Sunday, February 20, 2005

"It was the Beatles of footwear"

This morning's SportsCenter featured an in-depth look at the effect Nike Air Jordans have had on our society, as reported by former MTV Award Show fluffer Chris Connelly. The report, which I'm sure will be re-aired ad nauseum, deserves comment.

1. The title to this post was seriously the opening line of the report. Seriously.

2. Spike Lee, director of 7 Air Jordan commercials, is interviewed. I'm kind of torn about Spike. On one hand he seems to project this pretentious "I won't sell out" act, but then he takes $ from massive corporations to make these ads. He often positioned himself as a voice of responsibility for his community, but then in this bit I think he implies that it's OK that kids stole to get the shoes. What's this all about?

3. For some reason they interview Barack Obama. He says kids should spend money on books, not Air Jordans. Also says Jordan pushed street apparel into the mainstream. I have no idea why this would be an important issue for a sitting senator to weigh in on. Doesn't he have better things to talk about, like say, a massive budget deficit to cut?

4. Damon Wayans says, "...the ones I liked the best was the patent leather. Those were crazy; I used to wear them with suits." Awesome.

5. Connelly shows a clip of Jordan from 2004 responding to the critics who said Nike exploited the laborers who make the shoes in Southeast Asia. I have a few issues about this. First off, the critics were raising hell about this long before Jordan's 2004 visit. I remember student activists against Nike around '95. Jordan's response to critics is a little late. And even worse, he does a terrible job of responding:

"It's easy to compare [the working conditions] to the United States, and I think that's somewhat unfair, and I think you have to compare it to what was happening within that country."

OK, I don't expect Michael Jordan to be an expert on international labor, but any third grader can see the hole in the argument. If all the other factories pay 12 year olds a nickel a day, and Nike pays them a quarter, it's objectively exploitation. And let's not even get into the idea that American jobs are lost...

This cuts to the heart of the problem with Jordan. He never took a stand that wasn't in his wallet's interest or his corporate backers' interests. His commercial-driven image is just incredibly bland. And the sports media did nothing but assist in the framing. Connelly's report sums it up thusly:

"Let's face it: [the shoes] were cool. And so was the man whose name and soaring figure adorned every pair. Two decades later, their synergy stands in history."

Amazing he could get the words out with Jordan's nuts banging into his chin.