The Genius Who Signed Michael Jordan to Nike

here comes Louis on the outside Carl Lewis wins the gold why kal Lewis was sprinting for his first Olympic gold medal to colleagues from Nike were having a beer watching Lewis on television in a Washington DC restaurant there’s one hero said one of them nodding toward the television I think we’re about to get together with a much bigger one the colleagues left the bar for a meeting at the office of sports agent David Fogg robbed Strasse Nikes director of marketing and designer Peter Muir represented the ambitious sportswear company from Oregon Fork represented a University of North Carolina basketball star who had decided to skip his senior year of college and enter the NBA Draft this is the story of that meeting and how it changed the sports industry forever the 80s didn’t start well for Nike after the company went public Nike posted its first losing quarter ever and what street hammered the share price down to single digits the company had to dump millions of shoes for as little as $1 per pair to stay alive workers were laid off in what became known around Nike as the st. Valentine’s Day Massacre Nike founder Phil Knight was desperately looking for ways out of the crisis he was in particular counting on his marketing director Rob Strasser who Knight called his five-star general and was known to be a deal making wizard he just didn’t care what he said or how he said it or how it went over night recalls in his memoir he was totally honest a radical tactic in any negotiation Rob Strasser grew up in Milwaukee got his law degree at Berkeley and returned to Portland to work for a local law firm after fighting off a dispute with a Japanese manufacturer who was suing Nike phil knight hired him to work for his company other successful in his ways Strasse earned a reputation as someone who could underscore a point by throwing a book across a room with 300 pounds a full-grown beard and wearing a Hawaii shirt most of the time that could leave quite an impression Strasse presented another example of his eccentric approach at a meeting with the All England Lawn Tennis Club to make them sign with Nike as to the official Wimbledon outfitter for his pitch Strasse printed out large black and white pictures of Wimbledon skorts after they had been bombed by the Nazis the tagline brought to you by the people who wear three stripes a bald-faced reference to Nikes German competitor adidas the tactic was classic Strasse for its noise but also its precision one of the club officials listening to the pitch was a decorated World War two veteran and Strasser knew it three years before that meeting Strasser had been in Wimbledon to watch John McEnroe’s iconic performance that Illustrated how well a superstar driven strategy can work now Strasser wanted to make sports heroes a cornerstone of the business to lead Nike out of the crisis perhaps more than anyone Strasser believed in star power in a 1983 memo he wrote individual athletes even more than teams will be the heroes symbols more and more of what real people can’t do any more risk and win a visionary thought for the time which later proved to be right while Nike was making cuts everywhere and trying to get out of sponsorship agreements with players Strasser was planning to create an icon to save the company we’re going to Washington today to negotiate for Michael Jordan he told colleagues the day before meeting with fork we’re going to create shoes advertising and whatever else goes with him if Jordan does what we think he can and if we can execute this can be big a huge if but success would put Nike that much closer to achieving its grand plan to dethrone Adidas and become the world’s dominant athletic brand Jordan’s agent David [ __ ] was clear if Nike wanted Michael Jordan he needed his own signature line of shoes and apparel upfront advertising support and a cut of future sales all this was essentially unheard of and a high risk a stunning deal for a rookie in a team spot just one knee injury away from disaster but Strasse and more agreed jordan would become the first player in basketball with his own brand adidas and converse would later tell fork it would never work the men went on to discuss potential names for the signature line luckily ditching ideas like the Michael Jordan line and agreed on Air Jordan on the flight back to Portland Moore asked a flight attendant for a set of wings the kind airlines give kids that little pin became the inspiration for a logo featuring the words Air Jordan arced over a basketball set between two wings that same week the US team led by Jordan beat Spain in the US Olympic final in Los Angeles the next day Fogg and Strasser sat down in a room at the Lamy Taj Hotel in Beverly Hills and started negotiating Jordan’s potential Nike deal it turned out to be the most complicated contract Strasse had ever negotiated especially because of the royalties John was to receive money for each pair of Air Jordan basketball shoes sold he was to get a percentage of the net sales of all Jordan apparel and equipment and some shares of Nike stocks Strasse and fork came to an agreement on terms that day and shook hands on it at the Nike Olympic beach party but the next obstacle was already ahead convincing Jordan himself who was actually preferring to stay with adidas stress are never assumed that an athlete would go with Nike just because of the money when the bidding started to get ridiculous an athlete could make a decision on the basis of how he felt just as much as what he was paid his plan was to win his heart and the signature would follow they brought Jordan and his parents to Oregon to hear Strasser’s presentation he talked about Nikes winning advertising campaigns and about building up Jordan’s image Moore showed off prototype apparel and a pair of shoes cut in the Chicago Bulls colors of red white and black once I went through the presentation with Nike you know they really made a grave effort of trying to you know have me have my input on the shoes design any shoes that I wonder where but then I was very loyal I went back to adidas adidas contact that I had and say look you know this is the Nike contract if you come in and wear clothes you know I sound with you guys but adidas didn’t and Jordan signed with Nike when Strasse learned that a $1000 fine had been levied against Jordan because his shoes did not match the uniform Strasse tell Jordan to wear the shoes anyway Nike would cover the fines and use the rebellion for marketing on September 15th Nike created a revolutionary new basketball shoe on October 18th the NBA threw them out of the game fortunately the NBA can’t stop you from wearing them Air Jordans from Nike the link to Jordan who became the greatest pro basketball player of all time transformed Nikes fortunes to date the Jumpman logo is one of the strongest brands in the industry with a reported over three billion in sales soon after Jordan disregarded NBA rules to debut his shoes Nike was on track for global domination in 1985 Knight told a magazine that a whole lot of people were responsible for the company’s turnaround but Rob is the MVP after clashing with Phil Knights rough Strasse left the swoosh in 1987 founded his own agency and later worked for Adidas unfortunately years of hard work and a sometimes eccentric lifestyle damaged Strasse US health more and more he had a heart attack and passed away in 1993 at age 46 thousands of people attended his memorial service many of them wearing Hawaiian shirts his gravestone reads the way ahead is clear be honest about the battlefield throw out the old rules that don’t make sense get out of the comfort zone go to the front of the fight and stay there and most important cut out all the [ __ ] [Music] you [Music]