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31 Years Later, Michael Jordan Accused Sonny Vaccaro of Stealing Credit From George Raveling for Billion Dollar Deal: “You Go for Nike”

Raahib Singh

31 Years Later, Michael Jordan Accused Sonny Vaccaro of Stealing Credit From George Raveling for Billion Dollar Deal: “You Go for Nike”

October 24, 1984, was a game-changing day for Nike. Despite having multiple NBA players on their roster, Nike was known as a ‘running shoe’ brand. However, that was all about to change as they were signing a 5-year, $2.5 Million deal with a rookie Michael Jordan. Nike and MJ have enjoyed a very successful partnership. As every success story goes, many rushed to take credit. In 2015, USA Today held interviews with Phil Knight, Michael Jordan, Sonny Vaccaro, George Raveling, and Peter Moore. While Vaccaro is often credited for signing Jordan, MJ himself claimed it wasn’t Sonny but Raveling who sealed the deal.

Over the years, Jordan Brand has operated as a separate entity under Nike and has given considerable returns. In 2022 alone, it crossed $5.1 Billion in revenue(via Front Office Sports). MJ gets a 5% royalty on the revenue, and till 2020, had earned $1.3 Billion from Nike. However, the origins of this Billion Dollar are a mess. Let us try and get you the four main sides of the story. These all are extracted from USA Today interviews conducted 31 years after the Nike-MJ deal.

What did Phil Knight say?

Phil Knight is the visionary behind Nike. It was only fitting that USA Today interviewed him about the same as well. Talking about the deal, Phil said,

“The signing of Michael Jordan, yeah, success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan. A lot of people want to take credit for signing Michael Jordan, most obviously Sonny Vaccaro. On ESPN he said he was the key to the thing. Sonny helped, but he wasn’t the MVP in that process.”

According to Knight, former Nike executives Rob Strasser and Peter Moore were the MVPs of the deal. He believes it was the way Strasser marketed the idea to Michael Jordan is how they hooked him.

Contradictory to what Phil said, Peter Moore(Creative Director at that time), said that Strasser and Sonny Vaccaro were the MVPs. It is worth noting that Phil Knight fired Sonny Vaccaro for pursuing businesses other than Nike while being employed by Nike, so his reflection of the situation might be biased.

What did Michael Jordan say?

Michael Jordan’s version of him signing with Nike differs from everyone else at Nike.

“In all honesty, I never wore Nike shoes until I signed with Nike. I was a big Adidas, Converse guy coming out of college. Then actually, my parents made me go out to (Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.) to hear their proposal.

“Prior to all of that, Sonny (Vaccaro) likes to take the credit. But it really wasn’t Sonny, it was actually George Raveling. George Raveling was with me on the 1984 Olympics team (as an assistant coach under Bob Knight). He used to always try to talk to me, ‘You gotta go Nike, you gotta go Nike. You’ve got to try.’”

Jordan later shared how it was Rob Strasser and the way he presented Air Jordan is where they hooked him. He did give Sonny the credit for scouting him, but then clarified it was George Raveling who got him into Nike’s door, and Rob Strasser who kept him there.

What did George Raveling say?

When George Raveling met Michael Jordan, he was an assistant coach for Team USA, but also the Head Coach at University of Iowa, which was endorsed by Nike. He shared how he developed a special bond with Mike at the Team USA practices. They formed a small group, himself, MJ, Patrick Ewing, and Vern Fleming. Talking about Nike, he shared how Sonny Vaccaro was after him to get MJ in a room with him.

“We had a long training camp. … And so I had a lot of time to spend with Michael and I was trying to recruit him to come to Nike. In the interest of accuracy, Sonny had asked me to try to get a meeting set up between him and Michael.”

The meeting with Sonny didn’t go as well as it could have. However, George says he told Nike to keep pursuing MJ. He credited their ability to get MJ to the campus for a meeting, along with his parents.

What did Sonny Vaccaro say?

Sonny Vaccaro was a little more direct with it. He did not hold back any punches, and why would he? After being fired by Nike in 1990, he was investigated by the FBI for corporate espionage, but no charges were filed.

“Phil Knight’s lying, Michael’s lying more than Phil and Raveling is insane. All three of them need to destroy me to live happily ever after.”

“Everyone’s trying to rewrite history. It goes beyond Jordan. I am the savior of Nike.’’

Sonny was hired in 1977, and he led the brand into college basketball, getting 80 coaches to make their athletes wear Nike. In 1984, the brand was about to sign Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Patrick Ewing, but Sonny urged the brand to put all of its allotted budget for the athletes into Michael Jordan alone.

“They wanted my opinion and I won the meeting. It’s illogical to think it was anything other than all me.”

“Nobody else (at Nike) really wanted (Jordan), and they didn’t know he was going (to the NBA after his junior season at North Carolina.) I just had a hunch. I can’t even explain why he was the hunch.’’

Sonny also brought up the same in a recent interview after Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s ‘AIR’ came out in theatres.

How does Michael Jordan crediting Raveling impact Sonny Vaccaro’s image?

From this interview itself, we can see that Sonny Vaccaro had a crucial role in getting Michael Jordan to Nike. However, unlike what he claims, it wasn’t only him who made it possible. While he may have been the one who orchestrated it, had it not been for George Raveling’s relationship with MJ, Sonny would have never gotten that meeting.

Had it not been for MJ’s agent David Falk, he would have never gotten MJ and his parents to the Nike campus. Had it not been for Rob Strasser and Peter Moore, he wouldn’t have been able to keep Jordan interested.

While Sonny Vaccaro is the key behind all of this, his habit of exaggerating his importance and his flawed views of society is what led to the MJ and Raveling revealing their truths and taking some credit rightfully away from the executive.

About the author

Raahib Singh

Raahib Singh


Raahib Singh is an NBA Journalist and Content Strategist at The SportsRush. A Computer Science Engineer by qualification, Raahib's passion for sports drew him towards TSR. He started playing basketball at 14 and has been following the NBA since 2013. His entry into the basketball world perfectly coincided with Stephen Curry putting the league on notice. Having followed the league for a long time, he decided to use his knowledge to become a sportswriter with The SportsRush in 2020. Raahib loves to put up some shots in his spare time, watch Cricket, Formula 1, and/or read a nice thriller.

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