The Air Jordan 1 is arguably the most important sneaker in the history of footwear. Not only was it Michael Jordan’s first signature sneaker from Nike, but it was the beginning of Nike’s ingenuity when it comes to storytelling. The Air Jordan 1 began as a basketball sneaker, found a second life with skateboarders in the 1980s, launched the retro crazed world that we live in today where new colorways and collaborations seem to release every week. How did the Air Jordan 1 become so iconic? We’re glad you asked.
The Air Jordan 1 was designed by Peter Moore. While most of the components of the shoe were pulled from other Nike designs like the Air Force 1, Nike Dunk, Air Ship, and Nike Vandal, the one thing that was completely exclusive to the Air Jordan 1 was the logo that Moore sketched for Michael Jordan’s agent, David Falk. The ‘Wings’ logo as we know it today features a basketball with wings coming out from each side, the perfect metaphor and marketing genius for Michael “Air” Jordan and his new signature sneakers.
The story of the Nike Air Jordan 1 begins well before the sneaker ever became public knowledge. In the early 1980s, Nike Co-Founder was on the verge of flipping the footwear business upside down like the waffle soles he and Bill Bowerman had turned into running shoes in the decade prior. The ’80s were different, though, and with competition rising around them, Phil Knight had the foresight to see that Nike wasn’t in the shoe business, they were in the entertainment business.
In 1984, after nearly losing him to adidas (and Converse), Phil Knight and the team at Nike signed one of the greatest entertainers of all time, Michael Jordan. MJ’s original contract with Nike was valued at $500,000 per year, an unprecedented amount for any athlete at the time. The potential upside for Michael was that it also offered him stock options. For Nike, taking such a huge financial risk was given a safety net in the form of one stipulation. If the partnership didn’t result in an ambitious level of $4 million dollars in sales by the end of the third year, they had the right to end the partnership.
As the story goes, Nike designer Peter Moore, who designed the iconic Nike Air Force 1, among others, came up with the idea to “break the color barrier in footwear.” You see, in the early 1980s the only bright colors you would find on sneakers were likely on a pair of running shoes, or maybe women’s focused aerobic sneakers. When it came to basketball shoes, the colors were almost always an accent color that was added to a mostly white sneaker. Although, as mentioned on our podcast about the Air Jordan 1, hoopers on the streets of New York City like Bobbito Garcia had already started switching up the colors by customizing their AF1s to stand out when they hit the courts, the trend was still handcuffed by the dress code of the NBA.
Peter Moore and Nike Vice President, Rob Strasser, had met with Michael Jordan’s agent, David Falk, and decided that ‘Air Jordan’ would be the name of the shoes Michael would wear. In an interview with Slam in 2018, Moore tells the story of flying home from the meeting and on the plane, noticing the plastic wings on a pin that a kid had just received from the flight attendant. Moore asked the flight attendant for a set for himself. He started drawing the wings on a napkin and put the basketball in the middle of it. In truly a legendary fashion, what started as a quick sketch on a napkin while sitting with Strasser, went on to become the iconic Air Jordan ‘Wings’ logo that we know and love today.
To be continued…