(via Wall Street Journal)
Over 20 years ago at the Berto Center in Deerfield, Ill. the greatest player in the game of basketball at the prime of his career did the unthinkable. At the age of 30-years-old, Michael Jordan announced his retirement from the NBA.
“We had a big issue when I retired in 1993,” Jordan said in his 2005 book, Driven from Within. “Nike didn’t think the Jordan product wouldn’t sell if I wasn’t playing basketball.”
All of the brand’s projections at the time forecasted that the brand wouldn’t make it. Fortunately for Nike and sneaker enthusiasts, MJ was committed to seeing his eponymous brand grow despite his absence from the basketball court- and he was willing to spend his own personal money to make it happen.
“I have always believed-even to this day-the brand can withstand me being in the public eye or out of the public eye because there is an established style in the minds of the consumer,” Jordan said.
While in the middle of negotiating a new contract with Nike, Jordan offered to fund his own guarantee of years on the contract in exchange for the brand spending on marketing. The gamble paid off for Jordan, who didn’t have to negotiate another Nike deal for 30 years.
This unexpected event not only shook things up from a business standpoint within the brand, but also altered the design of the Air Jordan line. If it wasn’t for a defiant Tinker Hatfield continuing to design Air Jordan sneakers against the will of Nike’s Phil Knight, the brand may not have evolved to become the top brand in basketball that it is today.
“Most people at Nike were told that it was the end of an era, that there wouldn’t be anymore Jordans. I single-handedly kept designing on the 10,” the Nike designer told Complex’s Joe La Puma in 2008. Although Hatfield was strapped for resources because of Nike's reluctantance to invest in the products and had very limited access to Michael Jordan, who was playing minor league baseball at the time, the designer always believed that Jordan would come back to the NBA.
“[Jordan] didn't even know it at first, but I was working harder than ever to do the best new sneaker that I could come up with. There were people within the Nike company who literally were telling me ‘Don't do it, stop. We don't want you spending the time and money on it.’ And I just didn’t listen,” Hatfield said in OysterMag earlier this year. “I kept working on it and finally I started tracking Michael down in small towns where he was playing minor league baseball. Just little towns, where there's this big huge star in the locker room with a bunch of young baseball players. It was just surreal.”
Gerald Flores is the Editor-in-Chief of Sole Collector. You can follow him on Twitter here.