ESPN's "The Last Dance" Sheds Some Light on MJ's Success On and Off the Court
Updated: Oct 31
If you haven’t seen ESPN’s ‘The Last Dance’... what are you waiting for? ESPN’s documentary miniseries appeals to a wide variety of audiences; including older generations that were able to enjoy and remember the historic dynasty and younger generations who have only seen highlights and heard folklore surrounding the legendary 90’s-era Chicago Bulls. However, the documentary’s appeal extends beyond just sports enthusiasts – this is evidenced by MJ’s everlasting impact on pop culture, from music to (most importantly) sneaker heads.
Personally, one of the biggest questions I was left with at the end of the show was: what drove Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand’s success? Was it MJ’s competitive nature or was it just being at the right place at the right time? When you look at Nike’s Jordan Brand it stands alone. There are other players that are compared to and associated with MJ’s greatness on the basketball court, namely Kobe and Lebron, but when we talk about influence in fashion and streetwear culture, they fall short. The simple answer is Michael Jordan was a trailblazer that was able to accomplish things never done before and the timing of his success on the court most definitely transcended to his success off the court, including the Jordan Brand.
A similar question can be asked of Kanye West and the success of Adidas’ Yeezy brand. If you look at Kanye and MJ, you’ll find similarities to their rise in the fashion and streetwear industries. Compare MJ’s competitiveness and unwillingness to lose – and his decision to sign with Nike over Adidas because of the fact that Nike gave him his own shoe. This rivals Kanye’s vision for his brand and having walked away from Nike. Both Kanye and MJ are highly successful figures in their respective domains and both are polarizing figures (in very different ways). Is it possible that Kanye’s success stems from a similar nature as Jordan’s, i.e. being a hard headed, driven individual at the right place right time? Would Yeezy have been as successful if Adidas had signed him in 2006 when Kanye originally pitched them a shoe? Is it possible that Yeezy will have a lasting impact on the industry much like the Jordan Brand?
I would argue that neither Jordan nor Kanye saw it that way when they began their journeys. However, I do believe both Nike and Adidas did. Nike, although a young and scrappy upstart at the time, was not performing as well as they had expected. So, they threw a contract at MJ in hopes that this soon-to-be rookie would one day become the face of their organization. Similarly, Adidas saw Kanye’s track record of success in both promoting his work and the quality of his content leading up to his signing. Both stories have similar elements: rising stars mixing with the timing and placement of the brands to create something everlasting.
Where does this leave Kobe and Lebron’s brand? Can we expect Virgil and Off-White to have a similar long-lasting legacy? Could Travis Scott be the next Yeezy? Do the elements of MJ and Kanye’s story resonate with anyone else in the culture today?