Hulu’s Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1 documentary review

Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1

Michael Jordan is synonymous as being one of the best players to ever play basketball. He defined what it meant to be a cut-throat and competitive athlete, who’s work ethic on and off the court is still admired to this day. Available today on Hulu is the documentary “Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1” which gives viewers a look into the very first Michael Jordan shoe that literally shaped an entire culture.

The documentary starts off by giving its viewers the nostalgia of the ’80s. From the socialistic and economic problems that faced its citizens, to the music and movies that gave them entertainment. The documentary briefly tells how both Nike and the NBA were facing their own difficulties. Despite the popularity of the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird rivalry, the NBA was still struggling to get television deals due to the fact that the sport had a high amount of African-American players. Nike, on the other hand, was having a difficult time gaining a foothold on the shoe industry, as Converse was predominantly the shoe that was worn by NBA players.

When Michael Jordan was entering the NBA, he was heavily leaning towards wearing Adidas shoes, but what Nike did was something that was never seen before. Instead of endorsing several athletes, Nike invested everything they had in just one athlete, and they gave them the promise that they would get their own signature shoe. A shoe that was designed entirely based on their style and personality. It was that decision that gave birth to the Air Jordan line.

From there, the rest is history, as the Air Jordan 1 is the quintessential shoe of the sneaker community. But what most sneaker fans don’t know is the tribulation the shoe caused the NBA. The Air Jordan 1 was made to highlight the Chicago Bulls (Jordan’s team) notable colors, black and red. NBA players at that time were always seen wearing white basketball shoes with a few accents of color that highlighted their team, so to see this shoe with deep reds and blacks and worn by a player, who at the time was a rookie, well, it didn’t go over so well.

The documentary does a wonderful job of showcasing both sides of the story. From Nike and Michael Jordan’s perspective, their shoe was banned by the NBA, informing them that if Jordan were to wear the shoe during games, he would be fined $5000. From the NBA’s perspective, the shoe was never officially banned, it just wasn’t approved by their standards. Jordan was still allowed to wear the shoe, but there would be repercussions if he did. But regardless of how viewers see the debate, one thing is for certain, Unbanned paints the NBA and then commissioner David Stern as the bad guys during the whole situation.

The “banning” of the AJ1 will always be one of those debates where there will never be a real fundamental answer. But the one thing that everyone can agree on, was the cultural impact that the shoe had on hip-hop and fashion. The AJ1 is worn by a lot of people, and Unbanned lends itself to tell the stories of those individuals who witnessed the AJ1 when it first came out to those who live and breathe by the shoe in today’s culture.

Some of the notable athletes and celebrities that tell their story about the shoes include Mark Wahlberg, DJ Khaled, Michael B. Jordan, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Lena Waithe, Jason Sudeikis, and Michael Jordan himself. Albeit, we don’t hear from Jordan much himself in the documentary, which I feel, gives the documentary a better angle and perspective. It doesn’t fill itself with the career Michael Jordan had on the court, because Unbanned knows that every basketball fan already knows what he’s accomplished. But instead, it shifts its focus on those people whose lives were heavily impacted by the shoe.

What I appreciated about the documentary was that the celebrities and athletes interviewed are people who defied the odds and broke the rules to be in the places they are today. It’s just like Michael Jordan and Nike did themselves back in the ’80s. From the fashion designers and hip-hop artists to the directors and actors, each one of them wanted to defy the system and make a name for themselves.


Personally, I’m a sneaker fan myself. I look at sneakers as more than just “shoes” but as these works of art. Colors and silhouettes bring a level of attractiveness that can overtake someone’s outfit. Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1 does more than just show how an association, such as the NBA, tries to undermine its players own personalities but also highlights that defying the odds can lead to something great. It shows that despite how most people would perceive the AJ1 as just a shoe, for many it was a cultural statement that shaped and molded an entire generation.

The documentary has a runtime of roughly 90 minutes and does a great job of balancing between the business and cultural side of the shoe. If you’re a fan of Jordan shoes or sneakers themselves, you’ll be easily hooked at its story, if not, the film might have a difficult time grabbing your attention. Unbanned: The Legend of AJ1 might not win any cinematic awards but for those people who see the AJ1 as a holy grail, it won’t matter to them, because Unbanned cements the legacy and iconic stature of the very first Air Jordan shoe.

Score: 5/5 Atoms

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