There’s no filling Michael Jordan’s shoes

Michael Jordan drives past the Pacers’ Dale Davis during Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals at the United Center.


You really have to marvel at the power of Michael Jordan.

Yes, he was a cold-blooded tyrant on the basketball court and has been a lousy majority owner (soon to be minority owner) of the irrelevant Charlotte Hornets.

And he was certainly a terrible talent evaluator. How does being awarded the first pick in the NBA Draft and taking Kwame Brown over Pau Gasol sound?

I remember when he wanted Bulls general manager Jerry Krause to sign old North Carolina buddy Buzz Peterson, a guard who averaged 4.3 points for the Tar Heels.

But he’s MJ. He won six NBA titles. He made the winning shot against the Jazz to clinch the sixth title, holding the pose for future artists and sculptors. And he is the first athlete billionaire.

Which brings us to the further buffing of his gilded image, a movie premiering April 5 titled ‘‘Air,’’ about Jordan signing a shoe deal with Nike in 1984 and creating the Air Jordan brand that subsequently changed sports and fashion history.

That a movie about, yes, a shoe, starring three Academy Award winners — Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Viola Davis — is even on the docket seems insane. But that’s until you comprehend the power of Jordan’s image, the globalization of basketball and the tidal wave of sneaker-head craziness that has risen to a point where a pair of Jordan’s Nike Air Ships from the Utah ‘‘Flu Game’’ sold not long ago at a Sotheby’s auction for $1.47 million.

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There was a time when basketball shoes were functional, and that was about it. But the NBA started gaining followers, footwear technology evolved and the classic brand Converse snarfed up big-name endorsers to push its shoes. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bernard King and Dr. J did a TV commercial for Converse in 1985, with the final printed words, ‘‘Official Shoe of the NBA.’’

Nike was around, but it mostly seemed like a track-and-field shoe company. And, no matter what, it certainly couldn’t compete with legendary Converse and its stars and its official stamp of approval in the basketball world.

Enter Michael.

Nike shoe agent Sonny Vaccaro (played by Damon) aggressively had to sell Jordan and his mom, Deloris (Davis), to sign with the company. He also had to convince company owner Phil Knight (Affleck), who wasn’t thrilled about the idea.

Knight wanted to know: Who was this kid? What made him different?

Good questions. Complicated ones we’re still answering. But charisma is one unchallenged response.

As sales of Jordan’s shoes soared and became iconically famous, so did the athlete. The ‘‘Jumpman’’ logo, as recognized now as the outline of a deer on a highway sign, first appeared on his Air Jordan IIIs in 1988. Did it hurt that he wore a pair at All-Star events at Chicago Stadium that year? Did it hurt that he wore a pair in his epic All-Star dunk-contest victory over Dominique Wilkins? Nah.

This is a drama that is rooted in a specific time (check the geeky retro hairstyles and clothes on Damon and Affleck), with a specific American capitalistic fervor unique to an era that had the Cold War drawing to a close and the globe opening up as a gigantic shopping crowd.

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Thus, when people say LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are (or were) better players than Jordan, the only answer is that nobody can re-create the times — there was TV but no Twitter, Instagram or drones — when Jordan reigned.

Jordan himself understood that he was different, but only so much as he could dominate on court.

‘‘Believe me,’’ he said a while back about signing with Nike, ‘‘if I was averaging two points and three rebounds, I wouldn’t have signed anything with anybody.’’

I remember Vaccaro showing up at a bustling hoops playground in New York back in the early 1970s, his little car filled with shoes to hand out to players. He was a hustler. And, in his way, so is Jordan. And the best hustlers always back up their bravado.

It’s interesting that Jordan never appears as a character in this film. It’s as though his persona would dwarf the story, which it likely would.

‘‘I’ve never known anybody with that kind of charisma and power who walks into a room and it just reverberates,’’ Affleck said in an interview.

Good luck fighting that reputation, anybody. It would be like punching a statue made of polished bronze.

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