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Air Jordan steps toward milestone

January 09, 2008|Sarah Skidmore | The Associated Press

BEAVERTON, ORE. — It's gotta be the shoes, right?

No other basketball shoe has changed the face of business, athletics and marketing as the Air Jordan has. This month, Nike releases the 23rd edition, and it is expected to be just as venerated as its predecessors.

The sleek design and link to Michael Jordan's jersey number make it a touchstone in the line. It's also Nike's first basketball shoe designed under its "Considered" ethos, which aims to reduce waste and use environmentally friendly materials wherever possible.

The Air Jordan XX3 will be released in three hyped-up rounds from January to February, starting with a limited edition that will be sent to only 23 retailers and will be sold for $230 and concluding with the national launch at the price of $185.

There had been talk at Nike about retiring the shoe at No. 23 because of Jordan's iconic jersey number. But company executives and Jordan declined to say whether this would be the last of the line.

"You'll just have to wait and see," Jordan said in an e-mail.

Before launching the first shoe in 1985, Nike had just signed Jordan for $2.5 million over five years. Nike won't say what Jordan's current contract with the company is worth.

Jordan's deal with Nike opened the door for sneaker manufacturers to chase after athletes, signing them -- sometimes out of high school -- for multimillion-dollar contracts in hopes of cashing in on the next superstar. It sent sneaker prices to new heights, which has since generated a backlash against selling expensive shoes to basketball-loving kids.

"The Air Jordan franchise created the most coveted basketball footwear in the world and changed the basketball landscape forever," Nike Brand President Charlie Denson said.

Unlike most basketball shoes to date, which were often white and utilitarian, the Air Jordan was a shock of black and red. It was initially banned by the NBA for not conforming with other players' shoes.

Jordan continued to wear them and was fined $5,000 a game, which Nike paid.

"Nobody expected the mass hysteria created by its release," said Jordan, who has been a part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats since 2006.

The Air Jordans moved basketball shoes from true high-tops or low-tops to a middle range and used unheard-of styles, such as patent leather toes and elephant print.

A new edition was launched each year, and release dates had to be moved to the weekends to keep kids from skipping school to get a pair.

Jordan said he never expected that the shoe would become an icon. "Like every kid growing up, I dreamed of making winning shots at the buzzer and I was fortunate to live out that dream, but never in my wildest dreams did I ever entertain the idea of the success of the Air Jordan franchise," he said.

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