Sonny Vaccaro is the controversial figure at the center of the most recent 30 for 30 film “Sole Man”. The documentary will re-air on Saturday (8:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2) and May 16 (1:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2) and explores the role Vaccaro played in building the sneaker industry by signing players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and (almost) LeBron James to multimillion-dollar shoe deals.
Front Row talked to Vaccaro to get his take on the project.
– Sonny Vaccaro
You have been quoted as saying you’ve been waiting your whole life to tell your story. How did this 30 for 30 come about?
By accident, actually. There was a feature movie being discussed about me that fell through but those producers went to [the film’s executive producer] Jamie Patricof and [a producer and co-director] Jon Weinbach, who then brought the story to ESPN Films. I am a big fan of 30 for 30 and I thought this would be the best vehicle to tell the story of my life in the shoe industry. The integrity of 30 for 30 is what made me want to do it. It is like “60 Minutes.” I trusted them and was honored to do it.
Is there a particular aspect of the film that you felt was important to get right to explain your role in creating the sneaker industry?
I don’t think people understood how my career evolved. I wanted the public to know how sneaker marketing started. For better or worse, this is who I am. I had to be able to say “this is how it started” and I knew that 30 for 30 would talk to various people and get different opinions. I don’t think people understood how my relationships with coaches evolved and how I got involved with Nike. This is how Jordan happened, this is how Kobe happened.
What do you think about the current state of the “student athlete”? Is the situation evolving in a positive direction?
I think the [Ed] O’Bannon case gave freedom to all athletes going forward to have a voice. I think things are moving in a very positive way. This suit spoke directly to the players’ rights and allows the public to look at the NCAA with the athlete’s view.
If you were in charge of making a 30 for 30 film, would you do one on LeBron or Jordan?
The one you’d have to do it on is LeBron. Michael started everything but the rest of marketing is based on LeBron going forward, he’s the face of the youth of America. Someday there will eventually be another LeBron, but for now – all stories going forward will compare to him.