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Air Jordans on exhibit
The Air Jordans on exhibit
Made: 1985

Learn more about Michal Jordan

May 2000

"Its Gotta Be The Shoes!" Merchandising And Athletes in the 1980s

In 1984, the Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association selected North Carolina's Michael Jordan (MJ) in the first round of the NBA draft. At the same time, Nike signed the promising young player to a 2.5 million dollar, five year contract. Nike worriedly included a clause that allowed the company to cancel the deal if sales of the shoe were insubstantial.

In his first season Jordan wore a pair of black and red Nikes, and the company launched a commercial version of the shoe. The Air Jordan shoe included a silhouette of Jordan preparing to dunk that became called "the Jump Man". Michael established himself as one of the greatest players in NBA history, and the shoe quickly came to dominate the market.

Not only did Nike have a star player, but it aggressively marketed and promoted the shoes. The Air Jordan advertising campaign became one of the most popular of the 1980s and 1990s. Jordan teamed with director Spike Lee to create a series of spots coining the phrase "Its gotta be the shoes". Air Jordan shoes proved so popular that, if the brand were its own company, it would have been the fifth largest shoe company in the world. Sales for the year 1985 totaled 130 million dollars. Basketball shoes achieved a higher presence in the athletic shoe industry, and other manufacturers sought to match the star appeal of Michael Jordan and the success of Air Jordans.

In popular culture the shoes became famous and infamous. Jordan projected a hip but wholesome image that appealed to middle class culture. Teens with aspirations to "Be Like Mike" sought the shoes for their status and association with MJ. The popularity of the shoes also led to some actual instances of young people being robbed of their Air Jordans. The history of the shoes pictured at left is more typical. A young man in southeast Iowa received the shoes as a Christmas present in 1985, and he wore them in pick-up basketball games. He and his friends played on a hoop with eight-foot rims, and they could sky for dunks like the Jumpman silhouette. As with many teens, the young man set the shoes aside in his closet, and rediscovered them years later as his parents prepared to move.

Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village acquired the shoes for the "Your Place in Time" exhibit which examines American life in the Twentieth Century.



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