The Sneaker Gods – 50 Facts About Nike And The Immortal Swoosh (part 2).

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To read part 1 of this blog, click here.

21. When Nike first signed an enigmatic, high-flying rookie for the Chicago Bulls out of North Carolina, it completely changed the fortunes of the company, which had been coming back to earth.

22. But the legendary Jordan/Nike union that completely changed pro sports as well as fashion and the athletic industry almost never happened. Nike was originally most interested in signing former Maryland college star Len Bias, who was drafted and set to join the powerhouse Celtics. Bias was considered far more talented than Jordan at the time, and even had a passion for fashion and design, a good fit for Nike, who wanted his input on his own sneaker. But that partnership ended tragically when Len Bias passed away from an overdose shortly after he was drafted, and Michael Jordan became the logical second choice.

23. But Michael Jordan didn’t have his own line of Air Jordans at first, lacing up the Nike Air Ship when he first played.

24. In fact, when a young Jordan first saw the prototype sneaker built for him, the Air Jordan 1, he hated it! He thought the red and black coloring looked like his former college rival North Carolina State’s team colors. Even when reminded that he was in the NBA now, not college, and his own team the Chicago Bulls wore red and black, he was set to reject Nike’s overtures. Fortunately, his parents convinced him to fly out and meet with the Nike executive team, even if just to decline in person. But the meeting went well and Nike sold Jordan on their vision.

25. The Nike Jordan line of sneakers wasn’t just successful, it shattered expectations. Original projections anticipated $3 million in sales for the first three years of the Air Jordan line, but Air Jordans did $130 million in sales in the first year alone!

26. Despite the sneaker’s popularity, the NBA originally banned players – including Jordan – from wearing Air Jordan sneakers. But instead of signaling the death of Jordans, the ban had the opposite effect, giving Jordan, Air Jordans, and Nike a blitz of publicity, transforming them into the most sought after shoe from the streets to NBA courts.

27. Nearly 30 years later, Air Jordans are still the top selling athletic shoe line in the world. Even though Jordan hasn’t played pro basketball since 2003, he brings in about $60 million yearly in endorsements and royalties.

28. With Jordan on board, Nike expanded and solidified its dominance of the industry in the late 1980s with a creative ad line featuring movie producer Spike Lee as well as the advent of cross training shoes, endorsed by the iconic two-sport athlete, Bo Jackson.

29. Professional athletes weren’t the only ones popularizing Nikes in the 1980s, as Marty McFly – actor Michael J. Fox ‘s character in the hit movie, “Back to the Future,” donned Air Mags.

30. One of Nike’s all-time most popular sneaker lines, the Air Force 1, was introduced in 1982, but discontinued after only one year. Luckily, it was re-released in 1986, and went on to be their second-most famous design.

31. Nike caught plenty of heat from the media, community organizers, and even politicians in the late 1980s and early 1990s when many children and teens, especially in urban and disadvantaged areas, were being jumped, shot, and murdered for their Air Jordans.

32. There were plenty of other blunders and missteps along the way, but Nike did a great job of adapting to what the market was calling for. For example, Nike made acid wash denim golf shorts in 1991, but quickly cancelled the fashion faux pas. Nike took a hit for signing American sprinter Justin Gatlin to an endorsement contract right after served two bans for doping. They also once put a map of South Carolina on t-shirts designed for the Carolina Panthers football team (that played in NORTH Carolina), and sales dropped in the early 1990s as the grunge movement hit and Nike tried to keep up with their semi-line of Nike hiking boots.

33. When Nike used the Beatles song ‘Revolution” in their 1987 commercial (the first time a Beatles song was ever used commercially), they forgot one little detail – to get permission from Apple Records, the Beatles’ record company, first. Apple sued Nike for $15 million, though it came out that Nike had paid $250,000 for the use of the song – but only for one year – and they thought they had the blessing of Yoko Ono. Either way, Nike discontinued the ad with ‘Revolution” in March of 1988, but Yoko Ono did give the company permission to use John Lennon’s song ‘Instant Karma” in a later ad.

34. Nike signed a long-term partnership deal with the Brazilian national soccer team, kicking off its foray into competing for brand recognition and market share in the world’s most popular sport.

35. During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Nike released television and billboard ads that stated, “You don’t win silver, you lose gold,” which enraged a lot of bronze and silver medal winners and alienated many fans.

36. When Niketown in Boston, Mass prominently displayed t-shirts with the slogans, “Get High” and “Ride Pipe,” Boston Mayor Thomas Menino criticized the company for displaying “distasteful” T-shirts. In a statement, Menino wrote, “Your window display of T-shirts with drug and profanity wordplay are out of keeping with the character of Boston’s Back Bay.”

37. Nike doesn’t own the factories where its products are made, which is common across the entire fashion industry. But it has also been widely criticized for its use of foreign labor, accused of exploiting workers in developing countries in ‘sweat shop’ factories. During the 1990s, Nike was derided for using child labor in Cambodia and Pakistan. In 2001, a documentary on BBC uncovered deplorable, unsafe, and exploitative labor practices – including child labor – when it featured six girls who worked at a Nike factory in Cambodia.

38. These days, Nikes are still manufactured in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam, but the first generations of Nike sneakers were actually made in the U.S.A.

39. The foreign-made sneakers may have advantages when it comes to cost savings, but that wasn’t the case when a U.S. cargo ship carrying containers of Nikes was lost at sea, causing random Air Solo Flight, Strike Force, and Pegasus sneakers to be spotted floating in the Pacific Ocean for a long time.

40. The athletic chain Footlocker stopped carrying high-end Nike shoes in 2003, as they were concerned with the growing violence and theft the expensive Jordan and other Nike lines was causing.

41. Nike almost cemented the most dominant NBA basketball player outside of Jordan when it was on track to sign a young Shaquille O’Neal, who had been offered a contract with shoemaker Reebok. But when Phil Knight met Shaq at the Nike headquarters to finalize the mega-deal, he was shocked and offended to see that Shaw was wearing all Reebok gear. Knight didn’t take kindly to the joke and took his Nike offer off the table. Reportedly, Phil Knight still holds a grudge against Shaq for the snub.

42. Although we now see Tiger Woods as the face of Nike golf, the idea of expanding from a running and basketball sneaker into a gold shoe and apparel company started way back in 1984 when employee Bob Wood conceived the idea and wrote it into the business plan.

43. The famous “Columbia Blue” color, popular in Nike shoes and clothing and officially North Carolina’s uniform color, is actually started with another college team, the Columbia Lions of the Ivy League.

44. In 1980, Nike completed its initial public offering by selling 2,377,000 shares of Class B common stock. In 1986 Nike revenues exceed $1 billion for the first time, and by 2004, their annual worldwide revenues surpassed $13 billion.

45. They now own control more than 60% of the athletic shoe and apparel market, including buying up smaller competitors like Converse, which they acquired for $305 million in 2003. Interestingly enough, the biggest threat to Nike’s dominance comes from upstart Under Armour with their athletic gear, not a rival shoe company.

46. The Lance Armstrong-inspired ‘Livestrong’ campaign was one of Nike’s most successful, despite the fact that founder Phil Knight thought the Livestrong bracelet was “one of the dumbest ideas he ever heard.”

47. In 1996, Nike opened its flagship store in New York, Niketown. But the world’s largest Nike store isn’t in the U.S. at all, but on Oxford Street in London, England, covering three levels and about 42,000 square feet.

48. While Michael Jordan helped put Nike on the map, their sneakers have a bond with the NBA that goes much further back. In fact, the first basketball sneaker ever made by Nike, the Blazer, was named after Geoff Petrie of the Portland Trailblazers.

49. In 2003, Nike 2003 took a gamble by signing high school basketball stars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. The gamble paid off huge as Lebron became a tour de force that nearly rivals Jordan and Anthony became a superstar.

50. In June of 2015, Nike inked an 8-year deal with the NBA, making them the official apparel supplier for the league. The deal, which kicks out incumbent supplier Adidas, starts in 2017–18 season and will feature Nike logos on all NBA game jerseys for the first time.


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