Reggie Saunders on Travis Scott and J Balvin Collab

new balance

You’ve worked with all these crazy names from Mark Wahlberg to Eminem, plenty in between. What’s it like getting to work with creatives like that for the Jordan Brand? 

It’s an honor. You know, this, for me, it’s about Michael’s legacy. On and off the court, it’s just showing people something different, man, but it’s an honor because they’re all kind of built the same. You know, they have that authentic button that we like to tap into, the greatness button. It’s the soul of the brand. I feel like that’s what they bring to the world, right? When you hear something different, you see something different. You see them dress differently. You see them, rap, talk, sing globally. And it’s really cool. I think it’s the authenticity piece that is it for me. 

Can you just take us back to when you first met MJ and how that relationship started? 

I actually worked for an agency that represented the Jordan Brand. Before that, I worked for the Baltimore Orioles, for the NFL with the Washington Commanders, the NBA league office, and helped start the D-League. And then I met a young lady who was our lawyer at Midway Games. I was the director of business licensing for sports titles. And she said, “Hey, there’s this agency—they’re into urban marketing.” And I said, “Wait, you mean Black people?” She’s like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “OK, say that.” And she’s like, “Well, they have the Jordan Brand as a client. They have T-Mobile.” She named a plethora of brands: “GM, they’re gonna launch this thing called Escalade.”

Where I ended up, we were the experiential PR agency for Jordan. So throwing events and parties. We had an event in Vegas, and Michael literally said to me with Larry Miller and [Howard] “H” White. And he’s like, “Hey, why do you live in LA? You got a 310 number.” And I was like, “Oh, I work for the agency.” He’s like, “What’s an agency?” And then Larry literally looked at H and MJ [and] said, “We don’t need the agency. We need Reg.” And that’s how it all started. It takes a long time to create head count still to this day at Nike, Inc., and Jordan took about a year and a half, almost two years, to create my head count. But then that’s how Jordan entertainment marketing got started. I got a good break.

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So we’re here in Colombia for J Balvin. How big of a partner has he been for the Jordan brand? 

It’s a huge partnership. When I was looking at it, I’m looking at the globe. I listened to things sonically. And it was funny. Michael’s wife, Yvette, called me. She goes, “Hey, you know J Balvin?” I was like, “I know that one song.” And she’s like, “Yeah, he’s a good friend of mine. You should meet him.” And I was like, “Oh, I’m going to Miami.” She’s like, “Oh, he has a show this weekend.” I was like, “Oh, how ironic.” And you know, we’re laughing about that. And I flew to Miami, because I said I’d go meet him.

So I flew to Miami. Jose and I and his management team had dinner. And then he invited me to the show the next night at American Airlines Arena at the time. And I went backstage, and what I saw and what I felt was like, I was like, “Oh, he’s different, in a good way.” This is like 2017 and he’s like, “Oh, you need to meet this guy, Bad Bunny, you need to meet Maluma, and this is Karol G.” They were all opening for him. When he stepped onstage, I was like, “Whoa, I get it. He’s the one.” His style, his bravado, the flair, the color, everything just struck me, and I’m like, “You know what? This will be a good guy to tap into the globe, sharpening up Jordan Brand to the world.”

And that’s how it happened—ever since then, like, Jose and I have developed our relationship; we have this crazy mutual respect for each other. We FaceTime each other and we laugh, he’s a jokester, we talk trash all the time, and we fell in love with each other, so it made it easy when I met him to say, “Hey, come out to campus and design a shoe.” And then the Air Jordan 1 “J Balvin” came out of that. And a little secret, we had that shoe designed for him and we had it for about a year and a half, almost two years before anybody saw it. 

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Then he calls me and says, “My G, listen, I’m doing the big game.” But he couldn’t say it; he had an NDA. I was like, “Oh, snap, the Super Bowl?” He’s like, “It’s Shakira and J.Lo and I’m gonna perform. What do you think about breaking the shoe out there and showing the world?” And I said, “Bro, that’s a perfect opportunity.” So I talked to our leadership team, and they thought it was perfect. We were on a good streak with the Super Bowl thing, so we kept it going. As soon as he stepped onstage, it was so cool to see live in person. And then I woke up Monday morning, 2 billion texts from our sales team from Asia Pacific, Latin America, Europe. Like, “Hey, let’s deal with the kid.” And I’m like, “Okay, I’ve only been asking for two years, but now you guys see it, and you get it right now.”

This current collection, I actually have these pants on right now. And I’m like, “Oh my gosh, we actually are, like, riding the wave of the trend. We’re not behind it, because of him.” But that’s why you sign guys like José, to take you to a different space and place and show you something different. He’s a fashionista, which I love.

To talk a little bit more about our relationship, he calls me and he’s like, “Hey, I’m getting this award from the ACE Accessories Council. It’s the Fashion Icon of the Year award. I’d love for you to present me.” I was like, “What? OK, are you sure?” He’s like, “Absolutely.” Our thing has always been from day one, Black and brown people need to come together. He’s like, “A Black man gave me an opportunity so I’m not gonna waste it; I’m gonna do the right thing.” He’s talking about myself, Michael Jordan, and Yvette—it was amazing. I presented him and he was touched, and I was sitting there with him and I got up onstage and I saw him off to the side, and he’s got a little tear in his eye, and I was like, “Man, we really are trying to change the world.” 

You keep saying that he’s helping you take the Jordan Brand global. How important has his presence at the brand been for the Latin American community?

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His presence has been insanely important, because we’re being able to open up to the world. And that’s what the Jordan Brand is. You can stay in North America if you’re a brand, but if you go global, we’re just continuing to tell Michael’s story on an authentic level. José loves Jordan. He can speak about it with no talking points, speaking from the heart. But I think it’s very important for the brand to keep going globally. We have North America. We have Asia Pacific, Latin America, Africa, which is opening. When you do think sonically, you hear a certain sound when you hear José’s music—little babies bop to it; grandmas bop to it; middle-aged people bop to it; teenagers, etc. Riding around here with him yesterday, he’s got the music, he’s got rap playing, and he’s got the windows down, and we’re running into this photo shoot and people are walking up to the car, and he doesn’t flinch. He’s taking pictures with people on scooters. It just made me feel so good that he can come home and be that guy. He’s like the mayor of Medellin, as I like to call him sometimes. It’s just really cool to see. Because when I’m on set, I’m looking around and a ton of people are wearing Jordan, and I start beaming. Twenty-plus years in the game, and everybody thought we were just a North America brand. But this has been really cool to see, really cool to feel. This is the see, feel, touch part of the job, which I love. 

Globally, for the brand, I think it’s incredible to keep telling Michael’s story authentically, in spaces and places we never thought we could go. He has a 1, a 2, and now a 3. It started out as a joke; when we got to the two, he’s like, “OK, my G, now we do a 3.” I hope it keeps going. I got to sit and talk to our footwear team and see where we’re going. But I think it probably will continue that way. It’s really, really cool. 

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