What ‘The Last Dance’ taught us? Why did we find ‘The Last Dance’ so interesting?

By Balthazar Malevolent


Rick Telander writes in a 1990 article from Sports Illustrated, "Something is very wrong with a society that has created an underclass that is slipping into economic and moral oblivion, an underclass in which pieces of rubber and plastic held together by shoelaces are sometimes worth more than a human life."

Rick Telander is one of several talkheads featured in One Man and His Shoes, a documentary about how the Jordan brand has become a global obsession since the first signature shoe of the legendary basketball player debuted in 1985. The sneakers and the Jordan brand have eclipsed the player's reputation, and for sneakerheads, wearing many of today's most famous Jordans signature sneakers on a basketball court will be a cause for gasps, cringes, and likely tears. Following the recent conclusion of The Last Dance — the ten-part ESPN documentary on Michael Jordan, which some found more hagiographical than documentary — One Man and His Shoes is a darker follow-up, based on his brand of footwear and its impact on society.

The documentary features heavy hitters in sports, journalism, and streetwear including commentary by ESPN ex-author Jemele Hill, music icon and sneaker-admire DJ Clark Kent, and journalist and sneaker-lover Russ Bengtson. The film is based on a ton of ground, some of which is familiar from The Last Dance, like Jordan's Nike campaign marking a shift in the marketing of basketball sneakers and a departure from the Converse Weapon's team-oriented message, Larry Bird's sneaker, Magic Johnson, and many others. As Hill says, Jordan was far from radical in his politics, but from a marketing viewpoint he was innovative, a spokesperson who showed blue-chip firms that a Black face on their products might be a financially viable undertaking. Hill does a brilliant job of couching that argument in an ad campaign with Nike's recent example of "siding" with Colin Kaepernick not because it was the ethical choice, but because it was strategically wise and financially viable. (Neither Nike nor the Jordan Brand agreed to take part in the film.)

The tone is focus on the unfortunate byproduct of the Jordan craze in the third act of One Man and His Shoes, as it has become one of the most successful marketing campaigns of all time: people commit acts of violence to get their hands on the sneakers. The shoes with its logo became must-have items as the Jumpman became a status symbol. While executives may have dreamed of creating a product that consumers would kill each other to have, they seemed to shy away from that reality once that was no longer hyperbole.

The interweaving of common, costly, hard-to-find products and violence is a recurring trend in consumer-oriented capitalist society, with a past that goes far beyond Jordans and predates. There are many other notable examples, some of which require a look back decades — for example, the cult-level rise of New York City's Lo Lifes, a street crew that took pride in shoplifting Ralph Lauren merchandise, a New York Times phenomenon called "capitalist sedition."

A more contemporary analogue can be found in YMBape, on a smaller scale. The infamously devoted Bape fan, dressed head-to-toe in Bape's apparel, would taunt guys waiting in line for a Supreme drop and Supreme stores employees; he would knock off the hats of men, name himself "The Ape," and scream "Fuck Supreme" inside the SoHo flagship location of the company in an effort to bring Supreme fans and employees into a fight. To see a Black man loudly professing his loyalty to Bape in New York — a brand founded in Tokyo in 1993 and popularized by Pharrell, The Clipse, and Lil Wayne — shows that brand's power, for better or worse.

Supreme itself is perhaps the most strong modern example of limited-edition items intended to be sold, irrespective of cost, with confusion frequently erupting on drop-days. One can see long lines of Supreme-clad dudes queuing up outside stores on a release day. Fights outside the various Supreme stores were documented everywhere from Shibuya in Tokyo to Fairfax Avenue in LA.

These examples serve as reminders that violence is not a feature of a bygone era in the name of fashion, nor is it restricted to one state, country or continent. Watching One Man and His Feet, we keep coming back to the opening of an article by Telander. It's almost like a litmus test: Are you focused on the notion of a sneaker that is valued more than a human existence, or that society first developed this subclass?

We predict that one day, in ten years or so, a famous director is going to create a movie telling the story of Rick Owens's Geobaskets. Remember our forecast when it will have been released.

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