Happy 50th Birthday Michael Jordan: 23 Meets 50

michael jordan 50

Today, February 17, 2013, marks the 50th Birthday of His Airness, Michael Jordan. What is there to say about Air Jordan that has not been said before? He spent nearly two decades in the NBA as a player which spanned from 1985 to 2003 (minus two brief retirements in ‘93 and ‘99). His list of accomplishments seems endless: six NBA championships, five MVPs, 14 All-Star appearances, ten scoring titles, nine All-Defensive First Team, and that is barely scratching the surface. Jordan was more than just another Hall of Fame caliber player, he was and still is the G.O.A.T.

Michael Jordan was a game changer. When he first entered the scene, the impact was felt instantly. Fans clamored to follow in his footsteps as Jordan broke barriers that had never before been threatened in the NBA. The evolution Air Jordan went through was illustrious, year after year everyone was presented with improvements all around. Sure, everyone was not a fan, and that was not without reason. It was a new look that people were not quite used to yet, there was no passing of the torch, the torch had just been ignited, it was something like we had never seen. Even today, there are a countless number of people who still want to wear them, even though they started out back in 1985. Thought I was talking about his basketball career? No, we are talking about the Air Jordan brand and what it has done not just for Michael Jordan and Nike, but the sneaker world in general.

Sticking Out From The Rest

The story of the first Air Jordan being worn in the NBA is an interesting one, showing how one sneaker changed the landscape for basketball shoes as a whole. For those who don’t know the story, here’s a quick synopsis. Coming right out of college, Nike took a change by signing Michael Jordan to the highest paid sneaker endorsed contract in 1984. In 1985, Jordan donned the now legendary Air Jordan 1 model. Due to the nature of the NBA’s dress code policy, Jordan was docked $5,000 a game if he chose to wore them, in an attempt to dissuade him from wearing them. Nike had no problem paying this fine as they viewed it as publicity for a price. This added to the lure of the sneaker and also led to the beginning of a special marketing campaign.

It made Nike different, the shoes different, and of course, made Jordan different. Here are shoes that were “banned” by the NBA and were not an average plain colored basketball shoe, they were unique. It was the beginning to the biggest sneaker fan base today, everyone wanting to own a pair of Air Jordans. The popularity of the Air Jordan prompted Nike to create a fierce marketing campaign including a string of commercials that included Spike Lee.

So is it the shoes? No, it was Michael Jordan. Nike’s risk turned into a huge victory that eventually catapulted them into the most popular sneaker brand. Year after year, seeing what Nike was going to do next created anticipation for the brand. The way Jordan’s play style added stories to different colorways is something that has never been done before. The Air Jordan 14 in its black/varsity red colorway came to be known as the Air Jordan 14 “Last Shot,” due to his game winner over Utah Jazz’s Bryon Russell in game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. It goes further than just the shoe itself but what Jordan did to create this empire.

Even the celebrity involvement with sneakers has increased due to Michael Jordan. The fashion statement that Air Jordans make today is something that was never done before. That’s not to say that celebrities never wore sneakers but the popularity of Air Jordans among celebrities is beyond any other brand out there. With early endorsements by Spike Lee, Air Jordans created a trend like no other. Especially today, the Air Jordan sightings are at a maximum when it comes to artists or athletes. The aura that Michael Jordan passed on to his sneakers transcends any other brand. Early pioneers in footwear history like Run-D.M.C. and Julius “Dr. J” Erving created buzz for their sneakers, but no one has ever had the following like Michael Jordan, to the point where those just as famous as he still wanted to be “Like Mike.”

Thank you Michael Jordan for sparking the creative minds at Nike and leading to one of the most original sneaker lines in history.

Growth In Succession

Due to the success of the Air Jordan, as we know, Nike continued to pump out new models in numbered order. The popularity was heightened so much that even upon retirement(s), Nike still produced Air Jordan models including the famed Air Jordan 11. The growth in sales throughout the years rose consistently for Nike through this release strategy seeing revenue go up nearly $8.5 billion from 1987 to 1997.

To really see the influence of his sneakers is to compare it to sneaker releases from current athletes. Right now, what people consider the “Big 3” in the shoe game would be the signature lines of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. Instead of having the players just endorse the shoes, the sneakers are named after them and they have partial creative control over how the sneaker comes out. Each year, a new addition to their lines is released, this year being the LeBron X, KD V and Kobe 8 System. The trend of giving athletes their own signature series is strong today, as Derrick Rose even has his own line too. That’s not to say previous athletes have not been endorsed with signature lines. In the past, we have seen Penny Hardaway, Allen Iverson and Gary Payton get their own sneakers, but no one has had the longevity that Jordan had. The “Big 3” are the closest athletes that have ever come close when compared to Michael Jordan’s continuation in footwear. And even then, Jordan Brand is still creating new models today with the Air Jordan 28 being the latest.

Thank you Michael Jordan for influencing the trend of succession in sneaker releases for athletes.

Technology Advances

The early releases of the Air Jordan line were proof of the increased performance for the sneakers year after year. Whether it be the Air Jordan 3 with the visible air unit, the Air Jordan 8 and its use of straps for ankle support, or the recent Air Jordan 28 with its dynamic fit system and Flight Plate, the Air Jordan line has always found ways to improve on the court, after all, they are basketball shoes first. Even then, with each new model is a completely redesigned sneaker. It was more than just the technological advances that the Air Jordans had but it was also the change in style from model to model. No model looks similar in any way from the main line while each provides a different feel on the foot and most recently, supreme performance on court. They are a testament to how Nike knew how to cater not to just the consumers but Jordan himself, as he had inputs here like how he requested the Air Jordan 3 to be lighter than its previous models.

Thank you Michael Jordan for the technological advances in your sneakers, although it wasn’t you who designed them, you did influence them.

Art Of The Retro

Popularity is soaring, the brand is increasing, Michael Jordan is at the top of the world and Nike is right there with him, what to do? How about re-release some sneakers? The first Air Jordan retro was released in 1994, when the Air Jordan 1 hit the markets again for those who never had a chance to get a pair.

What makes the retro process so special pertaining only to Michael Jordan? I mean, other shoes see retro releases all the time. While true, no other sneaker makes use of the word “retro” the same. When any sneaker addict speaks on a retro release, the first sneakers that come to mind are Air Jordans. One point to this is that the Air Jordans are called retros when they release, which is fair. However, outside of the word itself, the process of re-releasing shoes is nothing compared to that of the Air Jordan line. The strength it holds today is undeniably at its highest and does not look like it is slowing down any time soon.

The retro process is not exclusive to the Jordan line, since every month brands are bringing back old sneakers all the time. Giving the consumers another opportunity to grab a pair of shoes they wanted as a child draws more and more people into collecting. No matter what shoe is seeing a retro release, no other sneaker will ever be clamored as much as Michael Jordan’s.

Thank you Michael Jordan for creating a legendary brand.

Collecting The Relics (OGs or Originals)

With each retro release, the pairs from the past become more and more unattainable. Whether it is price or availability, the market for original pairs (or OGs) shrinks as time moves on. This has made OG pairs highly sought after for a variety of distinct reasons.

It is something that is indescribable, in that it’s only usually purists who understand. The best way to view it is how an art collector wants to have original prints from famous artists instead of reproductions of a particular piece. Another example is car enthusiasts who prefer to rebuild old models with original parts when they could always go have newer parts constructed for them. There is something about an original pair of Air Jordans that has a sort of splendor.

What makes the OG Air Jordans interesting is the rising demand in them. Even though certain older pairs of sneakers can crumble or break down, the desire to own them is best described as owning a piece of history. The added element to sneaker collecting is a special case that only applies to a select few who appreciate the history or different use of materials in past pairs. Owning a pair of sneakers from your childhood is like a portable nostalgia trip, one where you can look down and be reminded of what used to be.

Thank you Michael Jordan for reminding us of the past.

Jumpstart Into Sneaker Collecting

When did you start collecting sneakers? What was the first sneaker that made you start wanting to collect? Regardless how people feel about Air Jordans today, many answers to these questions would relate to Jordans. If someone had to pinpoint a time when sneaker collecting really started on the mainstream level, it would have to be 1985. The culprit for this new phenomenon? Michael Jordan. With the marketing push, the allure from being banned in the NBA and of course wanting to be “Like Mike,” it would be hard to argue this point.

Michael Jordan is one of the greatest things to ever happen to the sneaker industry. With the following he created, it gave notice to other brands to establish unique styles that would both stand out and draw attention. More importantly, Jordan is a direct influence to many people’s sneaker collections today, whether they are aware or not. How so? Here’s a personal account.

1998, Michael Jordan retires from the NBA with the last shoe he wore as a Chicago Bull being the Air Jordan 14. I was conflicted because he put the beatdown on the Sonics two years previous but he was the main reason I started watching basketball when I was only 5 years old. One thing I noticed were his shoes, or as I referred to as “foots” (cut me some slack, I was 7). Did I know what they were? Of course not, I knew nothing about being stylish or even what a sneaker was. Even so, I wanted the Air Jordan 14. Here I am, a seven-year-old kid longing for a pair of sneakers. Fast forward to freshman year of high school and there it is, the Air Jordan 14 in its white/black-varsity red colorway seeing a retro release. I remember it as if it was yesterday, the first sneaker I had acquired that I consider to be the start of my collecting days. After buying the 14s, I went on to buying another Jordan, then another, then another. Eventually, I began to notice other brands and my tastes and style began to form on its own as I discovered other silhouettes to my liking, thus turning me into a sneaker addict. Do I collect mainly Jordans? No. Do I have mainly Jordans? Another no. Despite my lack of interest in Air Jordans today, it is directly because of Michael Jordan that I got into sneaker collecting. No matter how many sneakers I get or how many different brands I own, the black suede tip Air Jordan 14s will always be my favorite pair and will never be thrown away. They are like a memory in physical form for me.

My story is different from everyone else’s, but I can guarantee that many of us have similar stories. What the Air Jordan line did for us as kids carried into our adulthood, creating this unexplainable craving to collect more sneakers every day.

Thank you Michael Jordan for stemming this addiction that has led me to take an hour out of every morning to decide which pair of shoes I want to rock.

What else is there to say? Michael Jordan has done it all. If there was a Mt. Rushmore for sneakers, it would be blasphemous if he was not included. His mark on the sneaker industry is incomparable and will never be repeated. The Air Jordan line is evidence that he will always be a force in the shoe game and that the creative minds behind Air Jordans are still working.

His contributions to the sneaker world in general are often overlooked and under appreciated. We’re not talking about the Air Jordan line exclusively, but more so the sneaker industry as a whole. He led many of us into sneaker collecting, because of him there were many advancements made to sneakers and the procedure of sneaker releases has a direct influence from him in some cases.

28 years ago, the legend was created. 50 years ago, the legend was born.

Happy Birthday Michael Jordan.


Written by Jordan Rainey – @Jawrduhn 

About The Author

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  • MikeyDrums86


  • Mamba

    Happy Birthday to the Greatest! I’ve been checking out his top 50 plays all day today on sportscenter!

  • JB

    Great write up! MJ is truly the most transcending athlete ever! What other sport has someone as iconic as him???

  • KP

    I really wish I was alive to witness most of this man’s career. By the time I was old enough to understand he was shooting his last shot against Utah!

  • Dodger

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE GOAT! Mike could come back right now and still be hard to defend for some people!

  • Prestige

    I remember when I was fortunate enough to see Mike when he was with the Wizards and they came to Chicago! He got so much love, that’s one day I’ll never forget! Happy B-day Mike!

  • KayGotKicks

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO THE GREATEST! There will never be another you Mike!!!

  • Heat


  • SoleAmbition23

    Mike about to be the spokesperson for AARP pretty soon! LOL

  • Mars Blackmon

    This was a great read! Happy Birthday to the GOAT!!

  • AceofJ’s

    My favorite number is 23. My favorite sport is basketball. My favorite team is the Bulls. My favorite shoe is the Air Jordan 3. Without Mike, none of this would be true! Happy B-Day to the greatest to ever do it!!!

  • omar najeeb

    Yezzir!!! Man, I still get ample hyped when I see mj’s hi-lites. Mike wasn’t. Nothin but afreak on the court. Freakish b’ball skills with freakish athletically. Dumb wicked. One thing that cracked me up the most was the fact that mike could be seen sassin scottie pippen out, like “wtf r u doin?” Salute to the G.O.A.T.! Take flight!!

  • Chevy Boy

    This is a great article, Jawrduhn. It reminded me why I am such a fan of the Air Jordan line. Ironically enough, it wasn’t an Air Jordan that sparked my interest in sneakers…it was the Reebok Pump. But like you said, Nike pushed the other brands into trying to keep up with them, via technology and design. And the Air Jordan line had a lot to do with that.

  • Jenene

    Jordan rules!! Thanks for the excellent retrospective on an extraordinary athlete cousin ; )