Did ESPN just give me an excuse to fill a blog post up with Nike Air Trainer images via last night’s ‘You Don’t Know Bo’ documentary? It sure looks that way. One of those ad-heavy ones that content hungry bloggers who credit the source super small at the very bottom seem to like? Okay. I wish I was in NYC for the AF1 festivities, but once again, an Air Force anniversary party has passed me by. Maybe I’ll be there for the 35th birthday of the shoe to commemorate some remix of it in one way or another if a hip replacement and advancing age doesn’t hinder my visit.
The hip replacement talk is a nice seque into the Bo film talk too — while Saturday’s 30 for 30 offering was more of a celebration of the Jackson era than a character portrait like last season’s excellent and occasionally disturbing ‘Unguarded’ piece on Chris Herren, it still represented the fabled subject matter in an entertaining, honest way. After all, with a lack of steroids or philandering, the only thing you can talk about with Bo is — as one talking head explains — the man’s aptitude to make remarkable feats look easy. From the apocryphal tales or a young Vincent Jackson dunking a stick in eighth grade, leaping a 40 foot ditch and an unmatched crab apple throwing aptitude that could send the airborne fruit through a screen door, to the triple jump, high jump and pole vault feats in high school to Steinbrenner’s Yankees scout seeing Bo collapse a batting tent during an impromptu trial, his early days were represented by animations from my friends at Doubleday & Cartwright (when was the last time you saw a cartoon of a boy dunking a stick?) in Mickey Dusyj’s unique style.
Little stories, like neighbors visiting to gaze at a phone just because a famed coach called it nailed the community nature of the poor community from which the great man emerged, but the parallels with the apple hurling, the distance hits that got him pro baseball career, that throw and a candid demonstration of Bo’s knack with the ‘bow at the film’s finale bring structure to a tale of a man who subverted sport just by doing his own thing. Playing in the NFL as an off-season hobby? That’s not normal. Excelling there and redefining the running back position? Sonning Brian Bosworth at the height of his tough guy schtick (‘Stone Cold’ is still classic though)? Okay then. Every now an again, somebody excels to the point where I have no other choice but to pay attention and it’s usually by making the superhuman look easy — I’m not interested in the nuances and the things that sports connoisseurs notice because I have no athletic ability or casual game experience that would allow me to gauge the difficulty. As a result, I want people to play like it looks in the movies or do some really, really bad stuff in their spare time. Bo did the former and for once, we Brits knew the name of a baseball player.
It was ‘BO KNOWS’ that put me onto Bo though. The Air Trainers and the cheaper non-Air variants, plus that W+K engineered Futura bold sloganeering and it was, for an Air Trainer nerd like me, good to see some sketches and moodboards for the 89-91 Bo-endorsed SC offerings on display in the film, as well as a Tinker Hatfield appearance. There were even some OG Air Trainer pre-Bo sketches shown that indicated the line was a riposte to arch rivals Reebok and their Workout concept (look at those white shoes) and even included a loafer. Strangely, it’s constantly reinforced throughout ‘You Don’t Know Bo’ that — bar the painstaking post-hip replacement rehabilitation — Jackson didn’t actually train, despite being the poster boy of the whole Nike Cross Training category. It’s more of the man’s innate knack for contradicting popular performance wisdom, but that versatility and the snappy nickname still made his involvement extremely relevant. He even got his own video to accompany the ‘Bo Knows Bo’ autobiography as part of the newly created Nike Sports Entertainment line with Fox.
It was also good to see that director Michael Bonfiglio also managed to include the pop cultural Bo moments beyond the fields and footwear, with talk of the infamous Tecmo Bowl advantage and his role in the ‘Pro Stars’ cartoon, where his destruction of evil practitioners of illegal deforestation by wielding an entire tree didn’t seem as over the top as some of his real life antics, like the bat snapping acts of exasperation what spawned thousands of bruising failed imitations. Culminating with Jackson contently carving arrows for his hunting habit in his “man cave” where a bull’s head resides next to an MCM holdall, the what could have been nature of the man’s career after that premature retirement at 28 doesn’t feel like a tragedy, because the dual career, the achievements and the fact he did it his way is something too otherworldly to mourn — the world just needed a reminder as to what Bo knew, and ESPN provided a perfect refresher.