How Marcus Jordan Wore a Pair of Air Jordans and Cost UCF Its $3M adidas Deal

Michael Jordan’s son explains the real story of why he wouldn’t wear Three Stripes.

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Complex Original

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As Michael Jordan's youngest son, there's never been a question about what sneakers Marcus Jordan has on his feet. But in 2009, Marcus decided to play college basketball for the University of Central Florida, which, at the time, was sponsored by adidas. Despite the school's existing relationship, he chose to wear a pair of Air Jordans in a preseason exhibition game, an 84-65 win against Saint Leo University. 

Before he took the court, it was speculated that Marcus, the “heir” to the Jordan throne, would wear a pair of Air Jordans during the game, and he did just that, lacing up the “Rising Sun” Air Jordan XIIs. Naturally, adidas was not happy. The brand reacted swiftly and dropped the school, costing them roughly $3M in sponsorship money—all because of Marcus’ choice of footwear. Nike, where his father is a figurehead, took the opportunity to sweep in and pick up a UCF sponsorship after adidas walked out. Media outlets reported on this huge fiasco, but Marcus Jordan has never told his side of the story. Until now.

We spoke with Marcus, who is about to open his own sneaker store, Trophy Room, not too far from UCF in Orlando. Here’s the untold story of what went down when he decided to wear those sneakers that night in Florida.

When you went to UCF, it was already an adidas school before you set foot on campus?
UCF was one of the schools that recruited me back in high school. To be honest, I never heard of them, and A.J. [Rompza], my point guard in high school, came down there the year before me. He was telling me my senior year, “You gotta check out UCF.”  And I was like, “Leave me alone, I’m not going to UCF. I’m not going out there.” We win states my senior year, and A.J. Rompza is still on me saying, “You gotta check it out, you’re gonna love it.” After we won states, I was like, alright, I’ll take a visit. One of the things they told me on my visit is that I was going to be able to wear Jordans, and it wouldn’t be a problem. They had already spoke to their regional adidas reps, and it wouldn’t be an issue. They understood, with me being Michael Jordan's son, it would only make sense that I wear Jordans.

I ended up committing and came in the summer, worked out all summer. We started the fall semester and heard rumblings that adidas was mad. Adidas was trying to make me wear adidas, so I had a meeting with the school and the AD at the time, Keith Tribble, and my coach, Kirk Speraw. They sat me down and said, “We’re gonna honor what we told you, because the people we were dealing with told us it wasn’t an issue.” But when it got to adidas in Germany, the higher ups, it didn’t sit well with them. They told everyone back in the States—or at least the regional people that my school was dealing with—everyone was going to have to wear adidas or they were going to drop the school. The school didn't want to go back on what they told me, because it was definitely a deciding factor on why I committed to UCF. Had I been told on my visit that I would have to wear adidas, in all honesty, I probably wouldn't have come to [the school].

So they let you wear the shoes?
Yeah. It was really cool for them to honor that. Keep in mind, I was a student athlete at the time, so I wasn’t included in most of the conversations going on behind the scenes. I would get the summary of it, so I don't really know the logistics. But to be honest, I wanted to [know what was going on]. The first shoe I wore when we played an exhibition game was  the all-white “Rising Sun” [Air Jordan] XII. I used Wite-Out on the red Jumpman 23 on the heel. I called Derrick Rose—we were good friends at the time, and this was right around the time he was wearing those adidas ankle braces. It was becoming popular to wear the ankle braces he was wearing, so I went through him to get a pair. I wore those so that way anytime someone would take a picture of my footwear they would still see an adidas logo. I thought that would be enough for adidas to put everything to bed, but when I walked out on the court for that exhibition game, they called the school and notified the school they were dropping [them]. In one of the time outs during the game, one of my coaches at the time let me know, “Hey, yeah, adidas dropped the school.” I just couldn't believe it. It was crazy.

After that happened, was anyone at the angry with you?
To be honest, it was more of an inside joke, because they literally dropped the school. Nobody in any sport was getting any product. There were no more tees, there was no more anything. The athletes joked that adidas dropping the school was all my fault. You know we had to be very, very cautious about what we said or what we did, because we didn't want to give the idea that I was doing this on purpose to have Nike come in, because then there would be some legal repercussions about it. UCF would essentially be breaching their contract, and it wasn't something, like, I sat down and said, "Hey, we need to make this school Nike.” It just kinda happened. Nike ended up coming in and taking over the school. I think it was a five-year deal, but it was pretty crazy once all the products stopped [coming in].

After that whole first incident happened, did you call your dad and say, “They won't let me wear Jordans and we need Jordan or Nike to sponsor the school”?
I was in constant communication with my dad. It was never to the effect of, “We need to get Nike to come in and take over the school.” It was more like, “This is what's going on, the adidas reps are upset that the school allowed me to wear Jordans, and the main thing was the school told me I’d always be able to wear the Js and it wouldn't be a problem.” The main thing that stuck with me that my dad said was, “You know you’re not wearing adidas.” [laughs] That was pretty point blank.

When you were growing up, did you ever want to wear another brand besides Nike or Jordan? Did that ever cross your mind?
I always just wore Jordan and Nike. In terms of apparel and clothing, I wear Louis Vuitton and I still get some Balenciaga shoes, but back then as a kid, everything was Jordan from head to toe. Even today, I’m in Jordan from head to toe and Trophy Room from head to toe. Yeah, it really hasn’t changed. [laughs]

When the school switched over to Nike, what was that like for you? Were you relieved or just super excited?
Yeah, when I heard that Nike was going to pick up the school, I was excited and, to be honest, every kid in the school was excited—even the ones that didn’t play sports, because it meant that they would have Nike apparel in our bookstore. Once Nike announced they were picking up the school, got people said thanks for bringing Nike on board, or thanks for making UCF [a Nike School] without truly knowing what the story was. I guess, I get a little credit for that.

Once Nike switched over full-time, were you guys getting hooked up with PEs? Did you make that happen at all?
We didn’t get any special treatment. It was still the basic models in terms of the basketball sneakers that they give to all the schools. I did my own PEs. I did my own [Jordan] Fly Wades. What’s funny is the NCAA wouldn’t let me create any PEs—I mean true PEs in terms of retros and doing retros in any exclusive colorway—because they deemed it an impermissible benefit, which is BS if you ask me. So the only PE I could create for myself had to be done through NIKEiD. I was really tight about that. [Laughs].

Were there any plans before that to hook you up with special shoes?
No, I had done PEs at Whitney Young [High School], so I had talks about doing some black-and-gold color schemes once we were switching over to Nike. Even before that, I wanted to do some things when we were with adidas and the NCAA just shut it all down, essentially.

Was there ever a talk to make it a Jordan school?
I don't think so. I think that was one of the assumptions that even some of my teammates had like, “Hey, we’re gonna get Jumpman this and Jumpman that.” It was basically a generic contract between Nike and UCF. I hooked a couple of my teammates up with Js, and I still do. I take care of them. But when it comes to Nike and the school, it was nothing out of the ordinary, to say the least. It wasn’t even close to what North Carolina gets or Marquette gets. It was very basic.

Do you just lace your friends with general release stuff or do they get more limited stuff, too?
It depends, you know. Over the years, it's definitely changed. I used to hook everybody up. I remember when the Fragments dropped, and I had, literally, a whole size run, and I was just passing them out to people. Now it’s kinda changed to some of the more GR releases, but here and there I’ll throw them some OVOs, and I’ll throw them some high-heat retros.

If you could like go back in time, would you have changed your decision to go to UCF or tried to go to a Nike school?
Nah, it didn’t bother me, because the school never changed their position with me. It was always, “Hey, this is what we were told when you were being recruited by our adidas rep, and we’re not going back on it.” I definitely wouldn't change anything, and I’m still in Orlando. I like Orlando as a city. I just announced a relationship with Disney coming forward with Trophy Room, and I’m excited about that. That took so long to get structured, and I think we were negotiating with them since September 2014. I’m just glad that the word is finally out.

Do you still have the “Rising Sun” XIIs that you wore in that game?
I think I do, I just don’t know where they are. I got so many shoes, and that XII actually had the insole that they ended up taking out. I just don’t know where they are.