There is no padding for Michael Jordan’s shoes

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

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

And he certainly was a terrible talent judge. How does getting the first pick in the NBA draft and beating Kwame Brown against Pau Gasol sound like?

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

But he is MJ. He won six NBA titles. He scored the winning goal against the Jazz to take the sixth title and held the pose for future artists and sculptors. And he’s the first athlete billionaire.

Which brings us to further brushing up on his golden image, a film titled “Air,” which premiered April 5 and chronicled Jordan’s signing of a footwear deal with Nike in 1984 and the creation of the Air Jordan brand, which would subsequently launch the Sport – and fashion history changed.

That a film about, yes, a shoe with three Oscar winners – Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Viola Davis – even makes the list seems crazy. But that’s until you understand the power of Jordan’s image, the globalization of basketball, and the tidal wave of sneaker craze that has risen to the point where a pair of Jordan’s Nike Air Ships from the Utah “flu game” didn’t sell long at a Sotheby’s auction for $1.47 million.

There was a time when basketball shoes were functional, and that’s about it. But the NBA was beginning to gain followers, footwear technology evolved, and classic Converse brand nabbed big-name endorsers to push their shoes. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Bernard King and Dr. J did a 1985 TV commercial for Converse with the words “Official Shoe of the NBA” printed at the end.

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Nike was there, but it mostly seemed like an athletics shoe company. And it certainly couldn’t compete with the legendary Converse and its stars and its official seal of approval in the basketball world.

enter Michael.

Nike shoe agent Sonny Vaccaro (played by Damon) had to aggressively sell Jordan and his mother Deloris (Davis) in order to sign with the company. He also had to convince company owner Phil Knight (Affleck), who was not enthusiastic about the idea.

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

Good questions. We’ll answer complicated ones. But charisma is an undisputed answer.

As sales of Jordan’s shoes skyrocketed and became iconic, so did the athlete. The “Jumpman” logo, which can now be recognized as an 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 to All-Star events at Chicago Stadium that year? Did it hurt wearing a pair to his epic All-Star Dunk Contest win over Dominique Wilkins? nope

This is drama rooted in a specific time (check out Damon and Affleck’s geeky retro hairdos and dresses), with a specific American capitalist fervor unique to an era as the Cold War draws to a close The end came and the globe opened up as a gigantic shopping crowd.

So 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 remake the times – there was TV but no Twitter, Instagram or drones – when Jordan ruled.

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Jordan himself understood that he was different, but only enough to dominate on the pitch.

“Believe me,” he said a while ago about his move to Nike, “if I averaged two points and three rebounds, I wouldn’t have signed with anyone.”

I remember Vaccaro showing up at a busy Hoops playground in New York in the early 1970s, his little car full of shoes that he gave out to the players. He was a hustler. And in his own way, so is Jordan. And the best hustlers always show their bravery.

What’s interesting is that Jordan never appears as a character in this film. It’s as if his personality outshines the story, which probably would be the case.

“I’ve never met anyone with that kind of charisma and power that walks into a room and it just resonates,” Affleck said in an interview.

Good luck fighting that reputation. It would be like beating a polished bronze statue.

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