Towering Triumph: Michael Jordan’s Inspirational Journey from Rags to Basketball Legend - Apkcombat

Towering Triumph: Michael Jordan’s Inspirational Journey from Rags to Basketball Legend

Boardroom breaks down how His Airness evaded endorsing Reebok on the world’s biggest stage in the most American way possible.

Last week, Sotheby’s closed an auction for an apparel piece of extreme folklore.

Michael Jordan‘s game-worn 1992 Olympic Gold Medal stand jacket — made by Reebok and infamously engulfed by the Star Spangled Banner — sold for a whopping $1.5 million.

A tale of pride and patriotism, competition and capitalism, the defiant Dream Team moment is surrounded by bottomless business backstories that have touched multiple millions over the course of its 30-plus-year narrative.

It foreshadowed a crucial commitment between the best basketball player in the world and a billion-dollar brand that would make Michael more than just a partner but a Swoosh subsidiary.

It also ignited a spending spree in sportswear that changed the American and international endorsement space for decades to come.

To celebrate the Fourth of July and the recent seven-figure sale of the autographed anomaly from Spain, Boardroom explores the deep-seated rivalry between Reebok and Jordan as well as the ways the Dream Team transformed deals in the global games.

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I Declare War

The battlefield for a high-stakes showdown between Michael Jordan and Reebok was shaping up years before Barcelona.

In 1985, the original Air Jordan line was making Nike an estimated $55 million in months, selling like hotcakes off the red-hot rookie’s “Banned” commercial campaign and NBA Dunk Contest debut.

That same year, Reebok made the move from the UK to the US, going public and amassing almost $1 billion in sales shortly after. To earn American equity, Reebok had to go at all competitors — namely Nike.

For the backend of the ’80s, Reebok battled Nike for the No. 1 spot in Stateside sportswear, ascending in aerobics but quickly encroaching on MJ’s domain of basketball.

Though Mike and Nike had the crown in the early ’90s, Reebok was ascending in the ’80s thanks to garment leather and Pump technology. Like Mike and Nike, Reebok began the new decade by running a play positioned off dunk contest showmanship that was eerily similar to His Airness and even more shameless in marketing means.

At All-Star Weekend in 1991, Boston Celtics sensation Dee Brown brought the house down when he pumped up his Reebok basketball shoes en route to taking home the trophy.

It was a moment of massive proportions in pop culture and even more sentiment at Reebok. Right after Nike signed Mike for a reported $500,000 in 1984, Reebok bet big on incoming Celtics star Len Bias, inking the Maryland product for $325,000 in 1986.

Bias, a revered rival to Jordan in college, tragically died on draft night, never playing in an NBA game. With Bias went Reebok’s dreams of having a true foil to Air Jordan. For the years that followed, Reebok placed smaller basketball bets on the likes of Dominique Wilkins and Dennis Rodman.

Finally, in 1991, they had a moment of youth and momentum with Brown.

Right after Brown was handed his trophy, he was immediately faced by a friend turned foe.

“I was a rookie and I had just won a contest maybe two hours before,” Brown told biographer Roland Lazenby. “It was just me and Michael and security. He comes up to me and says, ‘Good job, young fella. You did a really good job.’”

Starstruck, the charismatic kid who just covered his eyes on his winning dunk couldn’t hide his smile. Quickly, Mike melted all that.

“You know I got to go at you more now?” Jordan reportedly said. “You know you’ve started a shoe war.”

Mike was smiling, but he wasn’t joking. Having just inked an extension with Nike, he saw the Swoosh as a true partner based on his royalty incentives and ascending apparel business. If he played his cards right, there was a chance he could even have his own company within Nike.

“I’m 21 years old, just won a dunk contest,” Brown continued. “I didn’t comprehend what he said.”

Brown was with Reebok. Brown was the competition.

Despite being back home in North Carolina to start his seventh All-Star Game, Mike’s mood was on growing an empire and building his business.

He liked Brown, but he liked winning even more.

“You hear all the stories about Michael and how competitive he is,” says Brown. “He already had it in his mind that what I did with the pump-up shoe, that what it was going to be was a competition between his shoes and that shoe.”

Not rings, not points. But simply shoes and the market share and influence that went with both brand backers.

“Forget about basketball,” Brown continued. “It went to the competition of ‘Now I got to kick your butt in something else. I know you can’t guard me. I’m the best player in the world. But just because you did that little Reebok thing, now I got to step my game up on the shoe business.’”

Dee Brown won the 1991 Dunk Contest in Reebok Pumps. Michael Jordan took that personally.

The same energy from that cold winter in Charlotte carried over to Spain’s summer of 1992.

Award Tour

Michael Jordan had plenty to be happy about in the hotter months of 1992.

Having just won his second-straight NBA Championship, MJ was the most magnified athlete in America and truly a brand himself.

Between annual salary from the Chicago Bulls, endorsement deals with Gatorade, and adoration from his NBA peers, everyone — including business and basketball elite — wanted to be like Mike.

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