With neon lights shooting down from every angle and the words “Haters gonna say it’s fake” on a screen behind him, Justin Timberlake for the second time in his career danced his way onto television's biggest stage: The Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Timberlake, in some circles, was billed as public enemy no.1—some old, out-of-touch publications even said he “lost the Super Bowl.” People were ready to storm to Twitter, pitchfork in hand, and crucify him for a pretty solid performance, all things considered. But what shut a lot of people up wasn’t just Timberlake’s catalog of hits or dance moves, but the Air Jordans he had on his feet, even if the fit that accompanied them was straight out of Cabela’s.
Timberlake and Jordan Brand are no strangers to working together. The two collaborated on a limited run of multiple all-red Air Jordan models for the singer’s “Legends of Summer” tour in 2013 with Jay Z, which have become unicorn sneakers for many. But when Timberlake came out at halftime in Minneapolis on Sunday night wearing a pair of White/Cement Air Jordan IIIs with a 3M Swoosh on them, which were inspired by an early sketch by designer Tinker Hatfield, it made many forget that they were angry—or were supposed to feel angered—at Timberlake. His shoes were too good, and it was a moment that a slumping Jordan Brand, which had been coming off a rough two years, desperately needed.
The sneakers dropped on Nike’s SNKRS shortly after Timberlake’s performance ended and sold out within seconds. It was a bit of organic marketing so successful that it flooded the timeline more than gripes about Timberlake paying tribute to Prince, one of the greatest musicians of all-time, in his home state. And this is only one phase of what appears to be more collaborations to come between the singer and footwear brand, as Jordan Brand said it’s the, “First release from Justin Timberlake & Tinker Hatfield’s Air Jordan III JTH collection.”
This move wasn’t just big for the Super Bowl and a 20-minute performance, but it was a sign that Jordan Brand has rediscovered its mojo, or is at least on the right track.
I’ve been the most outspoken critic of Jordan Brand over the past year or so, mainly because the product they’ve been putting out wasn’t on par or up to trend. And some of their hype-building tactics—like getting kids to fight each other over fake exclusives—were bush league at best. But the past month or so has shown that the company is making the right moves. The Levi’s x Air Jordan IV will go down as one of the best sneakers this year, and the execution and rollout of the shoe was thoughtful and well done. The “Black/Cement” Air Jordan IIIs are back out, this time with Nike Air on the heel for the first time since 2001. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg: There’s another Virgil Abloh x Air Jordan 1 releasing at the end of the month and, suddenly, the future for Jordan Brand doesn’t seem so bad.
It’s still going to take a lot more consistent releases from the brand to continue—or at least regain—its dominance from years ago, but centering its buzz around well-executed collaborations on its most popular silhouettes is a good bet, even if purists, for years, have said to do the opposite.
Justin Timberlake was able to bring sexy back and even his own career in some ways; maybe he’ll be able to lend some heat to Jordan Brand.