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Nike's decision to establish its Michael Jordan brand as a separate unit with its own marketing staff could bring a new ad agency into the company fold.

The leading athletic footwear and apparel company last week named Larry Miller, formerly U.S. general manager of Nike apparel, as president of the operation Nike is now calling "the Jordan brand."

Nike said Mr. Miller will work with the brand's namesake, NBA superstar Michael Jordan, on developing strategy and hiring a staff to execute it. While not a Nike subsidiary, such as Cole-Haan, the Jordan brand will function as a stand-alone operation.

Messrs. Miller and Jordan may opt to work with a current Nike agency or hire a new agency to handle advertising for Jordan brand products.

Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., handled the launch of the Jordan brand last fall. Nike's other shop is Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. Both declined to comment on the situation.


The agency that will handle the Jordan brand going forward "remains to be seen," said a Nike spokeswoman. "Larry and Michael are creating the team that will make those decisions."

As it stands now, Nike is just as likely to use a current agency as it is to search for a new one.

"At this point, there is no plan to bring in any other agency resources," said Chris Zimmerman, U.S. director of advertising.

Wieden's work to launch the Jordan brand was widely praised. The brand has generated more than $300 million in sales since its launch in November, making it the second-lar-gest brand of basketball footwear in the U.S.

Wieden's work last year sought to establish Mr. Jordan as the leader of the brand and tout performance-oriented products worn by him and other NBA stars.

Whether or not the account goes into review, the acknowledgment that the Jordan brand's agency situation is unresolved further advances the company's efforts to position the unit as being distinct from Nike.


The Jordan line will evolve to encompass sportswear and more fashion-oriented items, turning it into something akin to the Tommy Hilfiger brand.

How quickly that strategy will be reflected in product and advertising depends largely on when Mr. Jordan retires from the NBA. The superstar, who earlier this month led the Chicago Bulls to their sixth championship this decade, will spend the summer deciding his future.

The sooner Mr. Jordan makes up his mind, the better for Nike. The marketer already has developed the prototype for next season's Air Jordan sneaker.

"We don't know if he's going to play. . . . But if he does, we better damn well be ready," said Tinker Hatfield, Nike's VP-special design projects and creative director of product design.

Mr. Hatfield said he was instructed by Mr. Jordan to incorporate design cues from the star's new Ferrari 550 Maranello sports car into the new shoe. The shoe even has a tiny wire-mesh vent behind the instep.

Mr. Rechtin is a staff reporter for Automotive News.

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