I have never been a shoe person.
As long as they fit, they’re comfortable, and they get me where I’m going, I’ve never cared who made my shoes or what they represented. That set me apart from most of the people who I grew up with. They were not only very much concerned with wearing the right shoes but they also judged anyone who was perceived as wearing the wrong shoes. They all wanted the Air Jordans, even though I can’t think of a single person I knew who was ever able to get a pair. Everyone knew that the Air Jordans were expensive and that they sold out quickly. They also knew that owning a pair of Air Jordans could be dangerous. People got killed for their shoes. A friend of mine came close to getting a pair but his mother refused to give him the money after she read a news story about someone on the Block getting shot because he wouldn’t hand over his shoes. That always seemed strange to me. Why shoot someone over their shoes? Of course, I was not a shoe person.
The new documentary, One Man and His Shoes, is all about shoes and shoe culture. Beginning in the 80s, when Michael Jordan was just a promising basketball player in North Carolina and Nike was considered to be an also-ran in the shoe business, the documentary shows how Michael Jordan and the shoes named after him revolutionized American culture. At a time when shoe companies like Converse were making cringe-worthy commercials that featured Larry Bird and several other players rapping about their shoes, Nike reinvented the game by teaming up with Michael Jordan and bringing in Spike Lee to film their commercials.
If the first half of the documentary celebrates the success of Jordan and Nike, the second half takes a critical look at the violence that has sprung up over the shoes. Nike is faulted for aggressively advertising the shoes and then only released a limited amount of them at a time. As a result, the shoes become a status symbol that are difficult to get and which some people are willing to kill to possess. The documentary goes from celebrating Jordan and Nike to condemning them for refusing to speak out about the violence surrounding their product. As one interviewee puts it, Jordan telling people to “knock it off” wouldn’t end all of the violence but it wouldn’t hurt.
The documentary ends with the wrenching tale of a man in Houston who was killed for his shoes. When the murder became national news, Jordan personally sent the grieving family a pair of the new Air Jordans. The dead man’s sister explains that she didn’t feel safe wearing them in public because, if anyone saw them in her possession, they might kill her as well.
One Man and His Shoes is a sobering documentary. If you just watched The Last Dance, you owe it to yourself to also watch One Man and His Shoes.