Forged in the NBA, Michael Jordan’s legacy and impact has far surpassed the boundaries of the court, spilling across fashion, music, and traversing the divide of other sports, whether this be through his motivational approach to the game or the global reach of his brand. And no where is this currently more apparent than in his increasing influence on the world of football.

Words no longer suffice when the subject is Michael Jordan. Call him the very best basketball player who ever lived, and no one’s likely to put up much of an argument, his legacy speaking for itself: six championship rings, five MVP trophies, a record ten scoring titles – yeah, he had a bit of talent. But it didn’t stop there. Jordan is not just one of the greatest basketball players of all-time, he’s one of the greatest athletes of all-time. And yet his influence on the world is not just restricted to his exploits on the court; Netflix's The Last Dance documentary is a reminder that Jordan was the first athlete to transcend sport and become a brand – Air Jordan – in his own right.

Almost 20 years on from his retirement and the name Jordan is still recognised across the globe; the sight of that Jumpman logo being instantly recognisable as a symbol of the man and the power of his brand, the advent of which was a catalyst for a shift within the Swoosh. He was one of the most effectively marketed athletes of his generation and was considered instrumental in popularising the NBA around the world in the 1980s and 1990s, mainly through his association with Nike. However, as has been shown within the recent Netflix documentary, in 1984 Jordan didn’t even want to sign with them, instead favouring a deal with adidas. But the emerging American brand set a precedent with his signature, offering him his own signature shoe and changing the landscape forever, blending on and off court fashion and giving rise to sneaker culture as we know it today.

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Jordan's influence on the world is not just restricted to his exploits on the court – he was the first athlete to transcend sport and become a brand in his own right"

Nike’s endorsement deal with Jordan changed sports marketing forever, paving the way for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar to make millions from sponsorship. This was exemplified in 2016, when Ronaldo signed a lifetime ‘Michael Jordan-style’ sponsorship deal with Nike, making him the first footballer to sign such a deal, following in the footsteps of Jordan and LeBron James. Not a direct link to the world of football, but certainly without the precedence of his deal, Ronaldo’s arrangement would be unlikely to exist in the format that it does.

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Jordan’s influence on football far exceeds that of financial merit though. Simply look at his iconic number ’23’ – perhaps the most instant visual trigger, alongside that famous silhouette – and there is a direct link to one of the most recognised footballers of all-time. When he started out, Jordan’s favoured number was actually 45 because it was his older brother's basketball number, but he halved 45 (as close as he could) so he could start his journey on his own terms. It’s an inspiring tale, and the No. 23 Jordan wore on his singlet (retired by his team when he left) went on to represent more than just the player himself; it's everything the brand image created around him was meant to be – drive, passion, focus, success – before public cynicism of brand image and marketing of athletes grew in the public domain. 

When David Beckham opted to sign for Real Madrid in what was one of the biggest transfers of all-time from a hype perspective, his chosen number, seven, was already in use by Raul. He had to take on a new number. He chose the number of someone that he looked up to; a role model that he always aimed to emulate in a performance sense. The choice of 23 represented a perfect storm that brought the good association of Jordan to football, elevating the icon yet further with the first tentative steps into the game. Attempting to springboard off this association, adidas introduced a new logo on the Predator Absolute, of which Jordan brand was an obvious reference point with the body position silhouette. It never caught on in the same way as the Jumpman, not having the same kind of undertones that Nike introduced with Jordan, but the influence was there for all to see.

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"The choice of 23 represented a perfect storm that brought the good association of Jordan to football, elevating the icon yet further with the first tentative steps into the game"

And it wasn’t just Beckham who had an underlying admiration for the basketball legend. Emerging Brazilian talent, Neymar shared the feeling, born from his deep-set love of Jordan sneakers. After first meeting the basketball legend in Las Vegas in 2015, the pair quickly formed a close friendship, and in 2016, his elevating status in the game alongside his own NJR11 brand, saw him achieve a dream. In a defining moment, Neymar became the first athlete across all sports to feature the Jumpman on his own performance product with the release of the NJR x Jordan Hypervenom II. The design took inspiration from the Jordan V, a personal favourite of Neymar’s. Splashed with dual signature styles, the release caught the attention as one of the first cross-sport collaborations. A huge precursor for what was to come.

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Embracing the maverick personalities, Neymar's approach to the game mirrors Jordan's in a number of ways: both have the ability to be associated with a strong off pitch image just as they are on pitch, and both win while effectively dictating their own choices. Neymar can do what he wants in Paris. He could probably turn up when he wants and call whatever shots he wants, but like Jordan, they still win, effortlessly. It’s an ethos and mentality that Jordan created, and that is often homaged in athletes’ approaches to their chosen disciplines. Mentality wins.

The Neymar collaboration was the next definitive step towards a more direct and impactful influence on football from Jordan. Since his third and final retirement from basketball in 2003, the brand had understandably grown even further beyond the boundaries of the court, expanding into what is a fashion range that has spread from athletic shoes to haute couture, leading to collaborations with the likes of Vogue and Dior. And so came the much hyped jump into the wider world of football, when Jordan collaborated with Paris Saint-Germain. 

Over the last decade, PSG developed a much-deserved reputation as the culture club. With a strong and attractive brand image combined with being in a city that’s so harmoniously linked with fashion – not to mention the Neymar link – the club became the obvious choice for one of the most talked about link ups in the sporting world. The introduction of Jordan to PSG meant that for the first time, a brand with unrivalled credibility from outside football entered the game. And the impact was huge. Of course, PSG playing in Jordan branded kits did not lead to them winning the Champions League, nor will it ever. But what it did do was propel both club and brand into stratospheres that they would never have dreamt of before. 

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So many collaborations fail because they have no established character backing them up. Linking up with PSG meant Jordan had free reign to take football in any way they wanted, and they utilised football as the most popular game on the planet to show how any sport can be taken in a different direction. For the Jordan brand being so synonymous with sneaker culture and streetwear, it meant that football off pitch apparel was elevated significantly.

There exists a holy trinity of football, fashion and music, each linked through ever-strengthing cultural crossovers. Rap, Hip-hop, and grime have become the audio currency of the game, and Jordan sneakers have always been connected to the world away from the playing environment. Look at players when they’re not performing on the pitch, and you’re forever seeing Jordans appear along side a full rig out. How long will it be before a club (probably PSG, lets face it) adopts a new approach, encouraging the kind of walk up to a game that we see in the NBA – Zion Williams casually rocking up to a game in full PSG tracksuit offered a glimpse into the reverse possibilities. And if it does happen, you can guarantee that a full array of Air Jordans will be on display.

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The PSG x Jordan collaboration has opened the door to so much more in terms of cross sport pollination. We’ve already seen the likes of the Juventus and Palace collection, and this will just be the tip of the iceberg. Prior to the opening game of the NBA season, which took place in Paris (no coincidence there) players from both sports were introduced, expressing their admiration for one another and creating the kind of crossover that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be proud of. And all of this is possible because of the trailblazing, ever-expanding influence of one man. The world's greatest basketball player is now also one of the world’s greatest brands; one that's making some serious waves in the world of football.