This past weekend gave us part three of The Last Dance, which featured the birth of the original Air Jordans, MJ’s gambling controversies, more hip-hop jams, and was dedicated “in loving memory of Kobe Bryant”. Premiering on Sundays, the docuseries seems to get better each week—with the end of episode five officially marking the halfway point—as viewers inch closer to the 1998 NBA Finals.
Remembering Kobe Bryant 🐐 x 🐍
Episode five begins with the 1998 NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden, which MJ himself considered “the mecca of basketball.” As Nas and Lauryn Hill’s “If I Ruled The World” bumps in the background, Jordan gears up for what could be his final NBA All-Star game, and the audience sees Jordan acknowledge the 19-year-old rising star Kobe Bryant before the game.
Minutes before tipoff, unseen footage of the Eastern Conference locker room shows the all-stars talking about the Lakers’ prodigy. Referring to Bryant as “that little Laker boy,” Jordan promises his all-star teammates he’s “going to make this a one-on-one game.” MJ ended up on top that night, leading the East to victory by adding 23 points and securing his third All-Star Game MVP award.
Fast forwarding to 2019, Kobe expresses his admiration for Jordan, reflecting back to a conversation the two superstars had. After Bryant asked MJ a question about a turnaround shot, Jordan answered in great detail and “on top of that said if you ever need anything give me a call.” From that moment on, Kobe described MJ as his “big brother” and even explained how without Mike, “I don’t get five championships… he guided me so much and gave me so much great advice.”
Jordan and Bryant led their respective conference in scoring the night of the 1998 All-Star Game, and the two basketball icons went on to combine for 11 NBA championships, 8 Finals MVP awards, 32 All-Star Game selections, and are largely considered in conversation as part of the top three players to ever play the game.
🐐 x 🐍: different animal, same beast.
The Soundtrack (somehow) Gets Better
As previously mentioned from episode one, The Last Dance soundtrack has been nothing short of spectacular. From Puff Daddy’s “Been Around The World” to LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad,” the The Beastie Boys’ “The Maestro” and Eric B & Rakim’s “I Ain’t No Joke,” The Last Dance soundtrack is loaded with throwback hip-hop classics. In part three, viewers are blessed with Nas and Lauryn Hill’s “If I Ruled The World,” Special Ed’s “I Got It Made,” and Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours”.
Released when he was just 16 years old, Special Ed’s “I Got It Made” quickly became a Billboard top-chart hit, and Jay Z pays tribute to his fellow Brooklyn rapper in “Empire State of Mind” with his iconic line, “City is a pity half of y’all won’t make it / Me? I gotta plug Special Ed “I Got It Made” / If Jeezy’s payin’ LeBron, I’m payin’ Dwyane Wade.”
In addition to more fire embedded in the series’ playlist, a recent New York Times article highlights the details behind the compilation of the soundtrack. According to director Jason Hehir, “certain partners thought there was too much hip-hop in [The Last Dance].” However, Michael Jordan’s Bulls and hip-hop were rising simultaneously through popular culture during the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s, the time period where most of the soundtrack comes from.
At one point, Rudy Chung—music supervisor of The Last Dance—met with the label Interscope to consider modern rappers, like Kendrick Lamar, covering the hip-hop classics, but the idea was deemed too time-consuming and would not have paid full respect to the original artists.
Targeting their audience, TLD directors and producers knew their demographic consisted of a generation of basketball fans who grew up “watching thousands of homemade compilation videos of NBA highlights set to rap music” on YouTube, and even echo this style by playing their chosen hip-hop classics over some of Michael Jordan’s iconic highlights as a young hooper.
The Birth and Rise of Air Jordan
When Michael Jordan entered the league in 1984, Converse was the official shoe of the NBA. NBA legends like Magic Johnson, Julius Erving, and Larry Bird all wore Converse kicks, and the top-selling brand told MJ they couldn’t envision him ahead of their current all-star lineup.
Jordan’s preference was to strike a deal with Adidas, but the three-stripes company told David Falk, Jordan’s agent, they simply could not make a shoe deal work for the rising rookie.
Falk wanted Jordan to sign with Nike, even though the start-up company was considered the underdog at the time. Had it not been for Deloris Jordan, Michael’s mother, MJ would have never reached a deal with Nike. Jordan’s mother shared that her son was too stubborn to even consider collaborating with Nike at first. After visiting the Nike campus in Oregon with his parents, Jordan signed a deal with Nike worth approximately $250,000.
Included in part of the deal was the agreement Jordan would have his own signature shoe. Nike, which was largely considered a track and field shoe at the time, had just developed new technology called air soles. Agent Falk put two and two together and created the idea “Air Jordan” and the rest is history.
The original Air Jordan 1:
Over the course of Jordan’s career (and beyond), Air Jordan has released numerous signature shoes and continues to develop new styles today:
To date, there has been a total of 34 Air Jordan shoes released by Nike, with several different colorways and variations for each shoe. When Jordan first signed as a rookie, Nike’s expectation was to sell $3 million worth of Air Jordan sneakers by the end of year four. After just one year, Air Jordans brought in $126 million worth of revenue.
Widely considered America’s most iconic basketball sneaker, Air Jordans remain popular today as several college and NBA stars continue to wear Jordans on the court. Before Air Jordans, sneakers were simply shoes to play basketball in. As Jordan and his signature shoe continued to successfully evolve, sneakers became part of culture—a place where fashion and sports intersected.
Despite the various styles and colors, advertisements with Spike Lee, and cosigns from celebrities and influencers across the world, MJ accredits the Air Jordan to one factor; “My game was my biggest endorsement.” Without his dominance and relentless attitude on the court, Air Jordans would not have skyrocketed the way they did—or maybe existed at all.