Tribeca 2018: Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1

A film still from UNBANNED: THE LEGEND OF AJ1.

Michael Jordan is one of the greatest NBA players of all time.  What Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1 does is explore the true story behind the classic Air Jordan shoes.

It can be said Jordan was the best thing to have ever happened for Nike.  Nike was being killed in the marketing by Adidas in the early 1980s.  Not only that but future Hall of Famers like Larry Bird and others were under contract to Converse.  Nike needed miracle in order to survive was a miracle.  This miracle came in the form of signing the eventual Chicago Bulls superstar.  At this time, the most any NBA player had made off of a shoe deal was about some $100,000 according to the documentary.

What Nike did was go all-out in trying to sign Jordan.  This is something that wasn’t really being done at the time when it came to signing shoe contracts.  Jordan, fresh out of North Carolina, originally had been hesitant to fly out to Portland, Ore., where the shoe company was based.

In addition to celebrities, director Dexton Deboree gathers many of the people involved with the creation of the original shoes.  It isn’t just what happened with the invention of the shoes but also what happened culturally soon thereafter.  In an era before social media, the Air Jordan brand helped change the culture.  Many celebrities discuss what these shoes meant to them.

Jordan aside, the current or former NBA players interviewed are limited to Carmelo Anthony and Russell
Westbrook.  Given the role of shoe contracts in the present NBA world, it’s surprising to see only two NBA players talking on camera.  One would surely have thought there would be more.  Other than that, it’s the usual archival clips of who else but Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in their heyday.

Retired NBA commissioner David Stern notes that the shoes “didn’t comply with the league’s rules but they were never banned.”  This is despite a letter sent from then-NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik to then-Nike vice president dated February 25, 1985:

“In accordance with our conversations, this will confirm and verify that the National Basketball Association’s rules and procedures prohibited the wearing of certain red and black NIKE basketball shoes by Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan on or around October 18, 1984.”

When people say that something is banned, it only is going to become more popular in time.  That’s exactly what happened with the shoes and nobody should be surprised.  The Air Jordan brand was as popular as the iPhones were before there were new iPhones!  People were killed over these shoes which speaks of how important they were!

Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1 could easily fit the ESPN 30 for 30 brand due to the nature of the story being told.  It doesn’t change how fascinating it is to watch the film.  Perhaps what’s surprising is that it hasn’t been told until now.

DIRECTOR:  Dexton Deboree
FEATURING:  Spike Lee, Anthony Anderson, Chuck D, DJ Khaled, Michael Jordan, Michael B. Jordan, Jason Sudeikis, Lena Waithe, Russell Westbrook, Phil Knight, David Stern, Adam Silver, Russ Granik

An official selection of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1 held its world premiere as a Special Screening.  Hulu will start streaming the film on February 14, 2019.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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