the embodiment of what the Air Jordan name stood for.
Ray Allen may be the brand’s biggest asset not named Michael Jordan. The guard made multiple championship runs and won a few rings while representing Jordan Brand. Ray always carried himself with class and had a lot of swagger present in his game. He is one of the best shooters that ever lived and achieved that by being extremely dedicated to his craft. He was known to wear “player exclusive” versions of adored Air Jordan sneakers that were designed specifically for him. Ray Allen brought a lot of dignity and positive attention to the company and its products.
With their basketball roster locked in—Jordan Brand now looked to branch out into other sports. Yes, Air Jordan sneakers were known exclusively as basketball shoes during their early existence with Nike. However, to survive as a brand they had to offer more to the consumer than just kicks they could hoop in.
Boxer Roy Jones and football player Randy Moss were among the first non-basketball athletes to join the brand. Having players from all over the sports world increased exposure for Jordan Brand and gave them the opportunity to create sneakers that could be used for a wide range of athletic activities. The company started producing running shoes, training sneakers and many more non-basketball specific pieces of footwear.
Baseball icon Derek Jeter was also one of the first athletes to join Jordan Brand that wasn’t affiliated with the NBA. In terms of respect and accomplishment—Jeter holds a place in the world of sports that is like Michael Jordan. He is a champion that always seemed to be at his best in the biggest moments. Derek played baseball the right way and with plenty of charisma. He never embarrassed himself on the field or off—he was one of the most gracious athletes ever. The brand benefited greatly from being associated with one of the most universally loved baseball players that ever lived.
The Jumpman logo represents a lot more than just a silhouette of Michael Jordan dunking. That logo stands for excellence—whether it’s viewed as a representation of Michael himself or his cherished clothing line. Few symbols in marketing history are more recognizable and beloved than The Jumpman. The basketball player Michael Jordan is long gone—but Jordan Brand is still going strong with no end in sight.
- Adam C. Better
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