Fast-talking wheeler-dealer Or brilliant sports marketing visionary? ESPN’s Newest 30 for 30 documentary tells the story of Sonny Vaccaro, Who put basketball and sneakers on the map, and created a multi-billion dollar industry.
His supporters call him a visionary and praise his loyalty. His enemies accuse him of corrupting a sport and profiting off amateur athletes. Sonny Vaccaro is one of the sports world’s most polarizing and influential figures, and his profound impact on basketball has spanned five decades. Now 75, he’s still a fast-talking maverick who launched an era of unprecedented growth for two pillars of pop culture: basketball and sneakers. ESPN’s Sole Man tells the story of Sonny Vaccaro’s rise from a humble Pennsylvania steel town to the forefront of the $13 billion athletic-shoe industry.
Sonny was instrumental in launching Nike’s “Air Jordan” empire in the ‘80s and started the movement of paying college coaches to have their players wear Nike shoes. He ignited the Nike/Adidas “sneaker wars” which are studied in college marketing classes today. In the ‘90s, he ushered in the professionalization of youth basketball by creating high school all-star games led by players such as Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. Now retired from the shoe business, Sonny is one of the NCAA’s most outspoken critics, working behind the scenes to organize efforts for the antitrust suit led by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon.