New 30 for 30 "Sole Man" on Sonny Vaccaro to Air at 9 p.m. ET on April 16 on ESPN
Preview of the full documentary will premiere in six chapters on Grantland starting on April 6
In the midst of the madness that is college basketball this time of year, ESPN Films will digitally premiere a 30 for 30 film that centers on a man who wielded enormous influence over the evolution of modern student-athletes. "Sole Man," which focuses on former sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro, will debut on Grantland.com in six parts - one chapter per day - from April 6 through 10, with the final two chapters on the 10th.
The documentary marks the directorial debut of Jon Weinbach and Dan Marks, whose previous collaborations include "Straight Outta LA," one of ESPN's original 30 for 30 films. Grantland will provide extensive complementary content to coincide with the film's release. "Sole Man" will make its primetime television debut on Thursday, April 16, at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.
"Sole Man" includes material detailing Vaccaro's influential role in the O'Bannon v. NCAA antitrust case, which continues to unfold and has helped reignite a broader conversation about the future of college sports. Basketball sneakers are currently a $3 billion industry and the "sneaker wars" between Nike and adidas are studied in college marketing classes. Vaccaro was instrumental in creating this industry, launching Nike's "Air Jordan" empire in the '80s and starting the movement of paying college coaches to have their players wear Nike shoes. He ushered in the professionalization of youth basketball in the '90s by creating a new era of high school all-star games led by players such as Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady - both of whom signed shoe deals brokered by Vaccaro.
The film takes viewers through Vaccaro's personal story, which mirrors the narrative of basketball's ascent over the last 40 years. It is an era in which James Naismith's creation morphed into a global enterprise that stretches from Brooklyn to Beijing. To a staggering degree, many corners of the basketball world are really just "Six Degrees of Sonny." "Sole Man" features original interviews with many of the biggest names in basketball, including legendary coaches Jim Boeheim, John Thompson, Larry Brown, Jim Calhoun and John Calipari, as well as former and current NBA stars such as Chris Webber, Tracy McGrady, Brandon Jennings and Joakim Noah. Five years in the making, "Sole Man" is executive produced by Jamie Patricof ("The Place Beyond the Pines" and "Blue Valentine"), Cash Warren and former NBA All-Star Baron Davis.
Chapter 1: How Sonny became Sonny (Grantland Premiere Monday, April 6)
Meet John Paul Vaccaro, the pudgy native of Trafford, PA, whose success at identifying and befriending top basketball players changed the game forever. His Dapper Dan Roundball Classic in Pittsburgh, one of the first national All-Star games for high school players, not only became a fixture on the recruiting circuit for top college basketball programs but also cemented Vaccaro's relationships with high-profile coaches - who would then become Vaccaro's business partners after he joined a young sneaker company called Nike. During the '70s and early '80s, Vaccaro signed such college coaches as Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, John Thompson of Georgetown, and Jerry Tarkanian of UNLV to "shoe deals" that turned the feet of the top players into billboards and launched Nike's basketball business.
Chapter 2: The Jordan Effect (Grantland Premiere Tuesday, April 7)
In 1984, Vaccaro and Nike executives plotted a strategy to create a new business for the company in pro basketball. How they ended up signing Michael Jordan and launching the brand known as "Air Jordan" is a Hollywood story that features secret phone calls, a six-figure check, a mansion in Oregon, and a plate of ribs at a Tony Roma's restaurant in Santa Monica.
Chapter 3: The Gunslinger Shoots for Kobe (Grantland Premiere Wednesday, April 8)
After being fired by Nike in a haze of controversy, Vaccaro resurfaces at Adidas, which had virtually no presence in the U.S. basketball market. In a seismic first big strike for his new employers, Vaccaro's signs a phenom named Kobe Bryant to a multi-million dollar contract, an unprecedented deal for a player making the risky (and much-criticized) jump from high school to the NBA.
Chapter 4: There Are Victims Here (Grantland Premiere Thursday, April 9)
An in-depth look back at the cutthroat, lucrative and often-corrupt culture that Vaccaro and his sneaker company competitors created during the '90s and early '00s, when Adidas, Nike, Reebok and others zealously sought to find and sign "the next Michael Jordan." With Vaccaro at Adidas and his former best friend George Raveling running grassroots basketball at Nike, the battle for talent turned into a deeply personal and all-consuming crusade that impacted players, coaches and executives at all levels of the industry.
Chapter 5: The LeBron Affair (Grantland Premiere Friday, April 10)
Once upon a time, LeBron James wore Adidas Kobes. That was back in high school, when Sonny made sure that his St. Vincent-St. Mary's team was outfitted in Adidas jerseys, sweatbands and shoes. The two first met when LeBron was a sophomore, and after seeing him in a private audition, Sonny declared him to be the best high school player he had ever seen - which not only said something, but also revved up the hype machine for King James. He might still have three stripes on his shoes today instead of a swoosh if Nike hadn't outbid Sonny with a seven-year deal worth a staggering $105 million.
The Final Chapter: Sonny, Ed and the NCAA (Grantland Premiere Friday, April 10)
Since retiring from the shoe business in 2007, Vaccaro has pivoted into a full-time, all-out advocate for change in the basketball industry he helped create. The man who outfitted coaches in Swooshes and funneled millions into universities' athletic departments is now 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.
About ESPN Films
Created in March 2008, ESPN Films produces high-quality films showcasing some of the most compelling stories in sports. In October 2009, ESPN Films launched the Peabody Award-winning, Producer's Guild Award-winning and Emmy-nominated 30 for 30 film series. Inspired by ESPN's 30th Anniversary, the films that made up the series were a thoughtful and innovative reflection on the past three decades told through the lens of diverse and interesting sports fans and social commentators. The strong reaction from both critics and fans led to the launch of 30 for 30 Volume II, which is currently underway. Additional projects from ESPN Films include the critically acclaimed Nine for IX series, SEC Storied and the webby award winning 30 for 30 Shorts.