North Carolina, Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgetown, Marquette, Houston.
And now, San Diego State.
The Aztecs men’s basketball program is joining an exclusive club of schools sponsored by Jordan Brand, a sneaker and apparel division within Nike based on the legacy of Michael Jordan. The announcement was made Sunday night at the team’s postseason banquet, and to say players approved of the move, according to those in attendance, would be an understatement.
“We’re ecstatic,” said San Diego State assistant athletic director Matt Soria, who is also the director of operations for men’s basketball and was instrumental in securing the deal. “It’s the Jordan Brand trusting the direction of our program, understanding we play at a high level and continue to play at a high level. I think it shows the Jordan Brand sees San Diego State as a program it can market.
“They want to be associated with the best, and we want to be associated with the best. We’re now aligned with some of the better basketball programs in the country.”
San Diego State becomes the only Jordan Brand program in the western half of the country, and the first never to have reached a Final Four. UNC, Michigan, Florida, Georgetown and Marquette have all won NCAA championships in men’s basketball.
The football teams at Michigan, Oklahoma and Florida also wear the Jumpman logo as part of their sponsorship agreements, but San Diego State’s is only with men’s basketball and does not involve extra money. The athletic department’s Nike contract, which was recently extended through 2023-24 and provides $1.2 million worth of apparel each year, will remain unchanged.
More important, though, is the image and prestige. The casual fan might notice little difference — uniforms will look the same but have a Jumpman logo instead of a swoosh — but it figures to be a huge deal to 16-year-old elite basketball players who have closets full of Air Jordans.
When Houston became the seventh Jordan Brand program earlier this month, coach Kelvin Sampson told the Houston Chronicle:
“These kids have grown up with Michael Jordan. They know what that Jumpman logo is and what it represents. It represents greatness. It represents six championships. It represents a man that transcends the sport … That Jumpman logo is strong. Will it affect recruiting? You got to believe it will.”
Added San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher: “It’s the exclusivity of it, just to be a little different than everybody else. To have something that other schools in the conference don’t have access to, it’s kind of ups our brand and can help recruiting.”
Soria said they first broached the subject with Nike reps in 2014 and revisited it in more detail in the fall of 2016 but admittedly “weren’t sure it would go anywhere.” Earlier this year, Jordan Brand — which has a separate marketing division within Nike – “pretty much said we want you.”
It didn’t hurt that SDSU’s most famous basketball alum, Kawhi Leonard, has been sponsored by Jordan Brand through his seven NBA seasons.
“In the discussions we’ve had with them,” Soria said, “it wasn’t the only reason they thought it was a good fit but it was part of the reason. Kawhi being a Jordan Brand athlete and the ability to market him with us helped this along.”
Another possible motivation: a gesture of goodwill toward Leonard, who recently rejected a four-year, $20-million extension with Jordan Brand and in July can start negotiating with other shoe companies. Jordan Brand, however, reportedly has the right to match any competing offer.
In the meantime, Jordan Brand is scheduled to release a special Leonard version of Air Jordan 1 later this month that honors him being named NBA Finals MVP in 2014, with Leonard’s personalized hand logo on one tongue and the Jumpman logo on the other.
For San Diego State players, their heralded “shoe game” likely won’t change much. A few years ago, coach Steve Fisher allowed them to wear whatever Nike-affiliated sneaker styles and colors they wanted, and the overwhelming choice was vintage Air Jordans. Those are all under the umbrella of Jordan Brand, along with a line of new models.
It also might save them money for high-demand shoes. At Sunday’s banquet, each player received a pair of Air Jordan 10 Retros in Aztecs colors.
“It means the shoes they’re wearing on the court or wearing casually around town are going to be available to them at San Diego State, at no cost to them,” Dutcher said. “We always let our players wear Jordans, but they always had to go out and buy them on their own. This gives us the ability to provide current Jordans coming out and access to retro Jordans.”
Officially, the switch will begin for the 2018-19 basketball season, with the Jumpman logo appearing on uniforms instead of the swoosh and players wearing Jordan Brand apparel instead of Nike. (Some apparel will be available this month at the San Diego State bookstore and online.)
“Our guys have always worn a lot of Jordan products, so it’s been in our locker room,” Soria said. “We’ve always talked about how cool it would be if we could be one of those Jordan schools. You hear people growing up remembering their first pair of Jordans. You don’t remember your first blazer or tie, but you remember your first pair of Jordans. To be associated with that company is unbelievable.
“That logo just does something.”
Zeigler writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune