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The Major Milestones of Black Impact on the Sneaker Industry

From MJ to Sheryl Swoopes to Shaq, Boardroom breaks down just a few of the industry-changing contributions made to the sneaker business by the Black community.

Boardroom’s Ian Stonebrook also contributed to the compilation of this piece.

When recalling sneaker history, it’s impossible for one to ignore the impact the Black community has had on the industry.

From the game’s legends, like Walt Frazier and Michael Jordan, to the stars of this generation, like Kevin Durant and LeBron James, there are many prominent sneaker brands that may not be where they are today if not for the contributions of the Black athletes, coaches, and executives they’ve partnered with over the years. It’s why you see footwear’s finest, such as Nike, Jordan Brand, and Adidas, release entire collections dedicated to Black History Month annually.

Simply put, the sneaker game is what it is today in large part due to the many accomplishments made by the Black community. While it would be an impossible task to compile all of them in one place, with Black History Month nearing its end, Boardroom decided to highlight just a few of the biggest moments and milestones that have been made along the way.


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1973: Walt “Clyde” Frazier Becomes Signature Athlete at Puma

All sneakerheads know the Puma Clyde, the first signature sneaker there ever was. It’s also one of the first shoes that boasted success both on and off the court. Fifty years later, many still wear Clydes. At the time, Walt Frazier reportedly received roughly $5,000 and free kicks. However, at the time, he wasn’t a huge fan of the material on the shoes, so they made him a new one.

More importantly, this was the beginning of the signature shoe era. With new brands engrained in the space, there are 26 current athletes in the NBA that boast signature shoes, while Sabrina Ionescu’s new Nike line — popular among NBA and WNBA players alike — pushes the active WNBA total to three.

While exact numbers year after year can be hard to come by for every athlete, a report by Statista in 2019 revealed that LeBron rakes in over $30 million annually via his signature line, with Durant and Stephen Curry not far behind. The big business of the signature shoe isn’t its only perk, as it brings with it bragging rights and a lasting legacy alike, making it one of the ultimate Ws for the modern athlete.

1984: Michael Jordan Signs Royalty-based Endorsement Deal with Nike

Not only did MJ put the sneaker industry in a chokehold with this deal, but it might also be the best in sports business history.

Prior to the launch of Jordan Brand, Mike initially wanted to sign with Adidas coming out of college and heading into his NBA rookie campaign. But the eventual six-time champion would end up signing with The Swoosh thanks to a push from his mother, and the rest is history.

Nike agreed to give Jordan roughly 5% royalty of all sales at the time, not knowing how good MJ would end up being on the court in addition to the sneaker empire he would go on to build off of it. As of 2022, Jordan Brand became second-largest footwear company in North America, highlighting the early agreement as one of the best business deals of all time.

To illustrate how much money Mike is raking in via Nike, let’s break it down: Jordan Brand brought in $6.6 billion in sales last year, putting him at roughly $330 million in royalties for 2023. For reference, MJ made “just” $94 million in on-court career earnings. Mike’s agent, David Falk, revealed in The Last Dance documentary that Nike had hoped to make $3 million by Year 4 of the Air Jordans partnership; they sold $126 million worth in the first year.

The revenue Nike gained in 1984 sat just under $1 billion. In 2023, The Swoosh raked in $51.5 billion.

1992: Fab 5 Beats Notre Dame with Freshman Starting Lineup debut — valuation of Michigan endorsement contracts/NIL

The Fab 5 stamped their place in college basketball history, but they also left their mark on the sneaker industry, too. And if you ask Jalen Rose, they changed the shoe game in college hoops forever.

And the Fab Five’s run has left its fingerprints all over the Michigan athletic department to this day. In 2015, Michigan partnered with Jordan Brand, becoming the first program in the country to rep the Jumpman on the gridiron. Despite the Jim Harbaugh-led program not being at its best when the deal was made, the deal has more than paid off for the Jumpman.

1995: Sheryl Swoopes Launches Nike Air Swoopes

In addition to making history as the first player drafted in the WNBA, Sheryl Swoopes also bust down doors in the sneaker game with Nike. In 1995, a year before the league was even founded, Swoopes and The Swoosh launched the Nike Air Swoopes. The four-time champion and three-time MVP debuted the sneakers at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Swoopes blazed a new trail for women getting their own shoes, with Sabrina Ionescu being the latest WNBA star to get the signature treatment with Nike.

1997: Nike Announces Brand Jordan

Thanks to the success of the Air Jordans, Nike decided to take things even further with the arguable GOAT, launching a Swoosh subsidiary in the Brand Jordan, its original name. Analysts predicted the company would make $300 million in Year 1, separate from The Swoosh. Fast-forward to 2023, and Jordan Brand is looking at $6.6 billion in annual sales, over a 20x increase.

2001: Allen Iverson Signs Lifetime Partnership with Reebok

Relative to the few others, Allen Iverson has one of the more unique lifetime deals with Reebok. The Answer initially agreed to a 10-year, $50 million contract with the company ahead of his rookie season, but halfway through the deal, Iverson made the long play. While he sacrificed the annual $5 million he would get the rest of the contract, the 2001 NBA MVP would now receive $800,000 per year for the rest of his life in this new deal. Additionally, Iverson is set to receive a $32 million trust fund from Reebok on his 55th birthday (he turns 49 in June).

While the numbers can’t hold a handle on what Jordan has been able to do, Iverson set the stage for athletes who may sign with a smaller brand but still have the goal of a lifetime contract. (See: LeBron, KD.)

2004: Shaq Partners with PayLess, Walmart

While both with Reebok, Shaq went down a completely different road in his sneaker journey than AI.

Many shoes these days are made with premium materials, putting the cost at a premium price. But after an encounter with a woman who complained about his overpriced sneakers, Shaq wanted to make his line affordable and accessible to the masses. After opting out of his deal with Reebok, Shaq went on to make his own brand and partner with both PayLess and Walmart, putting shoes on the feet of hundreds of millions nationwide.

2012: Dwyane Wade Partners with Li-Ning

To illustrate how groundbreaking Wade’s deal was with Li-Ning, take a look a USA Today’s headline when the whole thing went down in 2012: Dwyane Wade announces bizarre shoe deal.

To be fair, it absolutely was unique at the time. After rockin’ Converse and Jordan Brand for the first nine seasons of his NBA career, Wade made the decision to switch over to the Chinese brand, which was little known at the time. However, the gamble paid off. He’s been able to have creative and strategic input en route to building a successful line with Li-Ning.

The first-of-its-kind deal paved the way for players like Jimmy Butler and CJ McCollum to eventually sign with Li-Ning. It also opened the booming Chinese market up for additional big name NBA deals. Kyrie Irving is now a strategic and creative lead with a signature line at Anta. 361 Degrees boasts the Denver duo of Nikola Jokić and Aaron Gordon on its roster. Even Austin Reaves is getting in on the action with Rigorer.

2023: Shaq, Iverson Named President, VP at Reebok

In a full-circle moment, Shaq went from Reebok‘s first signature athlete to an owner of the company in 2022 to being named the brand’s President of Basketball. While we don’t know what kind of ripple effect this move will have on the sneaker industry moving forward, it surely opens the doors for similar partnerships to form at other brands in the future.

Shaq wasted no time in his new position, too, appointing Allen Iverson as his VP and signing LSU star Angel Reese to a multi-year endorsement deal shortly after.

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Griffin Adams

Griffin Adams is an Editor at Boardroom. He's had previous stints with The Athletic and Catena Media, and has also seen his work appear in publications such as USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and MLB.com. A University of Utah graduate, he can be seen obnoxiously cheering on the Utes on Saturdays and is known to Trust The Process as a loyal Philadelphia 76ers fan.