One Man & His Shoes review: a documentary about Air Jordan

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Yemi Bamiro puts together a documentary examining the corporate success of the Air Jordan sports shoes – and their ongoing impact.

At an exhibition match in 1984, basketball player Michael Jordan debuted Nike’s new sports shoe called the Air Jordan. The shoes quickly caught the attention of the fans and the then-NBA commissioner David Stern, who promptly banned the sneakers as ‘only white footwear were allowed on the court’. Little did Stern know that he was feeding the popularity of an influential brand.

Directed by Yemi Bamiro, One Man And His Shoes explores the corporate success of Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan brand, as well as their influence on modern society.

Amid the brightly coloured visuals, the documentary kicks off in the early 1980s. Sports brand Nike was failing to compete with companies such as Converse and Adidas, while many African-Americans were living in a society plagued by drugs, poverty and violence. In other words, both were looking for a ‘hero’ — and it came in the form of Michael Jordan.

Depicting him as a saviour of sorts, the film highlights the early promise of Jordan as more than a basketball player. Candid conversations from marketing executives, writers and sports fans seemingly single him out as a way to appeal to the masses, with his Nike deal being the first step.

Bamiro emphasises the corporate side to the Air Jordan legacy and how its success was driven by African-Americans such as Jordan and up-and-coming director, Spike Lee. Unfortunately, we don’t see or hear from the people who considered these shoes so important. This denies us any form of relatable social commentary and offers an inconsistent tone.

The unevenness worsens when dealing with the of crimes fuelled by the rarity of Air Jordans, with a focus on African-Americans – notably the market Nike wanted to attract. Although such crimes date back to 1989, Bamiro spotlights Joshua Woods, fatally shot for his new Air Jordans in 2012. Between the poignant memories from Woods’ mother and his sister’s comments about Michael Jordan’s ill-advised gift of unreleased Air Jordans, they stress the impact of senseless materialism and the real price of street culture. There is also a notable lack of input from Nike and Jordan himself that displays an unwillingness to openly comment on social responsibility. As a whole, the third act grounds the previous loftiness of Air Jordan’s success and brings the real picture by providing a resonance that was initially missing.

One Man And His Shoes diversifies the Air Jordan legacy to a wider audience with insight and thoughts, but its cynosure on American capitalism ultimately imposes its cultural significance.


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