In 1984, a promising young Basketball player from North Carolina signed a sponsorship contract with a struggling clothing and footwear company. It was a five-year contract worth $500,000 per year. As everyone surely knows, the young basketball player was Michael Jordan and the company was Nike—the rest is history.
Today, Nike is the world’s largest supplier of athletic shoes and apparel. It employs approximately 80,000 people and has a net worth of $35 billion. Its logo, the Nike swoosh, is one of the most recognizable and trusted in the world.
The incredible history of Nike charts highs and lows, from its slow start to the dizzying heights it reached alongside Jordan and which have continued to the present day. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the Nike timeline and discover how this Oregan start-up company became a global giant.
The Early Years
The story of Nike begins in January 1964, 20 years before that famous partnership with Michael Jordan. The company was founded in Eugene, Oregon as Blue Ribbon Sports by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman. Knight was a track athlete at the University of Oregon while Bowerman, his coach, was an Olympic running coach.
In its early years, the company served as a distributor for a Japanese shoemaker, selling its products at track meets. It opened its first retail store in 1966 in California. The company soon started experimenting with its own shoe (with the ingenious use of a waffle iron) and in 1971 it changed its name to Nike, named after the Greek goddess of victory.
The famous Nike swoosh logo was created by a design student at Portland University called Carolyn Davidson to help pay for oil painting classes. Knight chose the Swoosh logo after rejecting four other designs, stating: “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.” Davidson was paid $35 for her work (a little more than $200 today).
Nike’s Waffle Racer, also known as the Moon Show, was released with the Swoosh logo in 1972. The same year, the Nike Cortez was released ahead of the Mexico Olympics (these are the shoes worn by Forrest Gump in the hit 1994 film). The following year, Nike launched the Blazer basketball shoe and makes its first mark in the sport that it would become synonymous with.
Over the course of the following decade, Nike would release a number of other popular shoes and athletic clothing. These included the Tailwind in 1978, the Air Force 1 and the Internationalist in 1982, and the Air Pegasus in 1983. And then the company signed Michael Jordan.
Nike Meets Jordan
Michael Jordan was chosen by the Chicago Bulls at the 1984 NBA draft. Even before the start of the season, he had the opportunity to make sponsorship deals thanks to his well-known basketball abilities and infectious personality.
While Nike had their own basketball shoe, the sport was dominated by Converse (the official shoe of the NBA) and Adidas. Converse already had players like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson on their roster, while Adidas (due to internal issues), was not in a position to offer Jordan a contract—despite his wishes.
Jordan reluctantly met with Nike who offered him a contract. After one final failed effort to get Adidas to sign him, Jordan put pen to paper at Nike.
That year, 1984, the Air Jordan 1 was produced exclusively for Jordan and a prototype of this show, the Air Ship, was controversially banned by the NBA for not including enough white. The attempt to ban the shoe was marketing gold for Nike and it created a phenomenon that boosted interest and awareness in the company.
Nike expected to earn around $3 from Air Jordan sales in 1985. They proved to be significantly off in their estimates as the shoe earned them a whopping $126 million.
Just Do It
Thanks to its partnership with Jordan, Nike’s fortunes were made and became one of the world’s most recognizable companies. This was strengthened by the fact that Jordan would go on to claim 6 NBA championships with the Bulls in the 90s.
In 1988, the company launched the iconic ‘Just Do It’ slogan. Interestingly, the inspiration for the slogan was words uttered by Gary Gilmore, an American criminal whose final words before being executed by firing squad in 1977 were “Let’s do it”. The slogan was an instant success.
In recent years, Nike has dominated the sporting landscape and become a major force in multiple sports around the world. The company signed Tiger Woods in 1996 and LeBron James in 2003, two of the most iconic athletes of all time.
Today, Nike has a global sports market share of around 27% and an annual net income of more than $2.5 billion (as of 2020). The majority of its manufacturing operations are located in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Its current stock price is more than $145.
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Charting the Incredible History of Nike
It is safe to say that Nike has come a long way since 1964. The company that was founded as Blue Ribbon Sports is today a multi-billion dollar company that has a global reach. Its range of popular sneakers, clothing apparel, accessories, and sports equipment can be seen everywhere you go.
Nike can thank Michael Jordan for much of this, as well as its efforts to create innovative new products and an effective marketing department. Like this blog post on the incredible history of Nike? Be sure to check out our other informative articles on a wide range of interesting topics.