THE TROPHY ROOM FOUNDER TALKS ABOUT HIS PROCESS, THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE “FREEZE OUT” AIR JORDAN I AND APPAREL AND WHY TELLING AUTHENTIC STORIES IS IMPORTANT TO HIM.
Marcus Jordan is constantly balancing a mix of steep expectations and unique opportunities, all culminating in his vision for Trophy Room, with its innovative retail experience and coveted collaborations. His drive and attention to detail defy speculation, as seen in releases that distinctly encapsulate the stories and culture he knows firsthand. For his latest Trophy Room x Jordan Brand collaboration, a take on the Air Jordan I, Marcus chose a story that predates his existence yet represents a familiar struggle: rising above the critics.
Rumor has it that, at the 1985 All-Star Game in Indianapolis, a group of veteran players conspired to “freeze out” a young rookie. They considered him a newcomer, too flashy and confident for his status in the league. That rookie was Michael Jordan, who arrived in Indianapolis dressed head to toe in his own signature Nike Air Jordan collection. While an outfit like that might be common in today’s game, its confidence and swagger felt new at the time. Adding to the bold black, white and red outfit, with its eye-catching “Chicago” Air Jordan Is, were two shiny gold chains (foreshadowing future hardware awarded to MJ throughout his illustrious career). On the way to the Slam Dunk Contest finals, perhaps those veterans were most irked by the fact that MJ’s style was backed up by talent, fearlessness and showmanship.
Exactly what happened that weekend in Indianapolis remains a mystery. Some debate whether it happened at all. For Marcus, who came across the legendary anecdote of the “freeze out” as a child, the story felt like another point of relatability for anyone who’s ever felt counted out, himself included. Though he’s quick to acknowledge his privilege and access, Marcus is still accustomed to converting pressure into motivation and results. He takes a careful, studied eye to perfect his designs, marketing and strategies.
In conversation, Marcus points out two essential criteria for his Jordan collaborations. First, the story needs to be authentic, and second, it needs to have approval from the OG. With those two boxes checked, Marcus is confident that everyone who gets their hands on the new Air Jordan I x Trophy Room will feel like they’ve just received a trophy of their own.
When did you first become aware of the “Freeze Out” game?
I first heard about it when I was 10 or 11, just from doing my own research about my dad. I’ve always been a student of his legacy. There have always been rumors, and I think that even back in ‘85, after that weekend, there was chatter of the “freeze out.” I just did my own research and got myself familiar with the details. Growing up, there were conversations my father and I had, yet I never thought that years later, I’d be referencing some of them for a collaboration with the brand.
I’ve always been a student of basketball and sneaker culture. I’ve been immersed in it for my entire life. I don’t know anything else. I definitely have unique access to my dad that a lot of people don’t have, and I’m thankful for that. I’m constantly learning from him, whether there’s something I want him to verify or just to pick his brain. There are times when I go to his house, and we just talk about the old days and how the game and business have changed. I’m thankful for those moments.
When did you decide to make a career out of sneakers beyond your lifelong appreciation of their place in basketball culture?
We started getting Elite packs at a really young age. I remember having my very first PE, a Jordan 17, in sixth grade. I don’t remember the details about how I got them, but my dad made a call, and they sent the colorways to match our jerseys. So the design team hooked my brother and me up with these sick 17s. That’s when I first started dunking, too, so I remember wearing those and trying to dunk every time I was in practice. After those 17s, I got a yellow and white 18 for my AAU travel team. I was already so immersed in it, to the point of doing my own PEs as early as sixth grade.
You’ve collaborated on a lot of the later, more slept-on Air Jordan silhouettes, working your way towards this Air Jordan I. Why does now seem like the right time to touch that iconic silhouette?
There’s a process. You’ve got to work your way up to those highly sought-after retros, and I think we paid our dues. We had several different iterations of an AJI that we were trying to reach for the stars with. We landed on the freeze-inspired Chicago colorway. What makes it special is the story, the way we colored it up and the hidden details. There’s the date of the game behind the tongue, “rumor has it” embroidered on the sockliner and the custom patch that pays homage to that weekend. Then, there’s obviously the story behind the “freeze out” rumor.
We see the iconic look from that weekend come to life on the apparel collection. When you think about that game, it sounds like the veterans partially took issue with the gear and flashy style. What mood were you trying to portray with the apparel collection?
I just wanted to capture my dad’s swagger. We all know what he did in the dunk contest. We’ve seen the dunks a million times. I think that the first couple of dunks, while he wearing his warm-up, speak to his mood and confidence going into that weekend. Then, removing his warmup and still having the chains on — that speaks to his attitude, going in super confident and wanting to showcase his skills. The challenge for us was showing how we, as the Trophy Room brand, showcase our confidence, as well.
It’s been five years since the first Trophy Room x Air Jordan collaboration. Have you experienced some of the same “freeze out” behavior from people in the industry?
Absolutely. It’s something I deal with to this day and that I’ll continue to experience as I progress in my career. For me, that was another subtle inspiration behind picking the “freeze out” theme. I was dealing with the transition from our previous location, wondering where we were going to go.
Pressure is one of those things that has always fueled me. It drives my passion for wanting to get better every day. I’m aware of my privilege and position, but I don’t let it get in the way of the process. I’m a student of the process first. I’m a firm believer in letting the product speak for itself. Every time I get the chance to collaborate with the brand, it’s an amazing opportunity. I approach each project like it could be the last shoe I ever design, so let’s make it a classic. I’m aware of the opportunity and privilege I have, so I cherish it every time I get to collaborate with the brand.
Who are the people you look to for feedback when you land on a concept?
Developing a sneaker is a collaborative process, so there are a lot of people involved. In terms of coming up with the story, I’ll do my own research and then bounce it off my team and the Jordan Special Projects team. They guide me from the initial brainstorming to execution.
Then, once I know where the direction is headed, I sit down with my pops. When I pitch to him, I want to see his first reaction. Because I’m his son, he’s going to support me no matter what, but he’s always frank with me about whether he likes it or not. He wasn’t too fond of the first couple of iterations I showed him, but when we landed on the final version, you could tell by his reaction that we had hit a home run. That definitely made me feel confident about bringing it to the market.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned throughout this journey of collaborating with the brand?
I’ve learned the importance of remaining authentic and trusting my gut when I go into this process. It’s easy to get steered away from the original intent. That’s why I really drive back to the stories because every time I design, it starts with a story. The story ultimately ends up coloring the shoe. It’s more than coloring up a sneaker into something that looks cool. For me, it’s the other way around. It’s about telling a really cool story in a unique way. Once we land on that, it directly influences the colorway and materials of the footwear.
Special details and add-ons like packaging, laces and hangtags are sacred to sneakerheads. Are those details you obsessed about as a kid, too?
Oh yeah, even to this day. When I get my “rock one and stock one” pairs, I make sure that I keep everything that came with one of the pairs in deadstock condition. When I’m collaborating on footwear, I keep in mind what went into the OG packaging, like “Can we tool the design to be as close to the OG as possible?” With the AJ5, we really started to elevate our packaging by doing our first custom box and see-through packaging wrap with the gate printed on it. The idea was that you had to open the gate to get into the Trophy Room, which we had to do at our house. We pay attention to every detail.
What are some of your favorite details on this AJI? Any hidden ones?
It starts with the layer over the Chicago colorway, which is meant to look like it’s frozen. Then, we added details from the program that the 1985 All-Star Game audience received to the box. There’s also a ticket that we included in the box, which takes inspiration from the 1985 game ticket. We put a lot of hidden things in there, like “gate five” for my number and “row 123.” There are a lot of other details on the ticket and within the shoe. We have the date of the game embroidered on one side of the shoe, and “rumor has it” pays tribute to the “freeze out.” The apparel has the embroidered story along the back of the hoodie and printed onto the T-shirts.
There are so many details, and they all have a special meaning to me. Ultimately, we want the consumer to feel like they’re getting a ticket to that game.
All of the hype and rumors aside, what do you want people who get this shoe to feel when they get a pair?
I want them to feel like they got a trophy. That’s what Trophy Room is all about. Being able to invoke the feeling that my brother, sister and I felt as kids, walking into our trophy room at home. It was a special feeling. Whether it’s a collaboration from Trophy Room or picking up any other Jordan sneaker from our store, we’re always trying to recreate that warm feeling.