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How These Fans Made Millions of Dollars, Starting With Some Collectible Sneakers

It's an object lesson in spotting opportunity within chaos.

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This story appears in the September 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The legend goes like this: In 1985, Nike made a pair of red-and-black sneakers for Michael Jordan that it called the Air Jordan 1. Then Jordan tried to wear them during a game, but the NBA said no -- uniform violation. So Nike promoted the sneakers as “banned,” Jordan wore them during that year’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest, and the combined cool factor blew the shoes off retail shelves so fast, they made skid marks.

Michael Glenwood

Is it true? Online sleuths wonder if the whole “banned” thing was a marketing gimmick from the start. But it doesn’t really matter. These shoes would effectively become Sneaker Zero, the birth of special limited shoe releases, conceived by brands from the get-go not to sell millions of pairs but to create that invaluable, flammable fuel known as hype. And for a generation of sneakerheads, the Air Jordan 1 lodged in their brains. They needed it. And they needed the next version, too.

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