(Photo by Jay Beuachamp)
By Michael Kinney
NORMAN – Jamuni McNeace was upset when the news came down that the University of Oklahoma athletic department was joining Nike’s Jordan Brand. The senior forward on the men’s basketball team knew he was missing out.
“Man, I was hurt, man,” McNeace said. “I’m not going to lie. Because I only got one year left. So these young boys come in, got four years of free Jordans. Man, I was hurt. I wish I had four more years of eligibility just so I could collect the gear.”
McNeace wasn’t the only one to have a strong reaction to the news about the multibillion-dollar shoe and apparel line joining the Sooners. Ever since Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione announced in November the Sooners would be the newest member of the growing Jordan Brand collective, the hysteria over the apparel has stayed at a constant high.
“It just fits with what we’re trying to do here at the University of Oklahoma. The marriage of truly two iconic brands, both with a global impact for different reasons,” Castiglione said. “We thought the core values of both Michael Jordan and the Jordan Brand fit very well with what we do here at Oklahoma.”
The Jordan Brand is former NBA star Michael Jordan’s line of apparel. What started out with The Air Jordan I shoe in 1985 has transformed into a multibillion-dollar apparel line for Nike.
The Air Jordan III in 1988 was the first item to feature the iconic Jumpman logo. It can now be found on every piece of clothing associated with Oklahoma’s football and basketball teams.
Besides the free gear, the partnership is a nice payday for the school. Oklahoma does not release contract details, however, The OU Daily filed an open records request for the information, which showed the Sooner’s deal with the Jordan Brand is worth around $70 million. The school will get an annual payment of $1.78 million through 2024. That is up from the $1.4 million it was getting when it was with Nike.
The Jordan Brand had been involved in college sports for some time, but almost exclusively in college basketball. It wasn’t until 2016 that it dipped its toe in the lucrative waters of college football.
Michigan was the first gridiron squad to join the Jordan Brand. Since then, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Florida were added to the list of only four football programs to represent the line. Marquette and Georgetown are the only two schools where just the basketball teams are outfitted in the Jordan Brand.
“Once I noticed that the Jordan Brand was interested in moving from the (basketball court) onto a different playing surface, I wanted to make sure that Oklahoma was right in the middle of that discussion,” Castiglione said.
The cultural relevance of Michael Jordan and his Jordan Brand is not lost on the coaches and school officials at Oklahoma.
“The biggest separator right now, when I’m talking to kids, is the Jordan Brand,” assistant defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks said. “There are only four college football teams in the country that are able to wear that logo. That’s a big deal for every kid.”
Before the Jordan Brand entered the football game, it was already one of the biggest money makers in apparel. According to Forbes, Nike’s Jordan revenues for the fiscal year ending in May of 2016 were $2.8 billion. It jumped to $3.1 billion in 2017.
One look at OuJordan.com, it is easy to see how it is able to rake in the money. A pair of Jordan Trainer 3 sneakers in Oklahoma colors cost $125. A Jordan Brand Crimson game jersey sells anywhere from $99 to $134.
Because the Jordan Brand shoes and apparel are in such high demand, it does bring unique challenges for college programs to deal with.
Earlier in the summer, 13 members of the North Carolina football team were suspended for as many as four games for selling team-issued Special Edition Air Jordan’s that were given to them. According to the NCAA, that is a violation.
When it happened, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said he has talked to his Sooners about the situation.
“You constantly have to remind them, even more now that it’s Jordan. The stuff is so in demand,” Riley said. “One of the biggest reasons we made the decision to go to it is because of that.”
Riley said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the rules, but they still must be followed.
“These rules are tight. Twenty, 30 years ago nobody cared about that stuff,” Riley said. “It’s hard. I sympathize with the athlete a little bit on it because that’s their stuff.”
While Oklahoma is now considered a Jordan Brand school, not every team at OU gets to represent the brand. Only the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams will wear the Jordan Brand uniforms and apparel.
Programs such as the defending men’s gymnastics national champions and the recent women’s gymnastics and softball national champions will stay with Nike.
Unfortunately, they won’t be able to have the same experience as McNeace when he runs out onto the court at Lloyd Noble Center for the first time with the Jumpman patch on his jersey.
“Wait until you see the jerseys, man, they something else,” McNeace said. “They surprised me a little bit. There’s something different. We’re going to be looking good out there. Man, there’s not a lot of teams with Jordan gear. Man, we’re just lucky to be one of them.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer