Despite Covid-19 seeing global business struggle, 2020 has been anything but the last dance for Air Jordan. The Michael Jordan Nike imprint has arguably had its best year as the world around it crumbles. It is 36 years since Nike snatched Michael Jordan’s signature from under the noses of Adidas – the brand Jordan preferred – and Converse – the one he had worn at the University of North Carolina before entering the NBA. The rest is well-documented history, but how has the Jumpman continued to rise despite a year that has kept everyone else grounded? The Jordan brand had a strong 2019, posting US$3.1 billion in revenues for the financial year running to the end of May that year – a 10 per cent year-on-year growth – followed by its first billion-dollar quarter for the September to November period, which it announced in December despite not ordinarily breaking down Jordan results by quarter. “What’s most exciting is we’re still in the early stages of diversifying the Jordan portfolio,” said then Nike CEO Mark Parker. The 2020 fiscal results were even better: US$3.6 billion revenue for the year ending May 31, a 15 per cent year-on-year rise. That has been put down to two things: 50 per cent revenue growth in China and a new generation of fans – and customers – being turned onto Jordan this year thanks to Netflix documentary The Last Dance . Five niche sneaker brands placing function over fashion The ESPN-Netflix co-production on Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls was brought forward from June to April because of the pandemic and blew previous documentary records out of the water. One episode focused on Air Jordans: how Nike signed “His Airness” and the cultural impact of the shoes. That impact cannot be understated and has expanded this year, from the Netflix show Sneakerheads , which focuses on the sneaker resale market and the search for Air Jordan “Zeroes”, to One Man and His Shoes , a documentary on Nike Jordan shoes and how American teens have killed each other over them (neither Nike nor the Jordan brand took part in that film). This year, high fashion house Dior collaborated with Jordan for the most luxe sneaker ever released. The “Diordan”, as the Air Jordan 1s designed by Dior’s self-professed Jordan fan Kim Jones became known, is 2020’s most wanted shoe, having been first glimpsed at Dior Men’s pre-fall show in Miami last December . Five million sneakerheads entered the raffle to buy a pair on the Nike website when it went live this June, trying to get their hands on one of the 8,000 pairs of highs (US$2,200) and lows (US$2,000). Good luck finding them for retail prices in the resale market, where a pair on luxury website Farfetch is currently going for US$38,000. That’s little compared to what some Jordans are going for at the world’s auction houses. Sotheby’s sold a pair of game-worn 1985 Air Jordans in May for a record US$560,000 – five times the estimate. The record did not last long. An August auction at Christie’s saw the game-worn size US13.5 Air Jordan 1s from the “Shattered Backboard” game that same year sell for US$615,000. That came in under the estimate of US$650,000-800,000. The auction, held by Christie’s and retailer Stadium Goods, brought in almost US$1 million, while another auction in August saw memorabilia auctioneers Gotta Have Rock and Roll sell a pair of post-injury 1986 Jordans for almost US$400,000. Little wonder that Jordans are now seen as an investment, and the market has reacted. Last year, crowd investment app Rally Road offered a pair of autographed Air Jordans from a 1988 game previously owned by NFL star Jack Ham, initially valued at US$22,000 in US$11 shares. By this July they were trading at US$37 per share or US$74,000, SportTechie.com reported. Jordans are clearly good for business. Online auction giant eBay has just concluded a week of Air Jordan lots, selling 60 pairs of hard-to-find originals. Last month, sports fashion retailer JD Sports worked with Nike to restock dozens of Air Jordan reissues unavailable elsewhere for the opening of its new flagship store in New York’s Times Square. People wanting to get their hands on a pair had to visit its other stores to enter the raffle. As well as the impact of Covid-19, 2020 has also been the year of Black Lives Matter. In June, Jordan and the Jordan brand co-pledged US$100 million to the black community as social justice protests rose around the US. Jordan also spoke out at the death of George Floyd, whose killing at the hands of uniformed police officers began the Black Lives Matter protests. Whatever else the world has in store, the future is bright for the Jordan brand. To celebrate 25 years of the Air Jordan 11 – the shoe Jordan wore to win the 1996 NBA championships and in the movie Space Jam released the same year – Nike will release two new versions next month. One of them is straight out of Back to the Future , literally. The Air Jordan 11 Adapt uses the same self-tying lace technology as used on the Nike MAG in 2016 – shoes based on those worn by Michael J Fox’s character Marty McFly in Back to The Future II . As for on the court, the Jordan brand has signed up the NBA stars of the next decade: Japan’s Rui Hachimura, Slovenia’s Luka Doncic and America’s Zion Williamson. They have their own signature shoes on the way to drive sales. Despite retiring in 2003, Jordan remains the best-paid athlete in the shoe game – he has earned US$1.3 billion from the brand since signing in 1984, according to Forbes, and US$130 million of that came last year. That’s four times more than basketball’s current highest-paid shoe endorsee and NBA Finals MVP LeBron James. The “Be Like Mike” tagline has never been more apt.