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Mudville: May 28, 2024 1:44 pm PDT

Is it the Shoes?

BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI

Mike Jordan has often wondered about the power of his name.

The North Jersey artist, who is among the hottest creators in the burgeoning custom cleats/sneaker industry, shares a name with the greatest basketball player who ever lived. That he works with footwear only serves to compound the confusion for some.

So, while Jordan, the artist – not the Hall-of-Famer – usually goes by Mike, the mix-up happens from time to time and is understandable. Jordan, 37, however, has a sense of humor about it. He also has a strong client base among Major League Baseball players and National Football League stars, each of whom have sought out the Garden State’s preeminent shoe artist in an effort to express themselves on the field.

There is that name, though.

“I don’t think the name helps me out,” said Jordan, who lives with his wife Chelsea and two children in the suburbs just west of New York City. “I don’t think a lot of people realize it, even the pro players I work with. Sometimes people think it might be a joke. Or, because I go by Mike so often, it doesn’t register or really click. I really don’t think it helps but I have often wondered if it hurts.

“The reason I say that is because if I had an uncommon name and you were looking for custom shoes and you Googled ‘Jim Smith,’ it would come up. If you Google my name in reference to shoes, good luck finding me.”

Jordan, however, doesn’t have to worry about anyone finding him through a Google search. His work and his reputation have proven to be enough to make him one of the industry’s most sought after artists since he burst onto the scene seven years ago. He’s a quality review specialist for Prudential Financial; but in 2016 he came across a video of an artist making custom cleats for Derek Jeter as the Hall-of-Fame shortstop was nearing retirement.

The Yankees and Jeter have long been a passion of Jordan’s, who admits that other than doing “a lot of drawing” when he was a child, art was never a big part of his life. Sure, he did the requisite doodling and creating that many adolescent boys do; but he says that he quit all aspects of art as he got older. And then he saw that video.

“I thought it was so cool,” Jordan said. “I had no idea that people were customizing cleats. I thought it was neat and that I would be able to do something like that. It was something I wanted to try. I ordered some material and I went from there.

“I was doing some little things on old shoes, but I had never airbrushed anything before and I hadn’t painted in more than 20 years – so I wanted to get a feel for the process. I got the hang of painting shoes and learned what I needed to do to prepare them. I did some for friends, basic stuff, but then I started sending out messages – because my ultimate goal was to work with professional athletes.”

Mike Jordan at work in his studio.

Jordan understood that breaking into the field, especially trying to reach established professional athletes, was going to be difficult. So, he took a unique approach. He reached out to several NFL practice squad players, particularly those playing for the Jets and Giants, since they played and worked out not far from his home.

Then New York Giant fullback Shane Smith and former Jet receiver and return specialist JoJo Natson responded, setting Jordan on a path that he has loved traveling.

“I thought I’d be more likely to get a response from them and they did respond; it was pretty cool.” Jordan said. “JoJo was staying at the team hotel and asked me to come by. I was a grown man and here I was enamored with meeting a professional athlete. I went there and chatted with him about what he wanted me to do. I had been texting Shane and when I was done, he wanted me to bring them over to where he was staying.

“I was really excited to be able to work with those guys and see them wear my shoes on the field. It all happened fairly quickly. I started on June 16 and they were wearing them during football season that year. I didn’t anticipate seeing my work out on an NFL field that quickly but I got lucky.”

Jordan Customs for the New York Jets' Quinnen Williams.

Jordan has since, by his count, created hundreds of pairs of cleats. That includes creating cleats for players during Major League Baseball’s Player’s Weekend [which was held from 2017-2019] and the NFL’s “My Cleats, My Cause” initiative. The time it takes to prep and paint a pair of cleats varies, depending on the design that a client wants. It can take anywhere from three to 40 hours, depending on the amount of detail for which a player is looking. His work can be found and he can be reached through Instagram at mikejordan_art.

When Jordan began his work, he says he was charging $100 for a simple color change. Now, the prices can reach into the thousands depending on the complexity. The most expensive pair he has produced to date was a $2,000 job he did for Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., who wanted two pairs to memorialize the late Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, who were killed in a helicopter crash in January of 2020.

Jordan has also worked with Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor, Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins, former Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, and the well-traveled pitcher Derek Holland.

“The NFL is extremely strict about what players can wear and they [the players] don’t want to take the fine,” Jordan said. “The NFL just kind of wants to keep it boring. Baseball doesn’t have those rules; they can do whatever they want as long as it isn’t inappropriate. They don’t have the rules the NFL has so you can have some more fun with it.

“When Derek Holland went to Detroit, I did Eminem and Kid Rock. There’s always a theme, things I consider to be fun. You can paint characters, portraits, people’s families. I do a combination of stencils and the artistic stuff where you are more reliant on using your hands.”

Derek Holland's ``Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood`` customs.

Jordan said he’s always looking to take on new clients and, as a Yankee fan, would love to do work for a player like Aaron Judge. However, since he has friends who are artists, he would never try to pry a client away from someone else.

“Judge already has a guy so that would be totally not cool,” Jordan said. “I would like to do more stuff with the Yankees, they are my team. It’s always good to have a big name client, but it’s more about exposure. I’d like to work with the Yankees but not so much with anyone in particular.”

As for reaching out to one particular potential big name client, Jordan isn’t looking to contact his namesake though he would love meeting the other Michael Jordan, should the opportunity arise.

“I was born in ’85 so he was pretty new to the NBA at the time but my parents weren’t paying attention to basketball,” Jordan said. “It was a happy accident. I wrote Jordan a letter when I was a child telling him we have the same name. I sent him a photo and got back some type of preprinted signature if I recall correctly. Since that time, I assume, getting in touch with him would be about as easy as getting in touch with God. I would love to meet him one day – but I doubt it will ever happen.”

Covered a Mets-Astros doubleheader in 1987 and never looked back. Spent eight years at MLB.com, more than half of that as the Mets beat writer. Had one beat writer from another newspaper threaten to kill him in an elevator at the winter meetings. The other half was as MiLB.com’s staff historian. Worked three years in Philly at Comcast covering the Phillies’ minor leagues and doing weekly TV spots. Author of the popular blog The Bobblist, which covers everything A to Z in the world of bobbleheads. Really.

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