Pay what you owe: How Nike profits from African-American cool

[The new shoes] also symbolize how the company has leveraged what’s arguably become its most profitable asset: African-American cool. But not everyone is impressed…or honored.

Fusion

On January 19th, as part of its decade-long tradition of honoring Black History Month, Nike dropped this year’s line of commemorative sneakers. The 12 new shoe designs feature special black and white colorways of shoes endorsed by some of the company’s highest profile spokesmen, including LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. They also symbolize how the company has leveraged what’s arguably become its most profitable asset: African-American cool. But not everyone is impressed…or honored.

The backstory: Thirty years ago, in 1985, Nike executives, in search of a way to cement the company’s hold on the athletic market, eyed a top Chicago Bulls draft pick out of North Carolina. His name was Michael Jordan. The idea was simple: if execs could sign a player of Jordan’s potential and market his cultural cache effectively, they could potentially boost their bottom line.

We all know what happened next: Nike aggressively wooed Jordan to the most lucrative celebrity…

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