At ProServ, the Washington, D.C.-based firm that represents Jordan, he's a hot new growth industry. Executives there are pitching him as someone whose "striking good looks and fashionable wardrobe make him a natural corporate ambassador." A recent ProServ interoffice memo suggested ways to cash in on the tongue angle: "Candy, ice cream, the U.S. Postal Service."
For the moment, Jordan has struck it rich with two equipment endorsements. Both his five-year, estimated $2.5 million shoe contract with Nike and three-year, $200,000 autographed-ball deal with Wilson have royalty clauses that will deliver him a cut on every item sold. Next spring Nike will introduce Air Jordan, a three-quarter rise, $60-to-$65-a-pair basketball shoe made of red, black and white leather with an air-cushioned sole, along with an Air Jordan line of "gym rat" apparel and flight bags. All will sport the Air Jordan logo, a winged basketball.
The Air Jordan sneakers, however, have already encountered some engine trouble on the tarmac. Jordan wore a pair of the black-background, red-swooshed Nikes during the preseason. But the Bulls, worried about how Jordan would be perceived—both around the NBA and by his teammates—had reservations about the shoes' gaudiness. And the NBA office objected, too, citing rules about "uniformity of uniforms." The league has threatened a $1,000 fine if Jordan wears them again and $5,000 for the next offense after that.
As negotiations between ProServ, Nike and the league continue, Nike vows it will sell the black-and-red shoe even if Jordan isn't permitted to wear it in games. But they hope some compromise can be worked out. Says ProServ's David Falk, "From a marketing point of view, the last thing we'd want is to have him look like everybody else."
With Jordan's on-court performance, that won't be a problem. He got his hand on the ball on four consecutive Warrior possessions last week. In Phoenix two nights later, he showed the dramatic sense of a superstar by answering a Nance power slam with a quickness-and-finesse job of his own. "All I saw were the bottoms of his shoes," said the Suns' Michael Holton. Jordan's 20 points on Sunday helped the Bulls beat the Lakers 113-112.
Some scouts had been skeptical of Jordan's outside shot, but he has been the Bulls' most reliable perimeter player, and he's shooting a respectable 50%. Much of the improvement came during Olympic practices under the scrutiny of Bob Knight. " Coach Knight helped me to concentrate and do things without a lot of lallygagging around," Jordan says.
Another influence was his father, James, who used to stick his tongue out while working on the family car in the Jordan backyard in Wilmington, N. C. A rule of tongue: If it's out, the shot's in.
Jordan will occasionally leave his teammates with their mouths open when they should be retreating to play defense or crashing the offensive boards. "O stares all the time," Jordan says. "For a guy who can dunk the way he can, he sure gets amazed at other people's dunks. He's a dunk freak."
Like his team, which sorely needs a center, Jordan still has a glaring deficiency. "He tends to roam on defense because he played a lot of traps in college," Loughery says. And Jordan, whom the Clippers' Smith burned repeatedly en route to 33 points, knows it. "Defensive consistency is my No. 1 goal right now," he says. "I want to be able to contain the offensive player every night. That's going to take time."
His has still been an astonishing start. How will it all end? "I hope I can say I did my best, achieved a lot and won a couple of world championships."