North Carolina

It’s got to be the shoes: How Michael Jordan’s Jumpman could help UNC football

UNC football unveiled its redesigned uniforms at Meet the Heels on Saturday. The new uniforms feature the Michael Jordan Jumpman image on the jersey and an argyle pattern to the collar and helmet stripe. The promotional theme is “The Origin of Flight,” playing off Jordan and the Wright Brothers, both notable in the history of the state.
UNC football unveiled its redesigned uniforms at Meet the Heels on Saturday. The new uniforms feature the Michael Jordan Jumpman image on the jersey and an argyle pattern to the collar and helmet stripe. The promotional theme is “The Origin of Flight,” playing off Jordan and the Wright Brothers, both notable in the history of the state. cseward@newsobserver.com

Larry Fedora, never one to lack energy, attempted to describe on Saturday how North Carolina’s new football uniforms would help the Tar Heels – what the mere act of putting them on would do for his team before it ran onto the field.

It was a description whose translation to the printed word requires capital letters: “THEY’RE GOING TO BE JACKED,” Fedora said, yelling as though he partook in his old Red Bull habit moments before addressing a crowd at UNC’s annual Meet the Heels Day.

It was there that Fedora, UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham and Jones Angell, UNC’s radio play-by-play man, helped unveil the new Jordan Brand football uniforms on Saturday. They were part of a slick presentation, with the uniforms on dummies inside a small, makeshift field house.

Fans lined up by the dozens to walk through and take a look. At least one player, linebacker Cayson Collins, later offered a glowing video review of the new uniforms in a video posted to Twitter. The hype was real, indeed, for uniforms that, ultimately, aren’t a whole lot different from what UNC wore last year.

The biggest difference: There’s now a prominent Jumpman logo, Jordan Brand’s famed silhouette of an in-flight Michael Jordan, on everything: the uniform tops, the pants, the socks, the shoes, the gloves and even the practice helmet, a smooth Carolina blue number with a white Jumpman logo soaring on the side.

The other notable difference: The navy alternate uniform, beloved by many but scorned by those who think UNC should never wear anything but Carolina blue or white, is back for the first time since 2012, replacing the black alternate uniform UNC wore occasionally in recent years.

A representative from Jordan Brand, a subsidiary of Nike, was on hand on Saturday to speak with reporters about the more artful aspects of the uniforms: their design, their lightness, how improvements in fabric and construction might translate to improvements in performance.

In reality, though, the best part about these uniforms, for UNC, is this: players and potential future players are excited about them. Or, to borrow Fedora’s term, they’re JACKED about them. There are many ways through which college football programs attempt to lure the best high school prospects.

Facilities are important, as the never-ending arms race (see Clemson’s new behemoth of a football facility, replete with a barber shop and bowling alley) attests. A strong social media presence, with propaganda selling the school and team, is becoming more important.

And then, somewhere in there amid all the factors that might influence a prospect’s college decision, are the uniforms. An attractive uniform (attractive to 17- and 18-year-old football players, remember) might not be a deciding factor for many. Undoubtedly, though, a team’s fashion sense influences some.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to quantify what effect UNC’s association with the Jordan Brand has had on its recent football recruiting success. Perhaps it’s coincidence that UNC was recently in the midst of the one of the best recruiting stretches of Fedora’s tenure, what with commitments from, among others, Jordyn Adams, a top receiver prospect from Green Hope High School, and linebacker Payton Wilson from Orange High.

Fedora knows this much, though: those prospects who have committed to UNC, and those UNC is still recruiting, are all aware of the association with Jordan Brand. It has become a part of the sales pitch: come here, and wear the logo of arguably the most iconic athlete in the history of American sports.

“Every single player that we’re recruiting, every player, they all know about it,” Fedora said on Saturday. “It’s no secret. They all know, they all ask about it, they all want to see the type shoes that we’re getting, what we’re going to wear. Kids want to see the swag these days.”

And then, Fedora’s hope goes, they want to receive UNC’s swag enough to come. Back in April, Fedora gathered his players inside of a meeting room. One of the benefits of being a Jordan Brand school, he told them then, is that they had some new shoes waiting in their lockers: the Jordan Retro 11’s.

Immediately, players rose from their seats and began jumping and screaming their way around the room. A celebration following a national championship victory might have only been slightly more jubilant than the one that followed an announcement about receiving new sneakers.

And then, at last, came the official uniform unveiling on Saturday. UNC becomes the second school, in addition to Michigan, whose football team will wear Jordan Brand – a brand that, for obvious reasons, is most closely associated with basketball.

Jordan himself helped announce the partnership with UNC football early last March, during halftime of the Tar Heels’ eventual basketball victory against Duke. At one point Jordan, speaking of the potential of UNC football, misspoke. His statement that “the ceiling is the roof” quickly went viral.

Cunningham, in fact, wore part of that phrase on a custom-made belt during the unveiling on Saturday. In the room with the uniforms, on a back wall, was another phrase referencing Jordan, this one a bit more polished and made to sell: “Origin of flight.”

UNC, after all, offered Jordan his metaphorical launching pad. It’s where a skinny freshman who went by “Mike” became a household name when he made the shot against Georgetown in the 1982 national championship game.

Part of the sales pitch behind the relationship with the Jordan Brand is that, somehow, it can help elevate what Fedora is attempting to build. He acknowledged that many high school and college players these days might not be familiar with Jordan the player. They’re well acquainted with Jordan the brand.

“So how strong of a brand does he have,” Fedora said, “when every kid out there wants to wear Jordans? And they never saw the man play. So it just says a lot about what this brand stands for. … It stands for greatness.”

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter

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