How Michael Jordan’s newest signature sneaker star is rewriting the same script penned by the GOAT.
On Sunday night in Salt Lake City, Jayson Tatum proved to be the star of stars.
Scoring an all-time high 55 points in the 2023 NBA All-Star Game, the Boston Celtics swingman etched his name in the history books and left his footprints all over the snowy state.
Those famed footprints came by the way of the Jordan Tatum 1: the 24-year-old’s first signature shoe.
Debuting both the namesake model and two thematic takes — “Pink Lemonade” and “Zoo” — the Duke product turned MJ ambassador couldn’t have had a louder unveil. While the shoes won’t hit stores until April, the February unveil bodes well for an impending playoff push.
It also aligns with history.
Examining the archives and speaking with the Jordan Brand brass that worked directly with JT on his first shoe, Boardroom examines the business behind the Tatum 1 in regard to rollout and audience.
The Old Playbook
On the tongue of the Jordan Tatum 1 lies a sleek ‘JT’ logo representing the brand’s newest signature star.
Rotating the shoe towards the heel, there appears an iconic silhouette older than the Celtics scorer himself.
35 years ago, the Jumpman emblem debuted on the Air Jordan 3 at All-Star Weekend, flying high on Mike’s home court of Chicago. This theatric moment meant much for Mike where arrivals rank, winning both the Slam Dunk Contest and All-Star Game MVP in his new shoe with his new logo.
It meant even more for Nike when considering their bottom line and box score.
“Up until that time, basketball shoes were introduced in the Fall,” Ron Hill, former Nike Product Merchandiser, told Boardroom in 2022. “The first time he wore the [Air Jordan] was at the All-Star Game. For us, we needed a vehicle to sell Spring shoes.”
Not only did Mike wear his new shoe for the first time at All-Star Weekend, he thrived on national television at a time when the Bulls aired mostly as a regional act.
As Russ Bengtson recalled for Complex, Mike made the most of that moment in Chicago by breaking out two colorways of the Air Jordan 3 in the same weekend — a move Tatum mimicked this year.
On top of that, Nike had the foresight to debut the Mars Blackmon campaign on TV during the game, introducing the Tinker Hatfield design to the world in a street savvy method that was lifestyle leaning.
It was a double whammy where consumer attention span and seasons were concerned.
“The All-Star Game was the first time we introduced a basketball shoe into the Spring,” Hill said. “Then we pushed colors going into the [NCAA] Tournament and that’s when the Dunks were introduced.”
The result at market?
“Our business went up 40%,” Hill said.
In an era of grainy box television sets, fans got to see the new Air Jordans in detail right before their eyes rather than from afar on Mike’s feet.
Keeping that same energy but offering a shift in sentiment and tone, Jordan Brand debuted its brand-wide Beyond campaign during this year’s festivities in Utah. Blocks away from Vivint Arena, the clip broadcast in sky-high projection status on the side of the 15-story Radisson Hotel.
Though the shoe featured in the commercial is the Air Jordan 37 Low, Tatum debuted the flagship Mike model over the summer.
For years, this strategy shaped Jordan Brand before being discontinued.
From 1988 and up to 1993, Nike and Michael Jordan used the All-Star Game to debut the new Air Jordan game shoe. Over the course of his career, MJ won ASG MVP honors three times.
After Jordan’s first retirement, they rerouted the marketing method ever so slightly by having MJ start seasons in the new model but break out an upcoming and often off-kilter colorway at the midseason classic.
With the Tatum 1, the original game plan returns.
Better yet? Setting a scoring record in his first All-Star start validated the product more than anyone could plan for.
What separates Tatum from his peers is carrying the honor and weight of that infamous leaping logo that Mike debuted 35 years ago in Chicago.
An Elite Fraternity
In 1984, Nike made Michael Jordan their man.
23 years later in 1997, they made him his own brand.
Since forming his own subsidiary based off that iconic emblem, the Jordan Brand has blossomed into a $5 billion a year business. From Chicago to Milan, Boston and beyond, Air Jordan sneakers reign supreme despite MJ being two decades removed from his playing days.
Over the course of Jordan Brand’s 25 year existence, MJ has been selective in hand-picking the talent that both wears his shoes and has their namesake model under his Swoosh subsidiary.
“My whole thought process is taking an existing player, because they have the credibility of being a strong player,” Jordan told SLAM Kicks in ’98. “You know they are going to be ready to do the impossible.”
In choosing Tatum, a rising star he acquired from nearby Nike back in 2019, MJ is betting big on the Celtic swingman’s upside.
“When Jayson first signed with the Jordan Brand in 2019, that was definitely a signifier that the brand was on its way to be led into the future,” Adam Beard, Jordan Brand Global Strategic Communications Manager, told Boardroom on a Zoom call. “Three-and-a-half years later, Jayson is now an MVP candidate.”
In signing Tatum, Mike also crossed party lines where the Tobacco Road rivalry is considered, inking a Dukie despite bleeding Carolina blue.
Lucky for fans more enamored by another shade of azul, Mike’s favorite color may be green.
Simply put? Duke puts out bankable shoe sellers.
Years later in 2011, Kyrie Irving inked a contract with Nike and went on to be one of their most sellable signature stars of the last two decades.
Then in 2019, Jordan Brand bet big on Zion Williamson, signing him to a deal worth a whopping $75 million for five seasons.
Truth be told, the olive branch from Raleigh to Durham was Chicago sensation turned Blue Devil Jabari Parker, who signed with the brand in 2014.
Even before formal affiliation, Dukies desired this type of union. Former college heroes such as Daniel Ewing wore Jordans while playing for Coach K, once chastised for rocking with Mike while wearing the black and blue.
In 2023, it’s quite possible Jon Scheyer’s squad will be wearing Jordan Tatum 1s or Jordan Zion 2s for NCAA Tournament action.
If Dariq Whitehead, the Duke freshman wearing Tatum’s No. 0, also elects to wear JT’s new shoes, he’ll be hooping in the lightest Jordan model on the market.
When Michael Jordan welcomed Jayson Tatum to the family at a Fashion Week event in Paris, France, the then-21-year-old talent was already a seasoned vet and futurist where footwear was concerned.
At Nike as a newly minted Celtic, Tatum led the Adapt BB — the brand’s first auto-lacing basketball shoe. Before that, he was a collector of Kobe Bryant favorites that he often wore on-court.
“Kobe’s my favorite player in the league,” Tatum told me while in high school back in 2016. “And his shoes are the most stylish and comfortable to wear on court.”
This season, Tatum paid homage to the Black Mamba in aesthetic with a PE pair of Air Jordan 37 Lows. Heading into the playoffs, he’ll honor Kobe in innovation by playing in a model that’s lighter, louder, and more progressive than the majority of the market.
Like Kobe before him, the hooper with perhaps the deadliest footwork in the game has the footwear to match.
Powered by uncaged Zoom Air and made with minimal rubber, the Tatum 1 is as light as it is unique. Unafraid to look different, JT’s first signature features a striking TPU frame across the sidewall.
“Jayson called out Kobe,” Beard said. “How Kobe was an inspiration to follow his dreams and dedicate himself to his craft.”
To some, Tatum is sharpening his sword in an aesthetic that’s a bridge too far from the retros they’ve grown to know and love. For Tatum, it’s a way to build his own identity and strip excess material and weight.
Like Kobe, it’s always function first in an unflinching manner.
Bryant Klug, Senior Footwear Designer for Jordan Sport and the pen behind the Tatum 1, noted that Jayson “didn’t want to be referential to older shoes, he was very interested in making the future.”
As the poster boy for innovation at Mike’s multi-billion-dollar brand, Tatum is looking to connect with consumers that love hoop much like Mike and Mamba before him.
Some might say it’s in his DNA. Others might suggest it’s in his contract.
In regard to shifting the performance paradigm, Tatum’s hero and boss both set the bar.
“Some of these projects that are more advanced in performance? There are only a few athletes that will go down that journey with us. Kobe was one and Michael was another,” design legend Tinker Hatfield told Boardroom in 2022.
“Kobe was right up there with Michael Jordan,” Hatfield continued. “And I think they are the two very best that anybody has ever worked with in the NBA. Kobe was so inquisitive and interested in trying new things; Michael Jordan was the same way. The Nike brand or the Jordan Brand would not be the same without those two people.”
In Tatum, Jordan Brand hopes to have the next in line to Kobe and Mike on court and in regard to innovation. After all, who wouldn’t?
With the Tatum 1, Jayson’s coming out of the box stronger in regard to artistic upheaval than either of his heroes. His first shoe features function akin to Kobe but an aesthetic entirely its own.
It’s the Jordan Brand family that Tatum represents in endorsement, but it’s his own family that he represents on court.
The Next Consumer
On April 7, 2023, the Jordan Tatum 1 releases in full-family sizing.
There’s a reason for that, and it’s not just marketing.
It’s his son, Deuce.
“He’s courtside, he’s in the locker room, he’s warming up with the team,” Kelsey Amy, Jordan Brand Senior Color Designer, told Boardroom. “Those moments are so rare, you don’t really see them in years past in any sports. Family and all of the things that center around Jayson are relatable. Being able to buy into those elements is really cool.”
A stalwart of the sideline and a fixture for post game interviews, the five-year-old standing roughly four feet is as much the muse for the Tatum 1 as the Black Mamba or the Black Cat.
Because of this, Jordan Brand built a kids specific style of the Tatum 1 that was, like his father’s pair, debuted on-foot at the NBA All-Star Game.
“Not all innovation is built for kids,” Tate Kuerbis, Design Director of Jordan Kids Footwear, told Boardroom. “So we really have to search out, investigate, and create a path to creating exciting product for the future of Jordan Kids.”
Unlike the adult sizes, the youth pairs feature an innovative TPU tailgate system that allows kids to easily step in and out of their pairs. It’s essentially a collapsible heel set-up crafted for easy on-off entry.
Teaching the children addition by subtraction, Zoom Air is removed for flexible foam. It’s a dual lesson in support, meant to keep kids comfier on the playground and the shoes more durable for the parents buying pairs.
“He was really interested in making kids happy,” Klug said. “He treated it as a shoe for him, but also a shoe from him for kids.”
Though this is a smart and strategic sell-in for an athlete and brand looking to meet the next generation of hoopers and consumers where they’re at, it’s not merely window dressing.
Jordan Brand had Kuerbis handle engineering duties specifically on the kid’s retail version of the Tatum 1.
To those rich in sneaker history, Kuerbis is known for designing Air Jordans 34 through 37 — all models in which Tatum played at an elite level.
Additionally, he worked on the Air Jordan 18 — the last model MJ played in as a pro — as well as the Air Jordan 18.5, the Jordan Brand debut for a young Carmelo Anthony.
Ironically enough, it was Boston Celtics great Paul Pierce who leaned into selling sneakers specifically for kids with Nike in the late ’00s. In that era, Paul’s pairs only released at retail for kids with the only adult sizes going exclusively to him.
Conversely, the pairs worn on the sideline by Deuce and on court by his dad will all arrive at retail. When children see the Tatum 1 on shelves at Kid’s Foot Locker, perhaps they’ll see Jayson or maybe they’ll see Deuce.
Either way, it’s a family thread Jayson and Jordan are beginning to tie.
“Jayson’s story is so relatable,” Amy said. “There’s just so many elements of Jayson where the consumer sees some of themselves in him.”
Soon enough, fans old and young will see the Tatum 1 on shelves and on their own feet.
Spring is in the Air
Back in the summer, Jayson Tatum tried on his first signature Air Jordan shoe for the first time.
Wear-testing it on the LeBron court at Nike Campus, he had to wait multiple months to debut it in a game. Once he did in Salt Lake City? He made it count.
This April, the Jordan Tatum 1 will arrive at retailers. Adult sizing starts at $120, scaling all the way down to $55 in toddler takes.
It’s one small step for Deuce literally, but figuratively a massive leap for both his father and Jordan Brand.
“The future is our kid consumer,” Klug told Boardroom. “Getting them excited about the products, especially signature product innovation like this and having the support of an athlete like Jayson. Just knowing that we are able to have a platform to support kids and the innovation they need.”
In Jayson, Jordan Brand possesses a 6’8 superstar yet to even turn 25.
By most measurements, his best years are ahead of him and so are his best shoes.
While the Tatum 1 hits stores in a matter of weeks, his team back in Beaverton is already working on what’s next for their newest signature star.
“How can we create and sculpt the future?” Derek Foster, Product Line Manager for Jordan Brand who oversees the Tatum line, told Boardroom. “Relative to Jayson, we position him as one of our Flight guys. How can we create the most lightweight but stable proposition within Jordan Sport?”
If this year’s All-Star Game was any indication, the evolution is just beginning.
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