- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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NEW YORK CITY -- When the music stopped and the mirrored wall pushed out, there was a palpable sense of shock in the room.
About 100 people -- a mix of sneakerheads, shoe bloggers, reporters and analysts -- had come from as far away as Japan to get a first glimpse of the next in line of the greatest franchise in sneaker history: the Air Jordan.
What was this thing they were calling the Air Jordan XX8? A zipper sleeve over the shoe that could be peeled back? The shoe's inside casing out in the open able to be adjusted for a tight fit before being laced up?
For the premium brand in the sports shoe world, which many believe could sell anything with the iconic Jumpman logo, it was immediately clear that this shoe was far from playing it safe.
"The reality is Nike is never going to tell us to just be safe because that's not Nike," Jordan brand president Larry Miller said.
Despite the robust business that the Jordan brand is today, the business is at a crossroads. It virtually prints money by relaunching retro Jordans over and over again, growing year after year. Its shoes are bought as fashionable status symbols and collector's items, but the performance basketball shoe business it once had has declined.
Miller, who is back for his second stint as the brand's president, said the priority isn't just to sell the shoe. It's to have people wear it on the court and pass the word along.
"The goal is to get the brand to be hot today and not just the products that were sold in the past," Miller said.
But Nike is so big of a business that it doesn't break down specific shoe sales for Wall Street, so we never have any idea how a shoe does. Many of them sell out, some in seconds online, but that's because Nike executives believe the feeling of wanting more is worth leaving cash on the table.
When photos were put on Twitter on Monday night, the shoe's design triggered a lot of passion. Miller said he was happy to see the emotion.
"If you go back to a number of the other Air Jordans, even back when Michael was playing, there was that kind of reaction to a lot of the shoes," Miller said. "People looked at it and said, 'What is that?' For us, that's the kind of reaction we're looking for."
In a way, not breaking through in today's increasingly cluttered world, is more scary to Miller and other Nike executives.
While some might think there is risk associated with pushing the envelope as far as they did here, others would argue that the real risk is just being complacent with the retro status quo.
Plus, even without knowing quantities made, there's not a whole lot of financial exposure with this shoe. Why? Because the Jordan is so strong that retailers committed to buy the XX8s sight unseen. With the process done far in advance, Nike would never be in a position to have a glut of these shoes in the marketplace.
When older brands start getting aggressive like this, it's often because their age-old classic isn't what it once was. Luckily for the people at the Jordan brand, their reality is the opposite. Their brand on a worldwide basis has never been as popular even with their namesake gone from the game for more than a decade. It's also why they might as well shake it up like this every once in a while.