Words: Elle Clay

Photography: Ralphy Ramos

Nigel Sylvester is always in GO mode. His road to success goes back to Queens, where BMX riding went from being a communal activity to a calling. His progressive riding style helped him turn pro and travel the world, earning him additional admiration as a content creator and cultural leader. With the support of his family and many others, Nigel emerged as an innovator.

Some of that innovation comes from Nigel’s style, which has included riding in the Air Jordan I. After joining the Nike family in 2005, Nigel ended up collaborating with Jordan Brand in 2018 on a hand-distressed Air Jordan I that represents his BMX journey. In 2015, he launched his brand and hit film series “GO,” combining his passions for sport, travel, connecting with people and giving back. In one episode, he famously jumps out of a plane in Dubai with his bike.

Three years after his first Jordan Brand collaboration, Nigel officially joins the family as its first-ever BMX athlete. He’ll continue collaborating on product, content and more. We caught up with him to talk about Queens, getting inspiration from MJ highlights and the three-year anniversary of his AJ1 High. Welcome to the family, Nigel.

You’ve biked in Air Jordan Is for a long time and have always had a strong connection to the Jordan Brand. How does it feel to now be an official member of the Jordan Brand family?

The AJ1 is my all-time favorite shoe. I began riding in them back in 2012, and it felt right. The outsole grips my pedal perfectly and provides the ankle support I need. I’ve been signed to Nike for years, and Nike is home to me. That being said, it’s an incredible feeling to be signed as an official athlete of the Jordan Brand family. MJ blazed a trail by constantly striving for greatness and breaking down barriers for athletes from every walk of life. His legacy is one that I’ve looked towards for inspiration throughout my career. It’s surreal to get his co-sign and welcome into such an elite team and family of world-class athletes.

For those who don’t know, how did you first start riding BMX bikes?

I’m from Queens in New York City, where riding bikes was a rite of passage. Once I learned how to pedal, I became obsessed. I spent every summer riding around the neighborhood with my boys, learning and perfecting tricks.

Queens has a history of producing folks with a strong, hustling mentality. How did your upbringing impact your ability to move seamlessly between sport and culture?

Queens definitely has it; that mentality is weaved into the texture of the environment. I grew up with exposure to many different influences, some good and some not so good. I channeled those influences and made the best out of my situation. I’m grateful for my family and my upbringing; I wouldn’t change it for anything. It taught me how to be tough, how to move with purpose and the importance of community.

How has BMX changed your life and shown you not just your city but the world?

BMX riding has taught me so much about the world, and I’m forever grateful. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to countries and cities that, as a kid, I only read about in my textbooks. I’ve formed priceless, lifelong friendships with people from entirely different walks of life. Riding has challenged me for the better, and I’ve unlocked valuable tools inside me that I’ll use for the rest of my life.

You’ve spoken about watching MJ highlights before riding, too. How would you describe the way that’s inspired you?

Yes, for years before going out for a ride, as a way to hype myself up and get into the zone, I would watch MJ highlights on YouTube. I admire the way he outplayed his opponents, overcame challenges on the court, gracefully soared through the air, made sneakers and commercials…all of it. It’s beautiful. I would figure out ways to translate those things into my riding and content creation. For example, I developed my own method of approaching a rail or a ledge; it takes mental toughness to push through and land a difficult trick. He’s inspired the way I wear my AJ1s and how I design my bikes’ color schemes.

MJ was obsessed with being great. Achieving my own definition of greatness is precisely what I set out to accomplish from day one when I decided I wanted to ride BMX professionally.

You’ve created your own lane with your content series and brand, “GO.” How did that concept develop, and where are you planning to take it next?

GO is the culmination of everything I touch and do in my life. The GO ethos is the relentless, unapologetic and graceful pursuit of any dream. It’s the way I approach and see the world. In 2015, Harrison Boyce and I set out to create a film series and brand, inspired by sport and travel, that push boundaries and resonate globally. We did that. We’re continuously building the brand and creating a platform for like-minded people and communities around the world.

It’s been three years since the release of your celebrated Air Jordan I High collaboration. The distressed elements represent the way you wear AJ1s while biking, as well as the hard work you put into everything you do. How does that shoe express what you bring to the culture and to design?

Wow, three years already. That’s crazy. Those distressed AJ1s are a testament to my BMX career and what I contribute and plan to continue bringing to the culture. I’m incredibly proud of that shoe; salute to Frank Cooke and the Jordan Brand family for bringing the idea to life. I look forward to the future collaborations that this new partnership will bring.

There weren’t many Black extreme sport athletes in the ‘90s. Knowing you just launched your foundation, how does it feel to see your impact on the sport and the youth who look up to you?

It’s a blessing. I’m honored to be in a position where I can shine a much-needed light on kids and communities who participate in and love action sports, even if they don’t necessarily come from places where people think action sports athletes can come from. It’s beautiful, though — breaking the norm, dismantling stereotypes and showing the world that I and kids like me can shake up, contribute to and change an industry.

The Jumpman has grown to represent more than just basketball or even sports. What does it represent to you?

The Jumpman is a way of life. It’s a mindset that represents courage, determination and community, amongst so many other things. The Jumpman is a constant evolution that inspires millions around the world.