Nike's Phil Knight Praises Michael Jordan, Talks Impact of NBA Banning His Shoe

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistAugust 11, 2020

Nike chairman Phil Knight stands on the sideline prior to an NCAA college football game between Oregon and Arizona State, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Matt York/Associated Press

Michael Jordan was a massive part of helping make Nike a worldwide apparel monolith. Nike co-founder Phil Knight says the company—specifically the Jordan Brand—has David Stern to thank also.  

"He was huge. We had good scouting reports that he was going to be a great player, but nobody could imagine that he'd be as great as he was," Knight said of Jordan on CSM Sport & Entertainment's Extraordinary Tales in Extraordinary Times podcast. "We started right out making a special shoe, which had a lot of different colors in it, and there weren't any basketball shoes with all those colors in it.

"It was a stroke of luck, really, that David Stern, who was commissioner of the NBA at the time, banned the shoe because it had too many colors," he added. "You can't get better publicity than that. Every kid wanted the banned shoe. Thank you, David Stern. The remarkable thing is the advertising really clicked ... Michael was not only a great player but he was a great personality, and it impacted the business a lot."

The NBA famously banned Jordan's signature shoe during its first season, though the folklore around the story was better than the reality. Jordan's "banned" shoe was actually the Air Ship and not the Air Jordan 1, but that did not stop Nike from playing up the legend and creating a fervor for MJ's first signature shoe. 

Knight said the Jordan Brand has become significantly more popular even since His Airness' retirement, going from $800 million in sales to over $3 billion. Sales should continue to skyrocket in 2020 after the airing of The Last Dance, which Knight found to be "sensational."

"I thought the documentary was sensational. It really captured who he was and the true story, which was one of the reasons it was so widely watched—because it was honest," Knight said.

The Extraordinary Tales in Extraordinary Times podcast is available now on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.