Informative and entertaining, ONE MAN AND HIS SHOES charts the cultural and commercial phenomena of Air Jordan and the basketball legend who gave the sneakers their name

3.5 out of 5 stars

You don’t need to be a sports fan to know who Michael Jordan is. You also don’t need to be a sneaker fan to have heard of Nike’s Air Jordan. Throughout the 80s and 90s, the basketball legend and his infamous sneaker revolutionized American culture, making Nike one of the most profitable companies in the world, as Yemi Bamiro’s new debut feature documentary ONE MAN AND HIS SHOES explores.

Charting the cultural and commercial phenomena of Air Jordan and the basketball legend who gave the sneakers their name, ONE MAN AND HIS SHOES is very much a documentary of two halves. The first half begins in the 1980s, with footage of a very young Michael Jordan starting his basketball career with the Chicago Bulls. At a time when shoe companies like Converse were making cringe-worthy commercials, Nike decided to reinvent the game by teaming up with a young Jordan, Bamiro neatly sketching the history of the product and its part in 80’s and 90’s pop culture milestones including hip hop, Spike Lee, the emergence of mega-rich sports personalities.

Focus shifts in the second half of the documentary to the downside of this success story. The cultural success and scarcity of the Air Jordans pushed prices sky-high on the black market and Air Jordans became so popular that people were killed for them, as the family of Joshua Woods take to the screen to tell their story.

ONE MAN AND HIS SHOES certainly makes for an informative and entertaining feature. Bamiro flies through ups and downs of the Air Jordans at breakneck speed, combining archive footage with talking-head interviews and animated images. It is clear that Bamiro has put a lot of time and effort into this project, seeking out interviews with Nike marketing employees, journalists and Jordan’s former agent, as well the ‘victims’ of this cultural and commercial phenomena.

Yet the sudden shift in focus makes this film feel somewhat unbalanced. The documentary goes from celebrating the joint success story of Nike, the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan, to condemning them for refusing to speak out about the violence surrounding their product, as Bamiro delves deeper into how the brand became a savvy manipulator of youth culture, stoking America’s toxic obsession with consumerism and celebrity in a climate of increasing class and race inequality.

The other great loss of the documentary is the namesake of the shoes themselves. We only see Michael Jordan in archival recordings and Nike itself does not speak either (according to the disclaimer, there was no response to the request to participate in this film).

That said, there is plenty to like here, ONE MAN AND HIS SHOES offering a nice, if not too in-depth, insight into sports marketing and cultural history.

ONE MAN AND HIS SHOES screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 13 October 2020