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Exploring Why Michael Jordan Went to China for Nike

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The ongoing celebration of the 30th anniversary of Air Jordan seemed to have its high water mark last month in Shanghai, which erected the Jordan House of Flight as a structural paean to all things Jordan. Michael himself made an appearance -- his first in China in 11 years -- with frequent design collaborator Tinker Hatfield in tow, and if you're wondering what compelled Nike to mount such a high-profile series of events in this far-flung region of the world, you simply have to follow the money.

A recent piece in Fortune explores how the booming Chinese sneaker market has prompted Nike to sustain a massive marketing push in the country, with special emphasis placed on the brand's Jordan division.

A veteran sports industry observer, NPD analyst Matt Powell, once described Air Jordans as “the top-end, conspicuous-consumption brand,” so it was only a matter of time before the shoes tapped into China’s still insatiable demand for luxury goods. On the streets of Shanghai and Beijing, Jordans have morphed into the fashion statements they are in the Bronx or the Beverly Center. “People are wearing Jordans all over the place,” Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers marveled during his October trip to China for an NBA preseason game.

The evidence is seen on the feet of students and stroller-pushing young mothers on the sidewalks of China's mega-cities, as well as the numerous sneaker shops that have popped up in recent years, hawking row upon row of cellophane-wrapped sneakers. The numbers tell a similar tale:

Though Nike doesn’t break out Jordan Brand financials, China recorded the highest footwear growth of any Nike market in the company’s latest fiscal year—up 26%, to $2 billion. In the latest quarter, Nike sales rose 30% in what the company calls “greater China”—including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. The region is quickly becoming a crucial market for the $100-billion-market-cap company as Western Europe and the U.S. cool off.

But as Alan Greenspan famously warned, irrational exuberance has its downside, and Nike is wary of the risk that its sneakers will eventually become a fad, their popularity flaming out as a new trend takes their place. That's where the brand's Jordan-centric approach comes in, as the Swoosh is intent on educating consumers about the history of Air Jordans as technical performance shoes, not just lifestyle sneakers meant to be paired with jeans and jogger pants.

Head over to Fortune now to read the entire piece.