In 1984, right after the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the last thing that Michael Jordan wanted to do was meet with Nike. The sneaker company had seen its first-ever sales dip since its creation, and despite a morale boost from the Olympics, it needed new blood and more excitement.
Nike needed Michael Jordan. But he wasn’t interested.
Jordan had spent his college career playing in Converse, but he really wanted to sign with Adidas. The German brand’s shoes offered a low profile with a thinner sole that helped him “feel the court.” That tactile response was crucial to his gameplay, and Nike couldn’t offer it to him.
At least that’s what he said at the time. Later, when he sat down at Nike headquarters in Beaverton after being forced by his parents to make the trip, he would admit that had never put a pair of Nikes on his feet. Ever.
What got him on that plane was a perfect storm of unforced errors and bad luck. Adidas was facing internal struggles over control after the founder’s death, and the company just didn’t have the financial liquidity to be competitive. Converse made a competitive offer, and with a roster that included Dr. J, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird, had a proven track record of working with and finding success for basketball’s best players. Converse offered Jordan the same deal that the other top-bill guys had—but he wanted more than money, and they couldn’t offer any ideas on what that would mean. Spot-Bilt, the company that would eventually become Saucony, was also in the mix.
Eventually Nike offered Jordan five times what Converse did—a record-breaking deal, three times over. Jordan’s agent, David Falk, heard an offer from Spot-Bilt that would have amounted to more cash than Nike’s offer over time, but Nike had a secret weapon: vision.
After that meeting, Jordan and Falk gave Adidas one more shot to meet Nike’s offer. The company declined. Jordan signed with Nike.