“In 1992, the NBA was broadcast to 80 countries. Now, it is broadcast to 215 countries. Anyone who understands the phenomenon of this evolution knows that Michael Jordan and his era played a key role in it.”
David Stern, NBA Commissioner from 1984 to 2014.
“There are great athletes who have no impact beyond their sport. And then there are athletes who become cultural phenomena. Michael Jordan helped pave the way for a new perception of African American athletes and a new idea of sport as part of the entertainment world. He has become an extraordinary ambassador abroad not of basketball, but of the United States and American culture in the world. Michael Jordan and the Bulls have changed the culture.”
Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States from 2009 to 2017.
I decided to start this little journey into the world of aesthetics in The Last Dance, with two quotes that unequivocally explain how much the impact of MJ and the Chicago Bulls dynasty of Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and associates has been epochal and has indelibly marked more than one generation in all respects (sporting, cultural, aesthetic, etc.).
The docu-series produced by ESPN and Netflix, whose last two episodes were released yesterday here in Italy, has become the most-watched ever, a sort of collective ceremony that emphasizes even more strongly, the gigantic influence that all the protagonists of this epic and unrepeatable story have had, and still have, in the collective imagination.
Looking at the series you can notice a series of discrepancies of various levels from the point of view of style and I chose to put them together to shed light on some unclear things.
Balenciaga, Jacquemus e Vetements vs Bulls suits
This is the most used and abused term of the last 5 years. The fashion world, especially that of high fashion and streetwear, has rediscovered oversize by filling its collections with jackets, trousers, outerwear, T-shirts, sweatshirts and oversized sweaters. A clear and evident reference to the 90s aesthetic that winks at the normcore trend that makes comfort and soft colors a prerogative.
Brands such as Balenciaga, Vetements and Jacquemus, for example, have defined and redefined their aesthetic signature through oversized garments.
The brands I just mentioned are often taken as examples of contemporary fashion, the evolution within the contemporary.
The outfits of the Bulls players, Jordan and Pippen above all, could have come out of a Balenciaga editorial shot the day before yesterday, where the proportions are expanded and the architecture of the looks taken almost to the extreme. To build an outfit worthy of the Bulls of the late 90s but absolutely contemporary, here are a couple of links:
Air Jordan 1 vs Air Ship
Episode V of The Last Dance, opens with a wonderful memory of Kobe Bryant and his first encounter with Michael. Kobe’s words can only renew the pain for the tragic death of the Lakers legend too prematurely.
In the reconstruction that director Jason Hehir, we are catapulted to New York on March 8th, 1998.
The Bulls are away and have to play against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, “the World’s Most Famous Arena”, the focus is all on Jordan because that could have been his last game in the Big Apple, where MJ has always given performances at the level of the famous “Doublenickle”, 55 points put on report on March 28, 1995. Madison was his favorite arena and so he chose to wear a pair of “special” shoes for the occasion, his last visit to Mecca.
Michael says that he chose to wear a pair of old Air Jordan 1 “Chicago”, the shoes he had worn in his first game at the Garden that would also be his last.
Here, we need to stop for a moment and rewind the tape.
MJ’s first appearance at Madison Square Garden in New York City took place on November 8, 1984, and the images of the time belie the reconstruction that Jordan himself made. Michael scored 33 points, took 8 rebounds and placed 5 assists, a great performance overall but there is one though. As I was telling you the footage from that game shows Jordan with not a pair of Air Jordan 1 “Chicago” but a pair of Nike Air Ship, the silhouette that inspired Jordan 1.
Also from a release point of view we find some inconsistencies, in the locker room before the game, Toni Kukoč asks him the release year of those shoes that Michael is wearing and Jordan answers “1984”, but it’s a shame that the first release of Air Jordan 1 was in April 1985.
Why all this story? Simple, marketing. The real comet star that illuminated the path of MJ with Nike, thanks to which they laid the foundations of the greatest fortune linked to a sports brand of all time.
If you want to take home a pair of Air Jordan 1 “Chicago” here you can buy a pair, if you prefer a pair of Nike Air Ship, you can buy here.
Dennis Rodman vs anyone
To go into more detail about Dennis Rodman, we refer you to an article that we published a couple of weeks ago and that tells how Dennis is, still today, an icon of timeless style.
John Stockton’s shorts vs everyone else’s
This is a little curiosity about an extraordinary player. We’re talking about John Houston Stockton, Utah Jazz point guard who for two consecutive years (’97 and ’98) faced the Chicago Bulls at the NBA Finals.
Michael Jordan not only impacted the NBA in a deflagrant way from a technical point of view but also from an aesthetic point of view, Michael took little time to become the epitome of cool on a basketball court.
In the ’80s, the shorts of the game uniforms were very short and reflected the fashion of the times, but it was MJ who chose to wear shorts longer than normal. The players and the league liked it so much that they all adapted to this aesthetic, except one, John Stockton. The greatest assistman in the history of the game refused to homologate and throughout his career, he continued to wear the classic shorts of the 80s.
It should be remembered that the fashion for longer and wider shorts quickly went out of the parquet floor and all the kids in the world wore shorts at least two sizes up when they went to the camp. Michael continued to change the aesthetics of American society and the world over.
Here you can buy the 1998 Utah Jazz jersey.
Sonny Vaccaro vs The Last Dance
Another huge legacy that we have in our hands and that the documentary deepens is the link between Michael Jordan and Nike.
The whole story is told: Michael who actually wanted to sign with adidas; the change of strategy by Nike who wanted to start treating basketball players like tennis players from a marketing point of view, i.e. as individual athletes and no longer as part of a team; the negotiation and the fundamental role that Michael’s mother, Mrs. Dolores, played; the gargantuan offer that Beaverton’s company made to the very young Michael; in short, they told us well.
No, they didn’t.
There is one person who played a fundamental and unique role in the story between Nike and Michael Jordan, Sonny Vaccaro. An Italian-American who changed the history of marketing, sneakers, Nike and Jordan forever thanks to a “simple” intuition.
Towards the end of the 70s, Vaccaro enjoyed certain visibility and acquired enviable security due to the organization of summer basketball tournaments for young high school students at which the most important coaches of college basketball were present, which allowed him to have a certain knowledge of the environment. This led him to take a decisive step. In 1977 he called the Nike offices in Portland, Oregon, on the phone to propose his idea for a new shoe. The proposal was kindly declined but Rob Strasser, one of the company’s top managers, was charmed by the contacts that Vaccaro had put together with all the coaches of the various universities in the country, at the time the contracts for the shoes of the college players were closed by the coaches, you will well understand the enormous influence that Vaccaro could have on the latter. Strasser hired Vaccaro with a salary of 500 dollars a month, put thirty thousand dollars at his disposal on an account, and asked him to become Nike’s testimonial coaches…For him it was a piece of cake: he proposed to the coaches simple contracts with Nike, signed checks and sent them free shoes for the players to wear.
In 1982 Vaccaro was invited to the NCAA Final Four that year in New Orleans, 1982 Final Four were those in which, in the decisive timeout a few seconds before the end in the final between North Carolina and Georgetown, under one, Dean Smith gave the opportunity to a very young Michael Jordan and his Tar Heels to write the first word of what will be the most beautiful novel in the history of the sport. He said verbatim, “Knock it in, Michael!”
Jordan takes the last shot of that final one, the tongue is out and Georgetown’s defensive rotation is slow. Two points. Georgetown’s last possession ends in nothing and Carolina is champion. The prize for the best player was awarded to James Worthy but another one had stolen the scene from everyone according to Vaccaro and that player was the freshman from North Carolina with the 23 behind his back who had put the decisive shot, Michael Jordan.
Cowboy twisted all his plans, something had happened in front of the whole world and he had sensed it, he would convince Nike to invest all his money on that single player.
They would have created a shoe just for him, they would have created a whole dedicated clothing line, in short, everything you see today with the Jumpman logo is the result of the intuition of such Sonny Vaccaro who, if you have seen The Last Dance, is not even mentioned once.
The reason why is not given to know but if you want to deepen this incredible story I suggest you read “Michael Jordan, the life” by Roland Lazenby that you can buy here.
Here ends our brief journey into the aesthetics of The Last Dance, but don’t worry, there will soon be something else to see. ESPN has announced that on Wednesday, May 20 at 9:00 p.m. it will broadcast “Game 6: The Movie”, the historic 1998 Game 6 between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz in HD with the addition of new footage and shots from the 5 NBA Entertainment cameras, the same ones that followed Michael and his Bulls throughout the season.
On the 21st, starting at 9 am, the content could be visible in Italy as well.