Five thousand dollars. That was the fine that the NBA slapped on a 21-year-old Michael Jordan every time he stepped foot on the basketball court in 1985. Given the choice, most people would deem being fined $5,000 every time they went to work a rather unwise investment – but most people aren’t Michael Jordan.
But what did the undeniably talented rookie from North Carolina University, who had only recently made the transition to professional sports after being drafted by the Chicago Bulls, do to incite the league’s wrath? What crime could he have committed that would cause him to be fined $410,000 for the season? The answer: his shoes.
Thirty years ago, American apparel company Nike took a risk. It was no secret that Michael Jordan was set to be a star, but while others balked at the idea of investing too much in the young rookie, Nike went the other way, offering him a deal that would earn him $7 million over five years. By comparison, up until that point the previous highest contract was James Worthy’s arrangement with New Balance, an eight-year deal worth $150,000 per year. Nike had well and truly placed their chips on the black and red uniform of Chicago’s number 23.
With such an investment, Nike threw their rather ingenious marketing machine behind their man. Mirroring the franchise’s colours, they launched the Air Jordan 1, breaking away from the status quo of white sneakers by opting for a rather maverick black and red.
The lack of white on the shoe was not welcomed by then NBA Commissioner, David Stern, who fined Jordan every time he played a game with them on. Nike were only too happy to pick up the fine, using the notoriety of the punishment to their advantage – their advertising suggesting that the shoes gave you an unfair advantage and that whoever wore them had a certain edginess associated with outlaw activities.
With that, the legend was born. Jump – or perhaps stride, bound or leap – forward to today and for Philippe Tardivel, marketing director for the upscale Swiss watch company Hublot, the idea that, on first impressions at least, a watchmaker may have little in common with a world class sprinter poses no problems at all. Back in 2012, he was the man who masterminded the company’s business partnership with superstar athlete Usain Bolt.