Spike Lee is film’s premiere voice for the African-American community. Through his movies, he represents not only black reality, but also our dreams. Currently, the aspirations of the urban population are defined by hip-hop culture. The point is not only to gain riches, but to flaunt them – to drape oneself in platinum and diamonds, roll through the hood on spinning rims, and flash the money you’ve made so that everyone knows you’ve made it.

However, it was only ten years ago – before “grills” became a household word, beofre MTV’s Cribs showcased the lifestyles of the hip and happening – that a different means promised all that the black community could imagine: basketball. Spike Lee’s “He Got Game” studies this motive and dream of the hood while highlighting the one item that symbolized a black man’s personal triumph in the ‘90s: the Nike Air Jordan (XIII, in this case).

When “He Got Game” premiered in 1998, Michael Jordan had just returned to the Chicago Bulls and brought with him a revival of the basketball star. The debut of his new sneaker was the beginning of a new hope. “He Got Game” understands this at its core. In fact, the movie revolves around this sentiment.

One of the first things Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington) does when he first gets out of jail is buy a new pair of Jordans. Lee’s camera focuses first on the iconic, crisp white shoes, and after a lengthy close-up, pulls up to reveal Jake’s ankle-bracelet monitor – a return to the reality of the urban community’s status as social prisoners. Regardless, Jake is proud and emotional when trying on the sneakers.

Michael Jordan represents the pinnacle of ‘90s urban culture’s expectations; the shoes represent success – not the personal success of Jake, and not even the success of his son, Jesus (played by NBA All-Star Ray Allen), but the triumph of the hood. Someone has made it out! The black young basketball star has made it, and hasn’t forgotten to give back to his community the item that will timelessly motivate and propel others through their hardships.

When Jake buys his pair of $150 Jordans, he attempts to revitalize his inner “star,” a star beaten by jail time and the disdain of his son. When he meets his son at the court, the first thing Jesus says is, “You got the new Jordans, huh?” [Since Allen is signed to Jordan brand, he’s always got the new ones –Ed.] The old star will have to battle to regain the respect of his superstar son in life, but on the court, the presence of the Jordan XIII equalizes the two. Michael Jordan and his Air Jordans are testament to a time when every man could be a basketball star. Every man could be a new man, if only on the court. A fresh pair of kicks was all he needed.

Quiana Chambers

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  1. Peace Quiana,
    I just so happen to stumbled upon this site while surfing the net for Native Tongues, let me say that I am glad I found it. I haven’t thoroughly read your articles or researched the site for that matter, I just wanted to reach out to you to provide a bit of information that may interest you. I am not sure where you are based, however because I see that you have an interest in film you might want to make plans to attend the Black Liliy Film Festival in Philadelphia, PA May 4-6, 2007.
    You can visit the site for more info:
    I am an independent filmmaker, I am definitely going to be there.

    Great article Sis’.
    Kind Regards

  2. Hey Lily,
    I’m late getting this post but please hit me up on myspace if you have any other events coming through the Philly area. Definately interested

    peace & love

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