The Air Jordan 1 is streetwear’s definitive sneaker, and you can assert this argument on so many levels. Originally a performance silhouette, the high-top sneaker has transcended basketball to become an icon not only on the court, but also in skateboarding, hip-hop, and high fashion. Streetwear and sneaker culture wouldn’t be the same without the legacy of Jordan sneakers, which has infiltrated our culture in ways that most products simply don’t.
For decades, NBA storytelling around scoring records and championship matches has dominated the weekly schedule of Jordan retros, from beloved anecdotal colorways like the “Banned” 1s, “Flu Game” 12s, and more recently the “Win Like ’82” 11s. Even outside the NBA, Jordan Brand has historically sponsored athletes across categories, including golfers, as well as professional football and baseball players.
Recently though, the Air Jordan brand has been stepping out of the shadow of Michael Jordan, and key tastemakers in music and fashion like DJ Khaled, KAWS, Aleali May and Virgil Abloh have been enlisted by Jordan to add more heat around the Jumpman.
Drew Hammel of @Nikestories notes: “I love the shift. Obviously musicians and artists are thoughtful, creative people who look at sneakers in fresh and innovative ways. I’ve been watching what artists wear for years on NiceKicks’ Celebrity Sneaker Stalker, so I’m glad Jordan Brand is inviting them into the creative process and allowing them to redesign some of the classic silhouettes.”
Writer and notorious Supreme-head Ross Wilson reinforces this idea with: “Look what adidas did with all those musicians, rappers, and fashion designers. If celebrity culture becomes more influential than sports, then Jordan Brand can either embrace that or ignore it.”
This past Sunday at Super Bowl LII, Justin Timberlake took the stage in a pair of collaborative Jordan 3s, a wholly unexpected move, barring some last-minute rumors that were flying around on Twitter. Although Timberlake’s sneaker channels the same DNA as the 1988 Air Jordan 3, designed by Tinker Hatfield, the new version came with some major design changes, most notably a reflective Swoosh which was originally included on Hatfield’s original design sketches of the silhouette. The accompanying “JTH” (Justin Timberlake/Tinker Hatfield) moniker was obviously a nod to the HTM design trifecta of Hiroshi Fujiwara, Tinker Hatfield and Nike CEO Mark Parker.
The event certainly signals the latest chapter in a new strategy for Nike, as the brand increasingly courts non-athlete partners. While Timberlake has the occasional sneaker photo on his Instagram, and he did rock some highly coveted Jordans for his “Legends of Summer” tour in 2013 with JAY-Z, it’s hard to call him a sneakerhead in the same way as other Jordan family like DJ Khaled. Easy Otabor of RSVP Gallery points out “I really respect how loyal Jordan brand is with their partners. Too many times companies use an artist or collaborator’s energy for the moment and you never hear from them again. I like that they did the “Legends of Summer” thing with Justin, and now it looks like they are building on that relationship.”
The commercial Super Bowl opportunity for both Nike and Timberlake proved to an be irresistible opportunity to reunite. As General Manager of Solebox, Aljoscha Kondratiew points out: “From a commercial perspective I would say it makes sense – he’s one of the biggest entertainers out there, so he is definitely a role model for a bigger audience. We all love the NBA stories like the “Banned” 1s and so on, but through cultural partnerships you can give an iconic product an even deeper cultural message. Jordan Brand has proven that they can do both on a high level.”
Immediately after Timberlake left the stage, Nike released Timberlake’s new Air Jordans in an exclusive run on their Nike SNKRS app. The sneaker release came without notice, and some were understandably salty about missing the drop. While major Super Bowl advertising partners like Amazon, Coca-Cola, and Avocados From Mexico paid millions for their placements, Nike itself didn’t run a commercial, but still converted the halftime show into a key business opportunity. As Otabor highlights, Nike was able to create a long-lasting memory for both sneakerheads and Justin Timberlake fans; “It’s always good when you can associate a shoe to a moment, and create exclusivity for consumers.”
Advertising and branding consultants Apex Marketing Group estimate the exposure was equivalent to about $2.86 million in marketing spend.
The Jordan family is still quite closely knit, and recent collaborators like Aleali May, Virgil Abloh, and DJ Khaled have been longtime supporters of the brand. But given the brand’s new positioning when it comes to collaborating, it’s quite exciting to imagine what the rest of 2018 might hold in store.
London-based collector and Instagram personality Vivian Frank thinks Jordan should double down on partnerships with toady’s most buzzing hip-hop artists: “More musicians like Migos or Lil Uzi Vert, because they have their own unique style, plus a huge influence. Also artists like Murakami, because in my opinion it would be interesting to see Jordan doing more fine art collaborations.”
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- Main & Featured Image: Kevin Mazur / Contributor / Getty Images