Stephanie Kang




Like Mike, single-channel video, 03:30 minutes, 2014


There is no person alive on this earth who hasn't heard the name "Michael Jordan". The symbolic 23 will forever be connected to the icon, and his Jumpman figure will never be forgotten. And over his two-decade career, with countless awards, trophies, and bronze statues, he has been venerated as more than just a man—he made us all believe that he could fly. Michael Jordan has become an earthly bound deity of the '80s and '90s.


And in 1984, Michael Jordan's herculean powers were garnered in Nike's first model of the Air Jordan 1. Banned by NBA Commissioner David Stern, the shoes became the bad boys of the court, making them even more desirable to the public. These products were seen as a physical manifestation of MJ's supernatural powers, making its possessors run faster and jump higher than any other competitor. By simply owning the shoes, we too could fly high like Mike.


In Nike's classic 1989 collaborative commercial with Spike Lee's character Mars Blackmon, the question is posed: what is it that makes Mike the best player in the universe? "It's gotta be the shoes." It's not his height. "It's gotta be the shoes." It's not the endless hours of practice. "It's gotta be the shoes." It's not his God-gifted talent. "IT'S GOTTA BE THE SHOES." Shoes give their wearers a special power. Without them, we are not special. Without them, we are nothing. The shoes give us status. The shoes give us meaning. We don't want the Payless knockoffs. We need THE shoes, for they are the only shoes that matter. By wearing Michael Jordan's shoes, we then become like Mike.


According to Joanne Finkelstein, "We can, if we desire, make ourselves in our own image by employing the wide range of products and services designed for self-enhancement that are available in the consumer marketplace." Our identities are formed around what we buy, and shopping can be seen as a form of self-curation that brings validation to who we are, or rather, who we would like to be. Therefore, shoes give others a signal as to how we would like to define ourselves. Uggs tell others that we are basic. Crocs tell others that we prefer comfort over fashion. Toms tell others that we are humanitarians (or would at least like to be perceived as one). And Air Jordans tell others that we are straight up ballers.


So do the Air Jordan shoes really give us this "special" unknowable power, like when Calvin Cambridge (played by Lil' Bow Wow) put on the MJ shoes in the 2002 film Like Mike? No, unfortunately that fantasy only exists with the help of Hollywood special effects. But that really doesn't matter. The illusion is enough to satisfy the customer. By simply owning the shoes, the symbol of what they represent is passed on to us. We become like Mike. We become special. We become superhuman. We believe we can fly.