The 50 Most Influential Sneaker Sponsorships in Sports History

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Written by Nick Santora (

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No. 50 - Sheryl Swoopes x Nike

Year Signed: 1996

Iconic Kick: Nike Air Swoopes

Athletic Accomplishments: Sheryl Swoopes is the first female athlete to have a basketball sneaker named after her. Sheryl was legit. In the four years she played with Cynthia Cooper in Houston, they won four consecutive championships together. She even had a baby and won the 1997 WNBA Championship just six months later. Think about that for a second. The timing of Sheryl’s career and beginning of the WNBA had a lot to do with her endorsement deal with Nike, but anyone who has earned the NCAA Championship, League MVP and four consecutive professional championships deserves their own basketball sneaker.

No. 49 – George Mikan x Pro-Keds

Year Signed: 1952

Iconic Kick: George Mikan Hi

Athletic Accomplishments: In 1916, one year before Converse introduced its All Star sneakers, the US Rubber company began producing Keds. The brand became popular among athletes in the 1920’s and in 1949 Pro-Keds were introduced specifically for professional basketball players.

The first style introduced was known as the Royal and endorsed by Minneapolis Big Man, George Mikan. In 1953, his entire Laker team was outfitted in Pro-Keds on their way to another World Championship. In fact, those 1950’s Lakers teams won a total of six championships in an eight year span. Pro-Keds introduction into basketball was the first time in history any company challenged Converse on the court.

No. 48 – Spud Webb x PONY

Year Signed: 1986

Iconic Kick: “City Wings” PONY

Athletic Accomplishments: In 1985 the Nike Air Jordan sneaker was introduced. When Mike dropped 63 against the Celtics in April 1986, the legend of Air Jordan was cemented and the first incidents of basketball sneaker hysteria were recorded. Shops were selling out faster than they could get them and many imitators began to emerge. Nike itself had less expensive spinoffs of the world’s most popular sneaker (e.g. AJKO), and PONY introduced the City Wings model which closely resembled the Jordan 1 in both color and style.

PONY has a history of big names on their roster, which include Muhammad Ali, Reggie Jackson, Pele, Dan Marino and Earl Monroe, but it was the smallest guy ever who gave the company its biggest lift. Anthony “Spud” Webb was listed at 5'7" inches with a 42” vertical. In 1986 Michael Jordan was out with a broken foot and Spud was dunking against the defending Slam Dunk Champion, Dominique Wilkins.

Spud Webb was wearing very familiar looking sneakers that afternoon, although they weren’t what we thought they were. He was wearing low-cut PONY “City Wings” that looked suspiciously similar to Nike Air Jordans. The smallest guy in the N.B.A. had just elevated higher than anyone in PONY sneakers while Michael “Air” Jordan was sitting out with of all things, a broken foot. It was a brief victory for PONY, but a moment that will live on forever in basketball history.

No. 47 – Shawn Kemp x Reebok

Year Signed: 1992

Iconic Kick: Reebok Kamikaze II

Athletic Accomplishments: Before Shawn Kemp testified in court against Reebok, he wore their sneakers. The Reign Man went from Nike to Reebok in 1992 signing a six-year $2 million deal to represent their Above the Rim label. Everybody knew what Kemp was capable of on the court so the sneaker deal seemed like a perfect fit.

But there was soon to be a problem. In the middle of his second sneaker contract with Reebok that was signed in 1996 (5 years / $11 million), Mr. Kemp claimed the company unfairly terminated his contract after he made a comment about “modern” basketball shoes. In a beautiful act of solidarity and product endorsement, Kemp told a reporter for the Akron Ohio Beacon Journal that basketball sneakers weren’t made like they used to be. He claimed that today’s sneakers are “throwaways” and that his all-time favorite pair of sneakers were made by Nike.

Kemp eventually dropped the lawsuit in 2001 and told the jury that he considered his remarks to be perfectly fine. “Telling the truth is not disparaging” he protested and tried to move on with his life. Kemp was still wearing his Reeboks though when he made it to the N.B.A. Finals in 1996 to face Jordan and the Bulls. Many of us still regard his Reebok Kamikaze II as one of the defining basketball sneakers of the 1990’s and are happy to see sample pics surface on the internet during the past few months.

No. 46 – Vince Carter x Nike

Year Signed: 2000

Iconic Kick: Nike Shox BB4

Athletic Accomplishments: The Nike Shox BB4 in 2000 were a big deal. First Nike had invented Air, but now there were springs in basketball and running shoes? To add to the allure, the new technology was packaged in an amazing ad campaign that can be remembered from just one word: Boing.

This seemed to be the craziest technology ever created in basketball sneakers. Wiley Coyote may have been the pioneer of spring loaded feet, but had Eric Avar really just successfully incorporated it into a shoe? The photographs of Vince dunking alone is worth whatever money Nike paid “Vincanity” to promote their new Shox basketball sneakers.

No. 45 – Kobe Bryant x adidas

Year Signed: 1996

Iconic Kick: adidas Crazy 8

Athletic Accomplishments: Kobe Bryant and Patrick Ewing are the only two athletes to appear on this list twice. Like Ewing, Kobe also began his career with adidas before moving on to other brands.

Out of high school Kobe signed his first sneaker contract with adidas for $48 million. It was before he was even drafted. Kobe hadn’t played one game at the collegiate or NBA level when he inked his first sneaker deal. Furthermore, before Kobe entered the NBA Draft in 1996 his most recent straight-from-high-school predecessors were Kevin Garnett in 1995 and before that another 20 years back with Chocolate Thunder and Bill Willoughby. That was less than substantial data for adidas to analyze before investing their resources in an unproven teenager.

Kobe entered the league wearing number 8 and the Kobe 1; released by adidas and inspired by the Audi TT Roadster. The Crazy 8 is another adidas Kobe classic that was released before his switch to Nike and the number 24. Kobe has obviously had a storied career with both the Lakers as well as Nike. And this isn’t the last we’ll see of Kobe.

No. 44 – Deion Sanders x Nike

Year Signed: 1992

Iconic Kick: Nike Diamond Turf

Athletic Accomplishments: Deion Sanders is the only athlete to ever play in both a World Series and a Super Bowl. Bo Jackson was Nike’s first and most well known two-sport athlete, but Primetime comes in at close second when it comes to Nike sneakers and first in (injury free) career success. Deion’s biggest highlight with the Braves was pouring a cooler over Tim McCarver’s head, but in the NFL he played multiple positions, won two Super Bowls and is a Hall of Famer.

Not only did Primetime have his own line of Diamond Turf shoes which are a popular re-release today, but he was also the only player to wear recently re-released Jordan XI cleats in multiple baseball and football games.

No. 43 – Ilie Nastase x Nike

Year Signed: 1972

Iconic Kick: Nike Wimbledon

Athletic Accomplishments: In 1973 Romanian tennis star Ilie Nastase was the first professional athlete to be endorsed by Nike. Nastase is better known for his tennis sneakers with adidas, but before the Three Stripes offered him a $50,000, he was the number one player in the world and Nike’s first endorsed pro athlete. The Swoosh has come a long way in the past forty years. They currently spend close to $1 billion annually in endorsement contracts.

No. 42 – Venus Williams x Reebok

Year Signed: 2000

Iconic Kick: Reebok Venus Trainer

Athletic Accomplishments: Venus Williams was 20 years old in 2000 and her five-year $12 million contract with Reebok was expiring. She proceeded to continue her 35 match winning streak that included Wimbledon, U.S. Open, and the Olympics all in that same year.

In December 2000 Reebok presented Williams with $40 million over the next five years, which at the time was the largest endorsement deal ever for a female athlete. Reebok officials praised her style of play, fashion sense, and success from humble beginnings in Compton, California. Billie Jean King who is known as the pioneer of women’s tennis called Williams’ Reebok contract an '"unbelievably uplifting milestone for women's sports".

No. 41 –  Dikembe Mutumbo x adidas

Year Signed: 1992

Iconic Kick: Mutumbo adidas

Athletic Accomplishments:  Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba, Jean Jacque, Wamutombo had a really amazing pair of signature adidas sneakers. Growing up I was an avid Seton Hall fan and supporter of The Big East Conference. I was well aware of his presence at Georgetown and even saw him and Alonzo play together in person at The Meadowlands.

Mutumbo is a native of Zaire who arrived in the United States only after a U.S. Foreign Service officer brought him to the attention of Georgetown coach, John Thompson. In 1992, Dikembe was in his second year in the N.B.A., already an all-star, runner up for Rookie of the Year honors, and now sponsored by adidas. His signature shoe captured the man’s African heritage while also conveniently capitalizing on current fashion trends.

The African style prints used on the signature Mutumbo adidas represented his roots in Zaire while also perfectly capturing the Afrocentric hip-hop fashion aesthetic of the time period. I have to admit that this sponsorship just barely made the list and it’s out of nostalgic endearment more than logic. Pairs of the Mutumbo adidas are still sitting in sneaker store basements in Paterson, New Jersey, but I’ll wave my finger at anyone who thinks this endorsement shouldn’t have made the list.

No. 40 – Dwyane Wade x Jordan Brand

Year Signed: 2009 - 2012

Iconic Kick: Jordan D-Wade 1 & 2

Athletic Accomplishments: In 2003 Dwyane Wade signed with Converse and put out some of the ugliest basketball sneakers known to man. By 2009, D-Wade signed with Jordan Brand, who has held a special place in his heart since he was a kid in Chicago. This past month there were rumors flying everywhere that it was a done deal that he was jumping to Chinese sneaker brand Li-Ning. Some of our favorite sneaker blogs even reported that it was a done deal although no numbers had been disclosed.

I’m writing this entry here on September 30, 2012 and just yesterday Dwayne Wade showed up at Miami Heat Media Day wearing the Jordan Brand Fly Wade 2. We don’t know what the future holds for Wade, but he has been keeping quiet about what sneakers he’ll be wearing this season. I also just went to preview the Jordan Brand Holiday 2012 and Spring 2013 ranges and there were several new CP and Melo releases and plenty of Air Jordan 1 colorways, but no new Fly Wade samples. This guy deserves at least one good looking sneaker in his career. We’ll see which brand will be the first to design it.

No. 39 – Paul Rodriguez x Nike SB

Year Signed: 2005

Iconic Kick: Nike Zoom Air P-Rod

Athletic Accomplishments: Paul Rodriguez went pro at age 16 and won his first X-Games medal in 2005 at age 19. This success brought many endorsement deals, but the most popular has been with The Swoosh. P-Rod signed a huge deal with Nike that made him the first skater to ever be sponsored by Nike with his own signature sneaker.

Some of you might be thinking, “Hey dawg. What about the Danny Supa Dunks? He’s a skater. He had Dunks come out in 2001. I know man. I’m down with Supreme”. The difference is that the Danny Supas are just a nickname for that colorway and not really his own signature sneaker. Those boxes say Nike Dunk SB on the side, not “D-Sup” or P-Rod”.

In 2005 Nike created the Zoom Air Paul Rodriguez, and in the process associated a face with their already absurdly popular SB line of skateboarding sneakers. Today we are up to the sixth installment of the P-Rod’s and they come in enough colors and sizes to keep skaters of every age happily laced and shredding hard.

No. 38 – Cristiano Ronaldo x Nike

Year Signed: 2010

Iconic Kick: Mercurial Vapor Series

Athletic Accomplishments: Cristiano Ronaldo is the most socially engaged athlete on the planet. He has over 8.4 million followers on Twitter and 42.2 million on Facebook. His ability on the pitch, good looks, and connection with his fans is what makes him the ninth highest paid athlete in the world.

In addition to his yearly $17.6 million soccer salary, Ronaldo brings in $21 million annually through endorsements and 50/50 share of his image rights. Like all of the top soccer players in the world, Ronaldo gets paid from all angles, but the biggest chunk of the endorsement money comes from Nike.

Ronaldo was earning 4 million Euros in 2010 when his Nike contract was expiring. adidas was showing real interest in signing him and there was a chance he was going to the Three Stripes. Today you can find Ronaldo wearing the Mercurial Vapor 8. The Real Madrid star signed a new contract with Nike that keeps him getting that paella until 2014. Total amount of clams: $32.5 million.

No. 37 – Ivan Lendl x adidas

Year Signed: 1981

Iconic Kick: adidas Lendl Pro

Athletic Accomplishments: Prior to Ivan Lendl, it was rare to see a tennis player with a full range of sneakers and apparel. Players from the 1970’s and first half of the 1980’s would typically wear one brand of apparel and another on their feet. Even the Godfather of tennis swag, Bjorn Borg wore Fila outfits paired with Diadora kicks.

It’s known that adidas had deep roots in tennis. Stan Smith, Rod Laver, Ilie Nastase, all had signature shoes, but none had their own signature line like Ivan Lendl had with adidas (circa 1981). By 1983 Lendl had achieved number one ranking in the world, in 1984, he beat John McEnroe for the French Open title so by 1985 he was the world’s best player and his adidas line was popping off.

There were four different Lendl designs launched during the 1980’s that started with the most famous argyle pattern and several variations of the sneakers also existed. The Lendl Pro, Competition, and Comfort all evolved over the years and were the lynchpins of the adidas tennis line that also featured a solid collection for Stefan Edberg that haven’t returned since Lendl’s move to Mizuno in 1991.

No. 36 – John McEnroe x Nike

Year Signed: 1987

Iconic Kick: Nike Air Trainer 1

Athletic Accomplishments: When John McEnroe saw a pair of sample sneakers that had a Velcro strap on the forefoot instead of the typical ankle placement, he got curious. Peter Moore agreed to give McEnroe the shoes with explicit instructions to not play tennis in them. The shoes were still in the development phase and weren’t intended for any sort of professional competition.

A week later McEnroe was seen on worldwide television wearing the samples which have since become known as the Air Trainer 1. In response to Nike’s obvious outrage, he told them that it was “the best tennis shoes you assholes ever made”.

Bo Jackson became the new face of Nike’s Cross Training line and McEnroe went on to promote Challenge Court Tennis along with fellow American Andre Agassi. Before Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and LeBron James, Nike had John McEnroe. In the early days of the company, before it became an international powerhouse, there was one athlete who truly represented the culture of the brand and attitude of founder Phil Knight… John McEnroe.

No. 35 – Dee Brown x Reebok

Year Signed: 1991

Iconic Kick: Reebok Pumps

Athletic Accomplishments: Dee Brown was selected by the Boston Celtics as the 19th overall pick in the 1990 Draft. He had a decent eleven year career where he averaged just over 11 points per game, but is best known for pumping his way to the 1991 Slam Dunk Championship.

There’s a similar story that you’ll read further up this list where Pele called timeout seconds before the opening whistle of the 1970 World Cup to bend down and tie his Puma cleats in front of the entire world. I’ll get sidetracked and tell you another similar story from when I owned a sneaker store. I might as well tell it here too because Michael Chang and his Reeboks probably aren’t making this list.

This must have been in 2003 when the Court Victory retro had just come back out. We had the set of original colors on the shelf when who walks in? Jim Courier. Now this guy was just how you picture him (if you even remember who he is). I have a feeling this guy always looks like he’s four beers away from kicking the shit out of someone. So he comes in with that head of hair and pronounced jaw and looks around the store for a few minutes before he comes to the shelf with the Michael Chang’s on it.

Courier takes one look at those tennis Pumps and says something to his friend that went like this: “Michael Chang?! That asshole had to stop to pump his fucking sneakers after every set.” Apparently they’ve since reconciled because they’re both playing on Courier’s Senior Tour together.

What was I talking about? Oh, Dee Brown. Yes. He also pumped up his sneakers before every dunk on his way to winning the 1991 Slam Dunk contest with a no-look, arm over his eyes, one-handed slam that must have had Reebok executives partying hard that night up in Massachusetts. This is without a doubt the most famous moment in the history of the Reebok Pump.

No. 34 – Larry Johnson x Converse

Year Signed: 1991

Iconic Kick: Aero Jam Energy Wave

Athletic Accomplishments: When Larry Johnson came out of UNLV as the Number 1 overall pick in the 1991 draft, everyone assumed he was going to Nike. The Runnin’ Rebels were known as a Nike team and that was the only brand he had ever worn.

Converse was the biggest player in basketball during the 1980’s, but had suffered a setback in the early 90’s with Magic Johnson’s retirement and Nike’s takeover thanks to Michael Jordan, Air Force and Air Flight. Converse needed a big name to put them back on the map in 1991.

Not only did the brand need a big name, they needed a big personality. To challenge Nike, they needed a character to rival the personas and attitude of Air Jordan, Mr. Robinson, Bo Jackson and Andre Agassi…that’s when Converse and their marketing team created “Grandmama.”

Grandmama was Larry Johnson in drag with a gold tooth. It was absurd, but effective. Converse was once again ballin’ in the game with their Aero Jam Energy Wave basketball sneakers.

No. 33 – Larry Bird x Converse

Year Signed: 1986

Iconic Kick: Converse Weapons

Athletic Accomplishments: The Hick from French Lick is one of the best nicknames in the history of sports. It’s the town in Indiana where Larry Bird was born and a moniker that has apparently stuck until this day. Larry Bird may be a straight-up hick, but there is no denying he is one of the all-time best players in basketball. He is in the Hall of Fame thanks to three championships and ten all-star appearances. The fact that he is 8-2 in all-star games also reflects how he played the games. Those weekends in the 1980’s actually meant something to fans and players before they were used as a marketing show for Kia, Footlocker and nerd glasses.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson signed with Converse together and became the new faces of the brand and NBA as Dr. J reached the end of his career. The rivalry and respect between these two players is legendary and is what kept the NBA interesting until Michael Jordan came along.

This era of the NBA is when sneaker endorsements became serious and we see the impact a player’s performance on the court had in the sneaker market. The most popular of the Bird and Magic Converse were obviously the Weapons. The unmistakable Lakers colors for Magic and the understated traditional black for Larry Bird and the Celtics were the basis for a range of colorways to fit every NBA team and fan in the country.

No. 32 – Joe Namath x Puma

Year Signed: 1969

Iconic Kick: Namath Pumas

Athletic Accomplishments: It’s hard to find any real credible information regarding the Joe Namath Puma sneakers, but judging from the man’s track record and style on and off the field, it’s safe to assume that every kid in America wanted a pair of white Pumas after Super Bowl III.

Joe’s autobiography title should seal the deal: I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow….’Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day.

No. 31 – Usain Bolt x Puma

Year Signed: 2008

Iconic Kick: Puma evoSPEED

Athletic Accomplishments: After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the whole world knew who Usain Bolt was. His combination of speed and swagger were undeniable as he blew past everybody in history to win gold in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay, all three in world record time.

Bolt is ranked No. 63 among Forbes Highest Paid Athletes thanks to earning over $20 million in prize money, bonuses, appearance fees, and sponsorships in just the past 12 months with companies such as Gatorade, Hublot, Virgin Media, Visa and Nissan. The biggest heap of cash comes from Puma though, where he is the global face of the company.

In 2010 Puma re-signed Bolt to a deal worth $9 million annually, which is on-par with only the premier basketball, tennis and soccer stars on the planet. Typically this type of money isn’t reserved for Track & Field athletes, but not since Carl Lewis’ workout video have we seen such a combination of skill and personality from a runner.

No. 30 – Michael Johnson x Nike

Year Signed: 1996

Iconic Kick:  Custom Gold Nike Track Cleats

Athletic Accomplishments: Before Usain Bolt broke world records in sneakers the same color as his gold medals, there was Michael Johnson. In the 1996 Olympics he became the first runner to win gold medals in both the 200m and 400m sprints. He still holds the world record today for the 200m at 19.32 seconds.

Another one of the leading stories of those Summer Olympics in Atlanta were Johnson’s gold Nike track spikes. His shoes became the focus of the Olympic Games as every camera in the stadium made sure to capture a shot before every race. The sneakers even made their way to the cover of Time Magazine.

No. 29 – Ken Griffey Jr. x Nike

Year Signed: 1993

Iconic Kick: Air Griffey Max 1

Athletic Accomplishments: Ken Griffey Jr. Had been wearing Nike sneakers since he was a kid in the 1980’s and his dad was playing for the Yankees. In 1993 he was baseball’s brightest young star and one of Nike’s newest superstar athletes. Since baseball cleats are a limited category, Nike created a whole cross training line around Junior and accompanied it with a multi-media advertising campaign.

In 1994 Griffey’s tag line was “Holy Cow” and in 1996 he ran for President. Ken Griffey Jr. had one of the sweetest swings that baseball has ever seen and a personality to match. He has been a Nike athlete throughout his entire Hall Of Fame career and his classic Nikes are as popular now as ever.

No. 28 – Kevin Durant x Nike

Year Signed: 2007

Iconic Kick: Nike Zoom KD 4

Athletic Accomplishments: There’s a good reason Kevin Durant is the eighth highest paid basketball player in the world. At the age of 24 he has already earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors in addition to three scoring titles and an Olympic Gold Medal. He is one of the brightest stars in the league who will continue to be for many years to come.

Upon entering the NBA in 2007, Durant signed the second-largest endorsement deal for a rookie when he inked a deal with Nike that was worth $60 million over seven years and included a $10 million signing bonus. Nike introduced his own signature shoe after Durant’s rookie season and we have already seen some notable classics like the Creamsicles with certainly more coming in the future.

Even though Durant signed the second largest deal in rookie history, it could have been bigger. adidas actually offered him $70 and a $12 million signing bonus, but Kevin opted to go with Nike because of his long-standing roots with the company. Durant’s agent Aaron Goodwin announced "At the end of the day, Kevin has been with Nike his whole career and he felt comfortable with them….He took the time to give adidas the opportunity and they're a great company, but he chose the company that he's more familiar with.  And we build brands on authenticity and it's more authentic for him to be somewhere where he wants to be and he's comfortable."

No. 27 – Patrick Ewing x adidas

Year Signed: 1985

Iconic Kick: Patrick Ewing adidas

Athletic Accomplishments: The “Big Sweaty” Patrick Ewing was a beast at Georgetown. His teams had reached the NCAA Finals in three of his four years at college. Knicks fans were going apeshit when he entered the league as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1985 NBA Draft. Patrick had already earned one Championship, as well as his first of two Gold Medals. Ewing was viewed as the player who would carry the NBA in the following years.

adidas signed Patrick Ewing to his own line of basketball sneakers, which I’m sure surprised fans who were used to watching Patrick play in the Nike Legend, Air Force One and Terminator while at Georgetown.

The Patrick Ewing adidas appeared on the scene in 1985 and to this day remains one of the most iconic basketball sneakers of all-time. Unfortunately Ewing was basically owned by Michael Jordan throughout his entire career. We all remember the shot in the finals NCAA Championship, the baseline in-your-face dunk during the 1991 playoffs, and the last Knicks Championship. The trend on the court extended into the sneaker shops.

When the Air Jordan 1 came out and Michael took off in 1986, there was no other sneaker brand that could stop it. Patrick eventually began his own line of Ewing Athletics sneakers in 1989 which still hold a special place in the hearts of Knicks fans and sneaker enthusiasts alike.

No. 26 – Lionel Messi x adidas

Year Signed: 2009

Iconic Kick: +F50i

Athletic Accomplishments: For the past three years Lionel Messi has become the greatest footballer in the world. There are very few players in the history of any sport that separate themselves so far from the competition that you can tell they are the best player in the game after watching only a few minutes of action.

This lunatic was the first guy ever to score five goals in a Champions League game and then two weeks later he broke Barca’s all-time scoring record at the surprising age of 24. With his largest sponsors starting with adidas, Pepsi and EA Sports, Messi brings in a total of $39 million a year with $19 million coming from endorsements.

No. 25 – Peralta x Alva x Vans

Year Signed: 1975

Iconic Kick: Vans Era

Athletic Accomplishments: Alva and Peralta had created an iconic skate shoe. Not only did these two guys develop this classic kick, they repped it as hard as anyone ever has. Originality and authenticity are terms you hear a lot today in menswear, but in most cases they are buzzwords that lack style and passion.

Vans sneakers were born in 1966 and began to symbolize a movement and lifestyle that was taking place in Southern California. The late 60’s were the early days of skateboarding and no other brand or people have been as synonymous with this sport and culture throughout its history.

In 1975 a new Vans style was developed by two guys named Tony Alva and Stacey Peralta (pictured). This new model featured a padded collar (for skateboarding) and came in a variety of colors. The model has taken on a few different forms over the past 37 years and from Dogtown to the Classic Kicks collaboration; we know this model today as the Era.

No. 24 - Magic Johnson x Converse

Year Signed: 1987

Iconic Kick: Converse Weapon

Athletic Accomplishments:  Magic Johnson signed with Converse in 1979 and entered the N.B.A. with a rookie season for the record books. In game six of the 1980 Finals he took over at center for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and racked up 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals to finish off the 76ers. That night he took home the Finals MVP award and his first of five N.B.A. Championships.

Magic Johnson and his life-long friend and adversary Larry Bird were the faces of the Converse brand throughout the 1980’s. Their Converse Weapon was the official sneaker of Basketball in 1987. By 1990 Converse had set aside one quarter of its $40 million advertising budget to devote to promoting the new range of Magic Johnson sneakers and apparel.

In 1991, Magic’s career was tragically cut short and his relationship with Converse ended on a sour note. With the superstar out of the league (and perhaps a “tarnished” public image thanks to some sexual promiscuity), Converse terminated their contract early. Magic was not pleased and his emotions showed in an interview prior to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Magic told reporters “Converse as a company is stuck in the 60’s and 70’s. They think the Chuck Taylor days are still here.” He continued to admit “I’ve been trying to get out for years.” 

No. 23 – David Robinson x Nike

Year Signed: 1988

Iconic Kick: Nike Air Force

Athletic Accomplishments: Nike Basketball and Wieden + Kennedy have a history of creating alter-ego characters for their most popular athletes. Air Jordan and Lil’ Penny were two of the most popular in basketball history, but there was another one in the early 1990’s who served as the face of Nike’s Air Force line.

In 1988 Nike signed David Robinson to a five year $1 million endorsement contract. Wieden + Kennedy went to work and developed a character that was perfect for David’s combination of skills, brains and civilized demeanor. There was only one person in the NBA who scored 1,320 on his SAT’s and he became the focus of Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood. Nike spent $15 million on advertising their newly formed Force line in 1990 and David Robinson and Charles Barkley were the two most prominent pitch-men.

No. 22 – Andre Agassi x Nike

Year Signed: 1990

Iconic Kick: Air Tech Challenge

Athletic Accomplishments: Andre Agassi and Nike were a match made in heaven in 1990. Nike had just about solidified its place as the number one sneaker brand in the world, but still needed to put some finishing touches on a few other brands; particularly Reebok.

Reebok made a name for itself in the early 1980’s thanks to their Freestyle model and America’s obsession with Aerobics. By 1990, Nike was firmly secured in first place just about everywhere, but still had Reebok close behind them, thanks to their new Pump technology. Reebok began by incorporating the Pump mechanism into their basketball sneakers, but then it also expanded into cross training and tennis.

In 1990, style was defined by being as flashy and bright as possible. Neon colors were everywhere and there was no better athlete in the world who’s look and style reflected this trend and fashion. Andre Agassi was a Las Vegas kid with showmanship and neon running from his Air Tech Challenges through his lush mullet. Nike was able to capture his persona perfectly and apply it to the newly formed Challenge Court line of tennis sneakers and apparel.

On the other side, Reebok had Michael Chang. His Court Victory Pump was nothing to sneeze at, but his game and personality were no match for Andre and Nike. The Challenge Court line of sneakers and acid washed spandex apparel are still coveted today thanks to Agassi’s personification of an era in tennis, Nike history and American pop-culture.

No. 21 – Patrick Ewing x Patrick Ewing

Year Signed: 1989

Iconic Kick: Ewings 33 Hi

Athletic Accomplishments: Ewing is one of two athletes to make this list twice with two separate sneaker company endorsements.

When Ewing left Adidas and started his own sneaker brand with Next Sports in 1989, it was a pretty big deal. I grew up in New Jersey as a Knicks fan, so this sponsorship might be a little closer to my heart than most people’s, but we can all probably appreciate some historical perspective since we’ve all been anticipating the re-launch of the brand.

In Maplewood, New Jersey, owning a pair of Ewing’s meant something in 1992. If you had enough balls to wear a pair of suede Ewing’s and a camouflage jacket through the halls of Columbia High School, you pretty much weren’t getting fucked with. Not that Columbia was such a bad place or anything, but if you had that look going and then even stepped it up with a Phillies Blunt tee or budding Das EFX style dreadlocks, you garnered a particular level of respect and admiration.

My fondest memories of this sneaker actually come from the blown out speakers of a 1984 Nissan Sentra during a two week streak of driving to Taco Bell with one tape in the car. This one tape only had three songs too, the Geto Boys’ Gangster of Love and two tracks from Ice Cube. Giving up the Nappy Dugout was the first masterpiece and the other was Steady Mobbin’. In this song, O’Shea Jackson shares his fondness for the brand with the lyrics, “I bust a nut, get up and put on my white Ewings!”.

No. 20 – Roger Federer x Nike

Year Signed: 2002

Iconic Kick: Nike Zoom Vapor VI Tour

Athletic Accomplishments: Roger Federer is currently the fifth-highest paid athlete in the world. In the past year he has earned a total of $53 million. When you play tennis, the real money isn’t on the court though. Roger earned $9.3 in prize money, but then $45 million more in sponsorships with Nike, Rolex, Mercedes, Gilette, Wilson and Credit Suisse.

A superstar athlete’s biggest endorsement check usually comes from their sneaker company. Nike pays Federer more than $10 million annually to wear their sneakers and apparel, and have definitely gotten their money’s worth during his outstanding career. Roger is widely regarded as the greatest tennis player of all-time and appeared in 18 of out 19 Grand Slam finals from 2005-2010, all while wearing The Swoosh.

No. 19 – Pelé x Puma

Year Signed: 1970

Iconic Kick: Puma Pelé Rocket

Athletic Accomplishments: Before Dee Brown Pumped up his Reeboks at the 1991 Slam Dunk Competition, there was Pelé.

Pelé was warming up before the 1970 World Cup as he usually did. He was chatting with his teammates and kicking balls around in his Puma King soccer boots. Pele knew he was about to win his third World Cup, but there was still one thing he had to do (at the request of Puma representatives) for a little extra effect.

Just as the game was about to start and the world was watching, Pelé requested a quick moment from the referee. All eyes and cameras were now zoomed in and focused on him. Oh no. What could it be? Well, nothing too serious. Pelé just had to bend down and make sure his Puma cleats were tied tight enough.

No. 18 – Walt "Clyde" Frazier x Puma

Year Signed: 1973

Iconic Kick: Puma Clydes

Athletic Accomplishments: The Clyde marks the most important sponsorship and sneaker in Puma’s company history. Walt “Clyde” Frazier embodied the spirit of the World Champion New York Knicks and an entire city in the early 1970’s. His Puma sneakers were the perfect shoe for Clyde, who was as versatile off the court as he was in The Garden. His suede Clydes were as smooth as his game and became a cultural staple in New York City.

In 1973 Clyde asked Puma for a wider fitting version of their suede basketball sneakers. This sparked the beginning of an endorsement deal which actually had Puma paying Clyde to use his name and wear his own signature sneaker in games. This was still rare at the time. Most athletes were happy just to get free pairs of sneakers in 1973.

The legend of Clyde and his Puma sneakers grew in New York City and still represent a whole generation of kids from that era. The sneaker’s roots are in the game of basketball, but the style is as iconic as the Adidas shell toes in the world of hip-hop. From the early B-Boys to M.C. Shan’s Down By Law, to the Beastie Boys, to current designer collaborations, these sneakers have kept Puma on the map and in the streets.

No. 17 – Charles Barkley x Nike

Year Signed: 1993

Iconic Kick: Nike Air Max Barkley

Athletic Accomplishments: "I am not a role model" is one of the most memorable ad campaigns of all time. Not just for sneaker marketing, the simple statement made by Charles Barkley in a 1993 Nike commercial that had all of America in discourse and asking questions about who is really raising our kids.

“I think the media demands that athletes be role models because there's some jealousy involved. It's as if they say, this is a young black kid playing a game for a living and making all this money, so we're going to make it tough on him. And what they're really doing is telling kids to look up to someone they can't become, because not many people can be like we are. Kids can't be like Michael Jordan.”

Before this famous quote and his own line of basketball sneakers in 1993, Sir Charles was the Round Mound of Rebound and exemplified Nike’s line of Air Force basketball sneakers. He appeared alongside teammate Moses Malone in several ads and commercials promoting the Air Force 2 and Alpha Force sneakers.

Barkley was given his signature sneakers thanks to his personality and style of play. He went on to battle Michael Jordan and Godzilla as well as guys in bars that needed to be thrown through plate glass windows. Barkley’s range of signature Nike’s are still popular today as he continues to be one of the brightest personalities in the game of basketball.

No. 16 – Shaquille O'Neal x Reebok

Year Signed: 1992

Iconic Kick: Reebok Shaqnosis

Athletic Accomplishments: Before the Diesel was something you smelled whenever you walked in the L.E.S., it was one of Shaquille O’Neal’s several alter egos. Let’s go over the list of nicknames: Shaq, Shaq Daddy, Shaq Fu, The Big Aristotle, Superman, MDE, The Big Maravich, The Big Felon, The Big Shaqtus, and The Big Shamrock.

When we look at Shaq’s career, the highlights are as follows: 15 All-Star Games, 4 World Championships, 3 Finals MVP Awards, 1 League MVP.

Anyone with that much talent and charisma was born to be a pitch-man. Typically NBA big men were tough to promote to mainstream America in anything other than sporting equipment. They were seen as viewed as un-relatable to the average person, but Shaq came along and changed that. By the time he was 23 years old, he starred in movies, dropped rap albums, and was earning $17 million a year in endorsements from companies like Reebok and Pepsi.

Forbes estimates that Shaquille O’Neal earned $292 million in salary during his 19-year career and nearly as much from endorsements. The Shaqnosis is Shaq’s most iconic shoe from his partnership with Reebok. When he signed with the company, he instantly gave the brand credibility. All of a sudden Reebok was perceived as a basketball brand on par with Nike again.

After that contract expired, he broke the mold once again by creating the Shaq and Dunkman sneakers that sell at discount stores like Payless for under $40. Shaquille O’Neal has sold over 90 million pairs of shoes in the past 15 years.

No. 15 – David Beckham x adidas

Year Signed: 2003

Iconic Kick: David Beckham Predator

Athletic Accomplishments: According to Forbes, soccer attracts more corporate money than any other sport in the world. In 2011 the top star players earned $256 million in sponsorships alone. $111 million (43%), of that total income came through endorsements from companies such as Nike, Adidas, Puma, Pepsi and EA Sports.

David Beckham comes in at Number 8 on Forbes Highest Paid Athletes list. He is the highest earning soccer player in the world thanks to his combination of salary and sponsorships. Beckham earns $46 million annually and $37 million comes from endorsements with Adidas, H&M, Samsung and Burger King.

In 2003 Adidas knew that Nike would definitely be after the most recognizable player in soccer and wisely signed Beckham to a lifetime contract. What was the price to make sure he would never go to another company for the rest of his life? $160.8 million.

No. 14 – Rod Laver x adidas

Year Signed: 1970

Iconic Kick: The Rod Laver

Athletic Accomplishments: Rod Laver is probably the second most popular name in the history of tennis sneakers. This Aussie is more than just a timeless pair of adidas though. He had a pretty impressive career. Rod Laver was ranked #1 in tennis for 7 consecutive years while he stacked up a record 200 career titles. He is also the only player to win two Grand Slam titles; as an amateur in 1962 and the other in 1969. Laver’s flashy style of play and record on the grass, clay and parquet is what made him a superstar and attracted Adidas to offer his own namesake sneaker in 1970.

The original Rod Laver was based on the adidas Shooting Star and lacked the iconic three stripes. It was also designed with the round toe that we have seen labeled as the vintage version in recent years. For me, this sneaker has also always been associated with the other similar looking adidas tennis classic, the Stan Smith. Both styles are classic white and green tennis sneakers with minimal branding, but historically the sneakers are connected too. The Stan Smith was originally introduced in 1971, but the sneaker existed prior to that as the Halliet. The Rod Laver was essentially a combination of adidas’ most popular basketball and tennis sneakers at the time.

The Rod Laver has changed shape over the years, but thankfully they have also brought the original version back from the archives. With the current trends in menswear, the original shape of the Rod Laver has become very popular recently. GQ just mentioned it as a must-have look for Fall 2012. Whether you prefer the original shape or the modified version that has existed for decades, the Laver is a classic men’s footwear staple that will always been in style.

No. 13 – Stan Smith x adidas

Year Signed: 1964

Iconic Kick: Stan Smith

Athletic Accomplishments: The Stan Smith of today was originally the Robert Haillet. adidas first launched this all-leather tennis shoe with simple perforated stripes for a completely different professional tennis player in 1964. Sneaker sponsorships have changed since the days where a premier tennis sneaker would pass on to a new player rather than become discontinued.

In 1971, the kick was re-named for American tennis star Stan Smith and has kept his name (and eventually) face on them for the past 40 years. This sneaker is in the same class as the Rod Laver, Chuck Taylor, and perhaps even the Jack Purcell. 

No. 12 – Jesse Owens x adidas / Puma

Year Signed: 1936

Iconic Kick: Dassler Brothers Original Track Spike

Athletic Accomplishments: The 1936 Olympics were some crazy shit. They took place Berlin, Germany, in a brand new 100,000 seat track & field stadium built by Adolf Hitler. That bastard thought that the Games of the XI Olympiad would be the perfect opportunity to promote his Nazi government and ideals of racial supremacy. At first they promoted not letting Jews or black people participate in the games, but with consequence of worldwide boycott, they at least reconsidered that.

Before the competitions a young German designer by the name of Adi Dassler was making his track spikes with his own hands. Without regard for the political circumstances of the time, Adi was on a quest to have his shoes worn by as many athletes as possible at those 1936 Olympic Games. Legend has it that Dassler knew Owens would be the star of the Olympics games due to his performance in the Olympic trials and wanted him to wear his shoes.

Adi approached his friend and German Track Coach Joe Waitzer to get some shoes to Jesse Owens. Waitzer was scared shitless because if the Nazi’s found out they could potentially kill him for giving German crafted shoes to a person of an inferior race who would eventually shatter their ideals and embarrass all of them. Owens ended up getting his hands on that bag of adidas and winning four gold medals. This was a significant moment in the history of all mankind performed in adidas.

No. 11 – Julius Erving x Converse

Year Signed: 1975

Iconic Kick: Dr. J's Converse Basketball

Athletic Accomplishments: Julius Erving had been known as “The Doctor” since grade school when he announced to his class that he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. It was a nickname that had stuck with him all his life and in 1971 during his first year with the Virginia Squires, teammate Fatty Taylor began adding the “J” to his name and Dr. J was born.

In 1973 Dr. J won an A.B.A. Championship with the New York Nets while leading the league in scoring and earning both regular season and playoff MVP honors. The following year Erving was named the league’s Most Valuable Player with a 27.9 PPG average and over 10 rebounds a game. In 1975 Dr. J shared MVP honors and became Converse’s first professional pitch-man.

Julius Erving remained the most important player in professional basketball for the next decade before passing the league and Converse torches to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird with class and dignity. Dr. J’s Converse basketball sneakers were worn throughout the pro and collegiate levels for several years and have recently been released in premium limited-edition packaging.

No. 10 – Penny Hardaway x Nike

Year Signed: 1995

Iconic Kick: Nike Air Penny, Foamposite

Athletic Accomplishments: Did you know that during his freshman year at Memphis State, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was robbed at gunpoint and shot in the foot? Did you also know that one year later Penny was selected to the 1992 USA Basketball Developmental Team along with Chris Webber, Bobby Hurley, Jamal Mashburn and Allan Houston? Legend claims this was the only team to ever beat the Dream Team, but that’s a story for another time.

As a rookie, Penny averaged 16 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. In 1995 he started in the All-Star game and with Shaquille O’Neal, led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals. One of the most recognizable aspects of Penny’s overall game was his signature Nike Air Penny and Foamposite sneakers. The Foamposite sneakers have a great story attached to them that’s similar to how John McEnroe ended up with the Air Trainer 1’s on his feet. They weren’t even originally intended for Penny and were still in prototype form when he saw them peeking out of a duffel bag in the corner of the room.

Penny’s persona was encapsulated in those sneakers and his alter-ego was also on display in the form of Lil’ Penny.  His sneakers marked the start of another Nike basketball legacy at a time when it was needed. Michael Jordan had gone to baseball and the future for the NBA and Nike Basketball were both uncertain. Every sneaker that Penny wore is still coveted today.

No. 9 – Bo Jackson x Nike

Year Signed: 1988

Iconic Kick: Nike Trainer 1

Athletic Accomplishments: Cross Training was a brand new category that Nike created in 1988. While Tinker Hatfield was working out in the mid 1980’s, he noticed many people bringing multiple pairs of sneakers to the gym with them. If people were planning on a full-body workout, it was common for them to pack one pair of sneakers for running, a pair for weight training and sometimes even a pair for basketball or racquet sports.

I’m sure Tinker has hundreds of other stories that began with this same type of spark, but this particular flicker ignited a whole new footwear segment that was to be known as Cross-Training. Originally cross training was created for the everyday athlete with the intention of not being the best shoe for any one thing, but the best shoe for everything. From this inspiration, the Nike Air Trainer was born.

This first Cross-Training sneaker looked great, but still needed someone to endorse the category and lend credibility. The first spokesman was an unlikely one: John McEnroe. Legend has it that John swiped a prototype pair from a duffel bag and told Nike officials not to worry about it. He was just going to test them out. A week later McEnroe is on worldwide television playing tennis in the Air Trainer 1 prototype.

This incident was a blessing in disguise and the Nike Cross Training was on the map. Now they needed a real spokesperson. It didn’t take long to figure out who the best person for the job was. There happened to be an athlete out of Auburn who was playing both football and baseball professionally and his name was Bo Jackson.

In typical Wieden + Kennedy fashion, they were able to capture the phenomenon that was Bo Jackson and package it into a genius ad campaign that still resonates today: Bo Knows. From the inception of this footwear genre in the late 1980’s through its current resurgence in the market, Bo Jackson is the person who solidified Cross Training as a legitimate category.

No. 8 – Kareem Abdul Jabaar x adidas

Year Signed: 1971

Iconic Kick: adidas Kareem

Athletic Accomplishments: adidas released the Pro Model and Superstar models in 1969 which quickly became the sneaker of choice for most players on both the NBA and college levels. That same year Kareem Abdul Jabaar was the best player in the country at UCLA and his whole team was outfitted in shell-toes.

Two years later adidas approached Kareem with his own signature sneakers which many believe to be the first instance of a player receiving his own namesake sneaker since the famous Chuck Taylors. Although Kareem achieved this landmark accomplishment in sneaker history with adidas, he did not stick with them throughout his whole career. He moved on to Pro-Keds a few years later, went back to adidas, and was also seen wearing Converse and LA Gear during his final years with the Lakers.

No. 7 – Tiger Woods x Nike

Year Signed: 1996

Iconic Kick: Nike TW 13

Athletic Accomplishments: Tiger Woods signed his first Nike contract just after turning pro. It was a five-year contract worth $40 million. Tiger’s second contract with Nike in 2000 was the biggest sneaker endorsement deal in history. It had him getting paid $20 million a year through 2009. Then there was a little incident that got the best of his 2010, but today he is still one of the highest paid athletes in the world.

This is a tricky addition to the list because there really is no particular sneaker that is being sold here. After all, Tiger is a golfer. Even though he could never be in the streets like Jordan, Tiger Woods (in his prime) exemplified what it meant to be a Nike athlete. He was the best in the world and like MJ, was known for always having more skill, heart and determination than any of his competition.

In 2009 Nike Golf hit a record $725 million in sales thanks to Tiger Woods. Since his incident in 2010, Tiger has struggled on the course, but is still the third highest paid athlete in the world, bringing home almost $60 million last year (June 2011 - June 2012) in total earnings.

No. 6 – Derrick Rose x adidas

Year Signed: 2012

Iconic Kick: adizero DRose 3

Athletic Accomplishments: Derrick Rose signed a $95 million contract extension with the Chicago Bulls and then topped it off with an Adidas extension in the neighborhood of $260 million over the next 14 years. When news was announced during the 2012 NBA All Star weekend it signified the second biggest shoe endorsement deal in history. The only person who earns more from his sneaker contract isn’t even in the league anymore. Any guesses?

In fact, believe it or not, Jordan Brand still maintains nearly 70% market share in the world of basketball. Adidas on the other hand, controls less than 5%. They are in desperate need of a face and identity for their basketball program and regardless of the fact that every other NBA star is tied up in Nike contracts, D-Rose is a great choice.

No. 5 – Kobe Bryant x Nike

Year Signed: 2005

Iconic Kick: Nike Zoom Kobe VII

Athletic Accomplishments: Kobe Bryant is currently Number 6 on the Forbes Highest Paid Athletes list. Along with his NBA salary, Kobe earned an additional $28 million from endorsements, bringing his total income to over $50 million last year.

In 2005 Kobe Bryant first made the switch from Adidas to Nike and the rest has been basketball sneaker history. We have seen him ball in the Zoom Huarache, Air Jordan True Blue III’s, Custom VIII and XI Concords, before finally creating his own line of signature Nike sneakers that continue to set the standards in basketball sneaker innovation.

Even though Kobe’s career is admittedly winding down, he is still the biggest name in basketball over in China. Kobe means so much there, that he has the number 1 selling jersey, billboards everywhere, and a reality show. This is a market that Nike takes very seriously. Kobe also took it seriously enough this past summer to drop 68 points in 15 minutes of a charity game against Chinese actors and pop-singers.

No. 4 – Allen Iverson x Reebok

Year Signed: 1996

Iconic Kick: The Question

Athletic Accomplishments: Allen Iverson signed a 10 year $50 million contract with Reebok coming out of Georgetown. His first shoe The Question was released in 1996 and is still legendary among sneaker and basketball fans. The shoe’s classic design by Scott Hewett featuring trademark Reebok Hexalite windows still holds up to this day, but we all know the recipe for a successful sneaker endorsement is one part design and one part athlete.

Throughout his entire career, Iverson established himself as a player with as much heart and determination as we’ve ever seen in an athlete. AI earned that reputation through putting in years of work and never backing down to anyone on the court. We saw him introduce the World to stylish cornrows, win scoring title, MVP, and give the 76ers their only shot in hell against the Lakers in 2001, and most importantly crossover Michael Jordan (in his prime), as a rookie, while wearing a pair of his original Reebok Question sneakers.

Allen Iverson re-signed a lifetime contract with Reebok for an undisclosed amount of money after his best season ever in 2001. Forbes Magazine estimates that when Iverson was in his prime, 26% of his annual salary was earned through being the face of Reebok Basketball.

No. 3 – LeBron James x Nike

Year Signed: 2003

Iconic Kick: Lebron X

Athletic Accomplishments: LeBron James signed his first contract with Nike in 2003 worth $90 million over seven years. This guy was straight out of high school and Nike offered him his own shoe and apparel line, and reportedly a $10 million signing bonus.

In 2010 James took his talents to South Beach and also re-signed with Nike to help make him the second highest earner in the NBA behind Kobe Bryant. Currently Lebron takes home over $33 million annually through endorsements with companies such as Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and State Farm Insurance.
“I’m not a businessman. I’m a business…man.” – Jay-Z

No. 2 – Chuck Taylor x Converse

Year Signed: 1917

Iconic Kick: Converse All Star

Athletic Accomplishments: The Converse All Star was originally released in 1917 as the company’s first attempt at a basketball sneaker. Charles H. Taylor was a basketball player with the Akron Firestones who loved basketball and his All Stars so much that he became a salesman for Converse in 1921.

Chuck Taylor used to travel across the country organizing basketball clinics and promoting the All Star sneakers. He became so successful in marketing the brand that Converse added his name to the style. His signature has appeared on the tag ever since.

The sneakers that began on a basketball court in 1917 continue to evolve as an American cultural icon. Studies show that at least 60% of all Americans will own at least one pair of Chuck Taylors in their lives. Throughout history this sneaker has come in thousands of shapes, sizes, prints, colors and materials. The Chuck Taylor is reinvented by each new generation who discovers it and there’s no doubt this trend will continue for another hundred years.

No. 1 – Michael Jordan x Nike

Year Signed: 1984

Iconic Kick: Air Jordan 1

Athletic Accomplishments: C’Mon. We know all these lists end with Michael “Air” Jordan at the top every time. How could this one be any different? It’s titled The 50 Most Influential Sneaker Sponsorships in Sports History…

There is no other athlete on Earth (or Mars) who even comes close. He’s been out of the game for close to ten years and is still makes more money than anyone else in sneaker endorsements. In 2011 Michael Jordan cashed $60 million worth of checks written by Phil Knight.

Air Jordan had never even worn Nike sneakers before he signed with the company in 1984. At North Carolina he wore Converse and the 1984 Olympic Team was sponsored by Adidas. Prior to Jordan’s arrival, Nike was a struggling running company geared towards white people. If you look into their archives you will see that all of their sneakers and advertising reflects this. Nike had some exposure in the NBA thanks to the Air Force One and guys like Moses Malone, but in 1984 they desperately needed a basketball personality who could rival Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and get them in the game with Converse.

At the time, Michael Jordan was still a soft-spoken kid coming out of Dean Smith’s system. Everyone saw he had the balls to take the game winning shot in the NCAA Championship as a freshman, but who could have known he actually had the skills to sink it every single time?

Nike took a chance on Michael Jordan in 1984 and convinced him to sign after showing him Peter Moore designed sketches of his soon-to-be sneaker, a video montage of his own highlights, and $500,000 cash. The best part of the story is that this highlight reel was based to the soundtrack of the Pointer Sisters’ hit song Jump.

During its first year on the market the Air Jordan 1 sold nearly $130 million. By 1990 sales reached $200 million. In 1997 Jordan became its own sub-brand of Nike and in 2007 sales reached $800 million. In 2009 Jordan Brand hit $1 billion in retail sales and by 2011 Jordan Brand wholesale numbers alone reached $1 billion. Today JB holds more than 70% market share in basketball.

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