Before Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl A. Cooper made history with their first collaboration on an Air Jordan golf shoe, they broke barriers between their limbs. You were a member of the Morehouse University golf team in 2010 and won the first national championship for an HBCU in the sport. A decade later, the duo are breaking down barriers with their Eastside Golf brand, which helps diversify the image of golf.
And they do it their own way.
It all started in 2009 when Ajanaku and Cooper met at the Morehouse. A year later, they were part of a team that won the Division II national championship. It was a big deal, not just for the team and the university, but for the golf world as a whole.
“It was such a big deal that they inducted us into the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Florida, right next to Tiger Woods,” says Ajanaku. “It has been shown that there are golfers of all ethnicities who can play at a very high level.”
After graduating from Morehouse, Ajanaku and Cooper parted ways for a while. Ajanaku pursued a dream of becoming a professional golfer while Cooper worked as the first black professional golfer at Detroit Golf Club before returning to his native Delaware.
Ajanaku’s goal of becoming a pro on the PGA Tour sparked the idea of Eastside Golf, a brand that might relate to people like him. He played in mini-tour events, won a few, but couldn’t find enough sponsorship money to continue his career. So he settled down in a finance job. That didn’t satisfy him, so he started working on Eastside Golf.
The Jordan 4 collaboration with golf shoes costs $ 275. Image via Eastside Golf
“I started with the logo. The logo should be just me. And it should just go on my polo and my bag, ”says Ajanaku. “I showed Earl and he said, ‘Yo, put this on a t-shirt.’ Got a Gildan, ironed it on, cost me $ 20. And then I went to downtown Detroit and got stopped maybe 50 times, no exaggeration. 50 times. Who are you, what kind of logo is that, do you play golf and where do I get it from? “
Now sitting on the tongue of an Air Jordan 4 golf shoe launching this weekend, the brand’s logo is a black one swinging a golf club on a chain.
“I had the feeling that many of these people understood what we wanted to bring into the game of golf and made it look different,” says Ajanaku about the reception of his brand and logo. “Make it out and get on with the game.”
While Ajanaku was sowing the seeds for the early stages of the Eastside Golf Club, Cooper taught the people how to play golf and was named one of the best young teachers in America by Golf Digest. One of those people is President Joe Biden. Cooper said Biden told him that he loves going to the golf course to drive a golf cart because that is the only place he can get behind a wheel as “he is chauffeured everywhere”.
“You got extra pressure when everyone was watching you teach a lesson and then you got the intelligence service,” Cooper says of teaching Biden Golf. “So it’s just one of those things you don’t want to move too fast about. They’re constantly questioning everything you do because when I try to grab him and get him into a certain golf position, I want them to know it’s okay. Don’t follow me. “
Working with Air Jordan put the brand on a lot of people’s radar, but it all came together when CJ Paul, Chris Paul’s brother, introduced the concept of the project to longtime Jordan employee Gentry Humphrey.
“G had turned the deck over to MJ because they’re all great golfers. It was just one of the things like, ‘Holy shit, we have to take this to Michael.’ with [Michael Jordan’s golf course] The opening of the Grove was just a perfect project, ”says Ajanaku. He adds that James Whitner, who owns the sneaker stores A Ma Maniere and Social Status, also helped support the brand and bring the project to life. They also received help and support from former Jordan designer Frank Cooke.
The duo eventually met Michael Jordan himself through former New York Yankees pitcher, CC Sabathia. “CC invited us to The Grove. And literally we went out and played nine holes. MJ kicked it in or went in. He realized who I am. I say, ‘Holy shit. MJ knows who I am, ‘”says Cooper. “I had that moment when he said, ‘Okay, you can move now.’ Because you just froze. “
Ajanaku and Cooper with Michael Jordan and CC Sabathia. Image via Instagram
Ajanaku also has a story of seeing Jordan after a session on the driving range where they then shared cigars and Cincoro tequila, and he says Jordan confirmed to him why they wanted to partner with Eastside Golf.
As for the Air Jordan 4 golf shoe, which is mostly white and blue with their logo on the tongue and a portrait on the outsole, the duo say the process for the shoe was passed on to them by Jordan Brand.
“I mean, honestly, you really don’t have any choice when it comes to [what model you want to work on]. You work with what they give you, ”says Ajanaku. “The 4 was fun for us. I already knew what it was supposed to look like and had started mocking a few designs beforehand. If we had a choice, we would choose something else. But the 4 was perfect. “
Both say they’d love to work on an Air Jordan 6 golf shoe at some point.
Ajanaku says it’s great for him to have his logo on the tongue of the shoe, especially if it’s a black one where you can see his skin tone.
The sole of the shoe bears a portrait of a Brazilian artist. Image via Eastside Golf
“I mean, it’s just a role model and it sets, I would say, future people or the next generation who want to configure shoes or make a brand,” he says. “You can speak authentically for who you are. And that will get you as far as you want. “
The clear sole of the shoe contains an image of a painting from a canvas that Ajanaku had commissioned from an artist from Brazil. “We provide [the painting] for sale on our website. It’s limited, just like the shoes, ”he says. “But the screen has just spoken, it’s the actual golf logo. He’s also wearing the 4s. See he’s wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and literally a necklace and just say F it, I’ll be in front of the cameras and the next generation, everyone who is watching. And therein lies power. So that’s the message I wanted to convey. “
Cooper does not lose the impact of the situation either. He realizes that there is something bigger at play with this project and the sport he loves.
“If you just think of golf and it’s traditionally an older, white men’s sport,” he says. “And now you have a brand like Jordan that believes they are taking a risk and they say we’re going to put a golfer on our shoe. Everyone was crazy about these things. It’s just stupid that we, as real authentic golfers, always wanted this moment per se for ourselves. We always wanted to say: How have we dovetailed golf with the world of culture, sneakers and hip-hop? And now the time has finally come. So it’s just dope to be part of this conversation. “
The tongue of the shoe shows a black man playing golf. Image via Eastside Golf
The golf shoe will be released August 7th and will retail for $ 275 on the brand’s website. Unofficially, both said that some big names have asked about the shoes. Let your imagination run wild. But Cooper said he had to get Biden a pair. The boys also think that they can have Tiger Woods’ son Charlie as a couple.
The looming success of the release and the gravity of the situation – between the co-signs of the big names and what the shoes could mean to the sport – began at Cooper.
“In the golf shoe category, these are probably the best golf shoes that have hit the market in recent years,” he says. “But to even have it in the discussion of just dope shoes in general, that’s what golfers have always wanted.”