Soaring to New Heights

Drake raps about them and Spike Lee swears by them. But how did a Jesuit university in Southeast Wisconsin become one of only five schools in the country to be outfitted by Jordan Brand? Go back to 2000, when a kid from Chicago committed to Marquette despite his lackluster ACT scores.

In 1999 Marquette Basketball needed of a fresh start after a 14-15 campaign. The program gave Michigan State assistant coach Tom Crean an opportunity for his first head-coaching gig. Along with his coaching experience, Crean brought a Nike apparel deal from East Lansing to outfit Marquette.

The first-year-coach saw just a one game improvement, but the trajectory of the program was about to change when a guard from Chicago named Dwyane Wade committed to Marquette. Despite missing his first season due to academic ineligibility, Wade became a star over the next two years. The player’s meteoritic rise culminated in a trip to the 2003 Final Four, an achievement that granted Marquette Nike Elite status. Following that season, Wade declared for the NBA Draft and was selected by the Miami Heat with the fifth overall pick.

While Marquette’s stock within Nike was rising, the brand acquired legendary shoe company Converse in the summer of 2003.

After two years in the NBA, Dwyane Wade had become one the league’s brightest young stars. Prior the 2005-2006 season, Wade signed a long-term deal with Converse to create Wade Brand, his own line of shoes and apparel.

untucked real
Photos via the Marquette Spirit Shop.

In 2007 Marquette became the only school to sign on with Converse and Wade Brand. The Heat guard assisted in designing the jerseys, providing his alma mater with some of the freshest threads in college basketball. The new line of gear helped Marquette reemerge as a leader in fashionable uniforms, as they were during the Al McGuire Era with the iconic “Untucked” jerseys during the 1970s.

“We had so much liberty, latitude, and creativity with Converse,” said Deputy Athletic Director Mike Broeker. “Converse, much like the Jordan people are now, were engaged in helping us spotlight our uniform tradition and history.”

This fashionable partnership was mutually beneficial for a couple years. Then Nike got out of Converse, leaving Marquette and Wade in limbo. Before the 2009-2010 season, Jordan Brand extended an invitation to Marquette and Wade to bring their brands under the Jumpman umbrella. Both the player and the university accepted, beginning a partnership between the Golden Eagles and Jordan Brand that continues to this day.

Every major university across the country has some sort of apparel deal with the likes of Nike, Adidas, or Under Armour. Marquette’s deal is different because Jordan is a lifestyle brand, not just a shoe company.

For instance, this past February, the Marquette men’s basketball team got stuck in New York during one of the worst blizzards in recent memory. With their Saturday matinee against St. John’s pushed back to the following day, head coach Steve Wojciechowski and company needed a place to practice. After a few calls to the people at Jordan, the team was able to get court time at NY Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony’s glamorous Terminal 23 gym in Midtown Manhattan.

“The biggest thing with Terminal 23 is that we have priority being a Jordan school, where regular Nike schools have to wait in line,” said Marquette Video Coordinator Jake Presutti, who acts a liaison between the program and Jordan Brand.

While hooking the squad up with one of the nicer gyms in the country is great, that doesn’t even scratch the surface on the benefits of being a Jordan Brand school.

Over the course of the past season, the company made strides in promoting the school on their own social media. This effort was highlighted by a photo shoot done in the lead up to the Marquette/Wisconsin game featuring the team’s facilities as the backdrop for their product. The posts reached their 6.6 million followers on Instagram, and the pictures got around 80,000 likes each.

Cultural outlets like Complex, Vice, and World Star Hip-Hop have taken notice too, as the program is frequently featured on these sites whenever Jordan releases a new Marquette inspired shoe.

When the basketball program gets fitted by Jordan Brand, every little detail is considered by the company’s designers. Those designers then work with Presutti to ensure the team looks their best every time they appear on national TV. From the shoes to the jerseys and everything in between, it is important to maintain a synergy between the Marquette brand and the Jordan products.

“They pitch ideas about different shoes and colors,” says Presutti. “They’ll tell us what shoes we are getting and then ask what we want the main, base, and the accent colors to be. We try to get as much Championship Blue, Navy, Gold, and mix everything in as you can see with all the different shoes.”

It’s not just the team and coaches who are rocking the Marquette shoes. Former Golden Eagle and current Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, who recently launched his own line of Jordans at the new Terminal 23 in Chicago, laced up in Golden Eagle J’s for a January game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

“I just wanted to pay my respects and my dues to Marquette,” said Butler while taking in his alma mater play at Villanova days after his shoe choice made headlines.

While the notoriety and prestige that comes along with being a Jordan Brand school is great, the conversation starts and ends with the shoes Marquette wear on game day. Often times the Golden Eagles are the first to wear the latest offerings from the company.

“Jordan’s philosophy is that they want to get us in the product before they hit stores,” says Presutti. “With us, Cal, Georgetown, and North Carolina wearing them on TV, the shoes and apparel can generate sales for them.”

Throughout the history of Marquette basketball, uniform fashion and program success have occurred simultaneously. Whether it is Bo Ellis designing the “Untucked” jersey in 1977 or Dwyane Wade designing Marquette’s jerseys in the mid-2000s, Milwaukee’s Jesuit University has been synonymous with in-vogue basketball fashion. As the Golden Eagles continue their ascendency in the hierarchy of college basketball, Marquette looks to need no introduction, much like the Jumpman logo itself.

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