Michael Jordan Chose to Work With Spike Lee Because of His Shoes

When you think of Michael Jordan, two related things probably spring to mind: his incredible NBA resume and his unshakable will to win. In regard to the latter, we’ve heard stories about how His Airness wanted to make sure he was surrounded by reliable talent. If you were going to run with the Bulls, you would have to be capable of taking the heat.

And while that didn’t directly translate into off-the-court endeavors—you don’t exactly have to make a jump shot in the boardroom—Jordan still had some say over who he worked with. When you’re one of the most famous men on the planet, you get to call some shots.

On at least one occasion, that shot was tied to Jordan-branded sneakers. Allow Spike Lee to explain.

Spike Lee and Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan, right, and film director Spike Lee meet at Patrick Ewing’s jersey retirement ceremony during the New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden on February 28, 2003, in New York, New York. The pair apparently started working together because of Lee’s choice of shoes.
Ray Amati/Getty Images

Jordan and Lee Teamed Up Because of Shoes

While live TV has taken a step back in favor of streaming, there was a time when television, and television commercials, ruled the roost. And within the world of sports, there were plenty of iconic ads. Who, for example, could forget a game of HORSE with McDonald’s on the line, or the jingle about wanting to be “Like Mike.”

But there were some Jordan-centric spots. These, shot in black and white, featured Spike Lee playing his Mars Blackmon character from She’s Gotta Have It. There were several in the series, but the most memorable featured Blackmon trying to nail down what made MJ “the best player in the universe.” While the star shot down every suggestion, which ranged from “vicious dunks” to “the extra-long shorts” while repeatedly circling back to “the shoes.”

Jordan, for his part, insisted that sneakers weren’t the key to his success, but the commercial did feature a statement that “Mr. Jordan’s opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of Nike, Inc.,” along with Blackmon’s now-iconic statement, “It’s gotta be the shoes.”

The sentiment was universally understandable and, consequently, earned a place in pop culture. If you want to be like Jordan—and who didn’t? —then you have to get his sneakers to take flight.

But how did that commercial come to be? Well, it might never have materialized without Lee’s personal choice of footwear.

“Two guys, Jim Riswold [and] Bill Davenport, who worked for Wieden+Kennedy, Nike’s advertising agency, they saw the film [She’s Gotta Have It]”, Lee explained during a Variety interview. “And they decided they want the pair, me and Michael Jordan.”

The catch, however, was that His Airness, thanks to the combination of clout and his contract, had director’s approval. And, despite not knowing Lee or his work, he agreed.

How did that happen? Well, Lee eventually found out.

“A couple of years ago, the All-Star Game was in Toronto,” the famous Knicks fan remembered. “And I finally, you know, we were in his room, I finally got enough courage to say, ‘Mike, why did you choose me? …’ He said, ‘Motherf—–, you wearing my shoes.'”

Newsweek reached out to Jump Management to ask about Jordan’s recollection of events.

Lee, however, noted that he considered it an “honor” to be called that particular term by His Airness on multiple occasions.

Decades later, the Lee-Jordan commercials still loom large in popular culture. And, ultimately, it’s fitting that the partnership stemmed from the line that the duo’s work made famous.

As always, it’s gotta be the shoes.