In November 1994, when Michael Jordan’s signature sneaker at the time—the Air Jordan 10—was released to the public, Jordan himself was nowhere near a basketball court. The three-time NBA champion had retired a year earlier, citing he’d “lost his love for the game” at a now-famous press conference. The move was a shock to his legions of followers. Nike, however, was still tasked to produce Air Jordan sneakers even in the absence of its namesake.
With this weighty burden, Nike rethought its branding rollout for the Air Jordan 10—the second Air Jordan sneaker to release during Jordan’s first retirement. Conceptually, they landed on a favorable theme that would become Air Jordan 10 City Series. The strategy was simple: Since Jordan wouldn’t be wearing the Air Jordan 10 (yet), the shoes would be placed on the NBA’s rising stars who were also Nike-endorsed athletes. The players would come from foundational and emerging NBA markets, including Chicago, New York, Sacramento, Orlando and Seattle. The last, home to the SuperSonics, was proper forecasting of the team’s looming ascension in the NBA.