Cool enough for Drake and Future? Cool enough for us.YoutubeNo brand has driven sneaker culture like Nike.
It's connected running and hip hop and streetwear to one another, made super athletes seem a little more human, and helped change American perspectives on exercise.
Here's a few of the ways Nike has defined 'cool' in American culture.
1973: Nike signs its first athlete to an endorsement deal — a 22-year-old by the name of Steve Prefontaine.
A photo of Steve Prefontaine destroying the competition.Drake Baer / Tech Insider
Prefontaine, or "Pre," as he came to be known, was a running prodigy without peer.
He set his first national record at age 15 by running two miles in 8:41:5.
Before he died in a car accident at age 24, he held an American record in every long distance event, from 2,000 meters to 10,000 meters.
Pre signed with Nike for $5,000 in 1974, when the company was two years old. With his flowing hair, punk rock attitude, and unprecedented success, Pre helped brand Nike as swaggering and dominant.
1970-1978: Nike helps make jogging a thing.
Even president Jimmy Carter got into jogging, as this 1978 photo attests.AP
Nike cofounder Bill Bowerman was also a legendary track coach at the University of Oregon. He recruited Pre to join the University of Oregon, then had him sign on to Nike.
Bowerman was also a huge evangelist for running, or as it would become known as a recreational activity, jogging.
While it seems like running has always been a thing, it didn't become a popular pursuit until the Running Boom of the 1970s. Bowerman helped push running into the mainstream with books like "Jogging," to Nike's benefit.
"Certainly running was already popular among kids and athletes in the 1970s, but it wasn’t the social activity that we see it as today," says marketing analyst Garrett Moon. "The growing white-collar workforce helped pave the way for social activities that included the promotion of cardiovascular health. Once the trend was ingrained, the need shifted and the 'jogging shoes' themselves became the felt need."
1985: Nike launches the Air Jordan.
The most important athlete endorsement for a brand in the 1980s and 1990s was Michael Jordan.
And the most important sneaker of all time is the Air Jordan I, released in September 1985.
In October 1985, the NBA started fining Jordan $5,000 each time he wore the sneakers during a game, since they didn't fit the required color scheme. Nike gladly covered the expenses, since the controversy made the sneaks that much cooler.
1988: Michael Jordan and Spike Lee commercials.
Nike wouldn't have its branding if not for the Wieden and Kennedy advertising agency. In the late 1980s, Wieden and Kennedy paired Jordan with Spike Lee, who played his hyperactive Mars Blackmon character in a series of commercial spots over four years.
According to former Wieden and Kennedy creative director Jim Riswold, it was the first time a Nike commerical featured something other than a sweating athlete pursuing greatness — it was goofy.
"That they were the first time [Nike] showed a human side of the athlete, and used humor, and had some fun with popular culture," Riswold said in a blog post. "I think that opened up the access point for Nike to not just necessarily be for serious athletes, but for anybody, for fans, because there’s no bigger fan than Mars Blackmon."
1996: "I am Tiger Woods."
"I am Tiger Woods."Adforum
Tiger Woods took over golf in the late 1990s, and Nike made him the face of the brand.
The 1996 "I am Tiger Woods" spot was the most powerful: opening with a African American boy saying "I am Tiger Woods," then an Asian girl saying the same, and then children of multiple ethnicities.
With that, Nike wasn't just cool — it had become progressive.
2002: Nelly drops 'Air Force Ones'
The early 2000s were a rich time for hip hop, particularly of the Midwestern strain. The St. Louis rapper Nelly and his St. Lunatics were a big part of that.
In 2002, Nelly's "Air Force Ones" made it to number 3 on the Billboard charts. Named for the Air Force One shoe Nike first released back in 1982, it is a song (and a ridiculous video) about buying a pair (actually, two pairs) of sneakers. It's like "Ode To A Grecian Urn," but for kicks.
2015: "Jumpman" by Future and Drake
The power of Nike cool is right here in the close of 2015.
The hottest mixtape of 2015 is Drake and Future's "What A Time To Be Alive." The hottest track on that mixtape is "Jumpman" — a song named after Nike's Air Jordan logo.
As Drake says:
Jumpman, Jumpman, Jumpman, them boys up to something
They just spent like two or three weeks out the country
Them boys up to something, they just not just bluffing
So make that a good 40 years that Nike has been a cornerstone of cool.