It was just a thin, dark stripe.
It spread only a few inches across the top of the toe line of the white leather Air Jordan X, but it was wide enough and long enough for Michael Jordan to put his foot down.
"We were in a hotel room, and Michael takes one look at the shoe and said, 'I hate it,' " recalled Tinker Hatfield, Nike's vice president of innovation and the primary designer for the Air Jordan line. "I was kind of taken aback by it. I was like, he should just be thankful I kept it going because he wasn't playing basketball anymore."
This was the summer of 1994. The recently retired Bull was chasing curveballs for the Birmingham Barons. The prevailing thought around Nike was that Jordan would never wear his signature shoes on an NBA court again.
"Phil Knight was really sad," Hatfield said of Nike's chairman. "He thought, 'Now he's going to be a baseball player.' "
Once Hatfield had finished the shoe and authorized production of the first run, he tracked down Jordan to show him the results. Hatfield was proud, particularly of the 10 bands on the sole that included a phrase about Jordan's accomplishments.
Jordan was unimpressed.
"Part of it was Michael wasn't involved in any of the Air Jordan X," Hatfield said. "About the tip of the shoe, he said, 'I hate that a lot,' and [he] got upset: 'If that shoe doesn't sell as many as the year before, you're making up the difference out of your pocket.' "
Hatfield quickly returned to Nike headquarters. "We have a problem," he told his team. Jordan's demand to have the stripe removed -- which would require restarting production halfway through -- had never been done at Nike.
"That was the first and last time," Hatfield said.
"It ended up selling OK so I was off the hook."
Hatfield just shook his head and laughed as he shot a glance at the giant mural of Jordan, MJ keeping watch on his designer as a constant reminder of the keen eye the world's most famous athlete keeps on Nike business involving his name.
Jordan has never been a silent partner in his role as endorser extraordinaire for Nike, a fact now appreciated more than tolerated.
"I think Tinker and our design team and Nike, as a general rule, prefer to deal with athletes who have strong opinions about what he or she wants, and [Jordan] certainly has that," Knight told the Tribune during a visit to the sprawling Nike campus.
Knight built Blue Ribbon Sports, which made $3,240 in its first year of operation in 1964, into Nike, a sports and commercial powerhouse responsible for $19.2 billion in revenues last year. He rarely grants interviews but made an exception to talk about Jordan, the 21-year-old kid who preferred Converse and Adidas over Nikes when Knight first asked him to try on a pair in 1984.
They have grown close over the quarter-century that followed. Knight has been there for the ups -- when the Bulls won Jordan's first NBA championship in 1991.
And he has been there for the downs -- the funeral of Jordan's father, James, in 1993. Knight describes the sight of a weeping Jordan as seeing " Superman in tears."
Of all the special times, Knight's fondest memory is of an ordinary moment savored by his extraordinary friend.
1992. Jordan had won his second NBA title and a gold medal with the Dream Team in Barcelona. Knight treated some members of that team to a Hawaiian vacation. A jet-lagged Jordan walked through the airport in Hawaii holding youngest son Marcus, a toddler at the time, on his shoulders as the boy drooled all over Jordan's bald head.
Chapter 5: Beaverton
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