The 1984/85 NBA season was full of excitement and unexpected turns. The Portland Trail Blazers made a surprising choice by selecting Sam Bowie instead of the highly talented Michael Jordan. Little did they know that this decision would lead to a remarkable chain of events.
At the time, Jordan was already a rising star. He had just finished an incredible season at the University of North Carolina, where he was named the College Player of the Year. He had also won a gold medal for the USA in the 1984 Summer Olympics. His popularity was soaring, catching the attention of Nike’s CEO, Phil Knight.
Nike saw the immense potential in Jordan and started brainstorming ways to market him to basketball fans. They had already planned an advertising campaign, but fate had something else in store for them.
When Jordan agreed to debut the new line of “Air Jordan” basketball shoes, a problem arose. The original design of the shoes didn’t comply with the NBA’s uniformity guidelines. The black shoes with a red swoosh and cream white laces didn’t match the Chicago Bulls’ jerseys according to the NBA’s standards. As a result, the NBA banned the shoes just three games into the season.
This ban caused a sensation and brought Nike and Jordan unexpected publicity. Jordan, undeterred, continued to wear the banned shoes despite being fined by NBA Commissioner David Stern. The news of the ban spread like wildfire across the country.
Nike couldn’t have been happier with the outcome. They assured Jordan that they would cover all his fines and encouraged him to keep wearing the shoes. Jordan even mentioned in his book, “For The Love of The Game,” that the publicity generated by the ban was worth more than any expensive promotional campaign.
The success of the Nike campaign was unparalleled
In a time when Super Bowl ads cost millions of dollars, Nike’s strategy paid off handsomely. Jordan’s performance on the court, where he won Rookie of the Year and averaged an astonishing 28.2 points per game, only added to the buzz surrounding the banned shoes.
Nike took advantage of this opportunity by running a commercial that prominently featured Jordan. As the camera panned down his body, it reached his shoes, which had a large “X” stamped on the screen, symbolizing the ban. The commercial became a hit, and Air Jordan shoes flew off the shelves.
In the end, Nike’s fortunate twist of fate turned the Air Jordan shoes into the most iconic basketball shoes ever created. Phil Knight must have felt incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon such a groundbreaking marketing opportunity.
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About the author: Hemant is the Founder & CEO of branding and marketing firm ”Neeti Brand Accelerator” in Mumbai. He is a brand strategist and has worked with more than 150 brands during last two decades. He is also mentor and coach to SMEs and startups. You can visit the website www.www.neeti.biz. You can contact him at email@example.com