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Bruce Dowbiggin

Air: How Running Shoes Changed the Sports Business Forever

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In Ben Affleck’s terrific film Air, basketball talent scout Jimmy Vaccaro is risking his career on signing Michael Jordan, who’s just been drafted third overall in the 1984 NBA draft. He gambles everything on his company NIKE, not noted for its hoops shoes, winning over Jordan and his family to a radical new design.

When Jordan’s mother, played powerfully by Viola Davis, demands a percentage of every Air Jordan shoe sold, Vacarro balks, thinking his publicly held company will never approve such a radical concept. The deal looks ready to collapse, with Adidas set to move in. As they do throughout the film, viewers are yelling at the NIKE executives on screen, “Trust us! He’s going to be great! Give him what he wants!”

Being onside with history is a wonderful conceit in an era where certainty is lost and liars prosper. The audience knows what will happen if Jordan puts on the NIKE shoes and goes on to become the global sports superstar earning billions. The shoes will generate $162 M the first year in production. Jordan still receives $40 M a year for his share in the shoe. (He’s set to sell the NBA Charlotte Bobcats for $3B.)

So, of course, Jordan signs with NIKE, the shoes sell like crazy and he fulfills his destiny as a great star, winning eight NBA titles and two Olympic gold medals. Affleck (who plays NIKE founder Phil Knight) throws in a rapid slide show on what’s still to come, including the murder of Jordan’s father, James; Michael mysteriously quitting to play baseball for two years and the defining final years of his brilliant career with the Chicago Bulls.

For this reason Affleck has made a wise decision in limiting his business story to the summer of 1984. He knows that the voluminous ten-part documentary series The Jordan Rules has already trod on the dramas of his Bulls career. His straightforward underdog story allows audiences to revel in the birth of their modern culture without any of the attendant culture wars.

Like Moneyball and The Blind Side, Air delivers an uncomplicated sports business story, this time about a prominent black athlete who eschewed politics with the line, “Republicans buy running shoes, too.” It’s what they used to call an all-American story. Like Hoosiers.Thanks to then ultra-competitive Jordan the NBA went from late-night delayed broadcast nowhere in 1980 to a global brand synonymous with wealth and power.

Then Knight stepped back in 2016. By 2017, NIKE was handing out multi-millions to disgruntled NFL QB Colin Kaepernick for disrespecting the national anthem. It led the way in funnelling millions to #BLM, even as the organizers used it to buy Hollywood homes for themselves. Knight’s company will be synonymous with slave labour in China and censoring NBA figures who challenge the proximity of the league and its Chinese paymasters.

None of this is even hinted at in Air. Cause-obsessed critics missed the low-hanging fruit. Instead, Peter Bradshaw of the far-left Guardian trashed the film for “looking like the most expensive in-house corporate promo in history: shallow, parochial and obtuse”. Predictably, the critic from @NPR railed against the film’s embrace of corporate culture. Aisha Harris calls it a “craven exercise in capitalist exaltation”.

The real issue is not capitalism but the corruption of athletics by the paymasters on the Left since 1984. Thanks to the new NIKE management progressive politics ensnare nearly every positive achieved by Jordan’s triumph. Knight’s bold initiatives and unapologetic opportunism have been bled away, replaced by the DEI and ESG and climate radicalism of people who’ve succeeded him in the C suite at NIKE.

If you want to know what that accomplished watch ESPN’s three Rs for about an hour. Race. Resentment. Radical environmentalism. As a result, the second act of this script would be something far more sombre than the giddiness of wooing Jordan and his family. The LeBron James generation of young players following Jordan reject his neutrality for unabashed acceptance of the latest grievance meme. They flaunt their riches even as they toe the line with China.

On the same topic, it would be interesting to see a film about how the NHL exploited— and then squandered— its Jordan Rules moment. Parallel to the Bulls star’s ascension the NHL experienced its own Jordan in Wayne Gretzky. A once-in-a century star, Gretzky possessed all the marketable qualities of Jordan in his NHL career that began in 1979.

Using the new marketing schemes exploited by Jordan and NIKE, L.A. Kings owner Bruce McNall wooed Gretzky to Hollywood in 1988 from remote Edmonton in the most famous trade in NHL history. For a time it seemed the NHL had gotten religion in their marketing, adding Disney as an owner and exploiting the synergies of Gretzky to open up the league to the southern U.S.

But then McNall was sent to prison for fraud, and Gretzky failed to deliver a Stanley Cup to the entertainment capital of the world. He moved twice more to teams that promised a chance at a fifth Cup, but it never worked out. There was no Air Gretzky. Disney and Waste Management, the prize new owners, abandoned the league when commissioner Gary Bettman became more obsessed with labour stoppages than talking up the product to the world.

International play seemed to flourish for a time, but by the 2020s, Gary Bettman’s league was what it had been, an isolated North American operation seemingly uninterested in the global reach enjoyed by the NBA. Blanket expansion of the continent, not the world, seems their goal. Gretzky, who once denied ever betting on sports, now pimps for legalized betting at MGM.

So yes, Jordan’s shoe was a blatant marketing manipulation of the culture. Its controversial China impact is massive. But the net impact of Knight, Vaccaro and the Jordan family living out the American dream puts anything the NHL has managed in its history to shame.

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Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

The Buck Stops Nowhere: Biden / Trudeau & The Accountability Gap

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It’s unlikely Donald Trump will have time or energy for a post-presidential TV encore. But were he to do so at the age of 85 he might call it You’re Not Fired! In this take on his Apprentice franchise, Trump brings on governments officials and employees who’ve never been fired despair egregious mistakes, many costing lives.

They compete to see which one made the most gargantuan mistake without ever taking responsibility. Bonus points are awarded for players who can say things like  “The buck stops here” with the most cloying insincerity as they keep their job. At the end of the episode Trump declares to the winner, “You get to keep your job forever. Better yet, we are giving you a raise.”

It’ll be a smash hit. Certainly he can talk from firsthand experience about government service being the gift that keeps on giving. To its employees and contractors. This past weekend, for instance, a complete cock-up by the Secret Service nearly cost Trump his life in front of a worldwide TV audience. As snipers tried desperately to put down a shooter, Secret Service folks heroically draped themselves over the president’s body. (At least those tall enough to shield Trump from incoming fire.)

The term heroically is key here. While the sunglasses/ walkie-talkie dudes risked their lives in service of the president, their superiors safely back in a DC office were cravenly insisting that they’d do better next time. In an NBC interview, Biden appointee Kim Cheatle claimed the mantle of “the buck stops here.” She promised transparency in finding out why her department had failed so many basic tasks of the raid to almost getting Trump’s head blown off.

What she didn’t do was resign in shame for almost getting the former and likely future POTUS killed. Nor was she asked to resign by her boss at Homeland Security, Antonio Mayorcas. Ditto the Big Boss, Joe Biden. Even when DEI appointee and Jill Biden chum Cheatle tried out a shameless meme about the sniper’s rooftop being unsafe (too severe a slope), no one asked for the keys to her office.

She held tight to her pension even when it was revealed her squad knew the shooter was around hours before the shots that wounded Trump and killed at least one other. That Trump was allowed to take the stage when the sniper’s parents were desperately calling police to find him. That her claim of local police screwing up was debunked. That the crew was undermanned while a more experienced crew worked a Jill Biden function.

Look, this is not to conduct a review of the protocols flubbed and the roofs abandoned. This is about accountability. To say that there is no glory without honour. And from Biden on down, honour has been MIA throughout the years of affirmative hiring and official bungling. They claim glory, but it’s a shattered chalice.

As just one example, DHS head Mayorcas still gets a seat at Joe’s cabinet table despite the total breakdown of border security. So does Kamala Harris, who was named “czar” for border security. Transport secretary Pete Buttiegieg has overseen fatal bridge collapses, train derailments and transit shutdowns without connecting it to his administration of the department.

The same absence of responsibility has ruled in the decade of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government in Canada. While his father earned (and then wasted) some honour by facing down rock-throwing separatists in 1968, Justin has been Brave Sir Robin, high-tailing it to the rear at the first sign he might be asked to show some stones.

While his media toadies downplayed Ol’ Yellow Stain at the time of the Truckers Convoy, most now acknowledge that had he emerged from under his desk at the Rideau Cottage in the early days to confront the protesters the disaster might have been averted. Instead, Skippy sent in the Ottawa Police and the Mounties to do his job, thereby converting a temporary problem into a historic assault on civil rights and the dignity of his office.

Whenever the coast was clear, Trudeau has predictably acted like a schoolyard bully to give himself gravitas. In addition to the Convoy, there was his draconian vaccine assault on the unconvinced, the cemetery pantomime leading to calling his nation genocidal at the UN, the imposition of the Carbon Tax and the honouring of a former Nazi in Parliament to silence his Ukraine critics. To impress his UN, EU and WEF pals he’s dissed Donald Trump at a distance, something that will now haunt him after November.

His cabinet and party quickly learned that they’d never be canned if they polished the PM’s apple. Most recently came the news that a cabinet minister had ordered the military to prioritize his fellow Sikhs in the frantic retreat from Afghanistan. Using the armed forces to protect your kin? Trudeau gave Harjit Singh Sajjat a pass because Harjit thinks (publicly at least) that the Boss is swell.

The Chinese cutouts in his caucus are likewise exempt from accountability, because Justin wants to be loved in Beijing. Why not? When he’s been repeatedly nailed on ethics violations or self-dealing he’s just gone la-la-la-la-la-la and moved on to new catastrophes. Or had a former Governor General whitewash his devious dealings.

In fact, the only way to get in trouble with Trudeau is to DO your job properly. Justice minister Jodi Wilson Raybould, a signature appointee as a woman and native, was canned by Trudeau for insisting the RCMP get to the bottom of a scandal from Quebec-based SNC Lavalin. Bill Morneau was edged out, because his view of a functioning economy didn’t include the top-down imposition of fantasist climate and gender diktats.

Both Biden and Trudeau drone on about restoring people’s faith in government without ever asking whether there are the problem. When your heart is pure, they say, your mission is noble. Now shut up.

Except Biden and later Trudeau are about to find out that their public is in no mood to shut up anymore.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL And Changed hockey is now available on Amazon. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his previous book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Trump Almost Killed by Assassin: Corporate Media Says He Had It Coming

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This was meant to be about the NBA’s new eight-year $76 billion TV contract, but other stuff has intervened. So we will save that for later…

Speaking of media, they had a great day on Saturday. They also had a disastrous day. Donald Trump was the target of an assassination attempt that grazed his head and killed a spectator at a rally in Pennsylvania. (Two others are in critical condition.) The legacy media and the populist press were there to record it. The images will endure for generations.

How did the media have a good day? For an industry hemorrhaging viewers and readers to social media since Trump become president in 2016, the shooting brought back the mainstream audience. In the same way that Joe Biden’s disastrous debate produced 1980s-style ratings, the networks, cable news and Tiffany media saw old customers return to them, if briefly, for authority and instant news gathering. They can now assure their advertisers that old habits die hard, and they should still command M*A*S*H-like ad rates.

The pictures of the shooting on a beautiful summer day were gripping. An image of the dead 20-year-old gunman at the feet of snipers was produced. The networks assembled images and witnesses promptly. (The best live interview was by a blind BBC reporter who found spectators who’d warned in advance of a shooter on the roof.) Within hours alternate videos were broadcast. And footage of diminutive Secret Service agents fumbling Trump’s departure sparked questions about their failure to protect the president.

A series of stunning Iwo-Jima style images of Trump and his Secret Service group beneath Old Glory are breathtaking examples of the craft of news photography. So perfect was the staging in some photos that viewers could not help but wonder if it was all an AI Simulation.

It was not, course. The picture became a lot blurrier when the talking heads inserted themselves to blot the copybook of the story. The first headlines from Trump-loathing media were comical. Despite images instantly showing blood and Trump tackled, CNN bugled, “Secret Service Rushes Trump Offstage After He Falls At Rally”. “Trump Escorted Away After Loud Noises at Pa. Rally”. “Gunman Dies In Attack” was the banner headline in the Denver Post as if he’d shot a gopher.

And so on, as the Seventh Cavalry of Truth rode to the scene. After eight years of Hitler comparisons and invocations of death for Trump they briefly pivoted like Pontius Pilate, washing their hands of the Bobby DeNiros, Kathy Griffins and Rob Reiners who might have gotten their Trump death wish. Starting with Biden himself, whose raving over a Trump 47 presidency (“It’s time Trump was put in a bullseye”) has gone to 11 on the Hysteria Scale. “He’s literally a threat to everything American stands for”. Suddenly, Senile Joe was conciliatory Joe.

Leading to mocking tweets such as “Thank God Hitler is okay and wishing Hitler a speedy recovery.” DEMs stalwart Nancy Pelosi, too, was concern incarnate. “I am horrified by what happened at the Trump rally in Pennsylvania and relieved that former President Trump is safe. Political violence has no place in our country.” This is the same Pelosi who’d urged followers to punch Trump in the face while saying he “must be stopped. He cannot be President.”

Senate Speaker Chuck Schumer— he of “You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions”— was also working the faux-concern speech. You can understand how this reversal of fortune was playing out for the Bette Midler Glee Club after Biden’s self-incineration during the debate with Trump last month.

The conciliatory barely tone lasted into Sunday morning. Confronted with their previous bloviation, the RussiaGate crowd pivoted back to blaming Trump’s rude rhetoric for escalating the tension between Right and Left. Fresh from acid-washing Biden last week, George Stephanopoulos joined fellow ABC pundit Martha Raddatz in a game of “Trump said it first”. “President Trump and his supporters have contributed to this violent rhetoric…etc,.” “And let’s remember January 6th…” etc.

Here was MSNBC stalwart Joy Reid working the “Trump as Hitler” theme last week. And then, despite Trump’s Jan. 6 request to “peacefully and patriotically march to the Capitol”, she again charged him with inciting the riot.  Others were reviving Trump’s use of the term “bloodbath” in the economy as proof he’s a stone-cold killer. They declared Trump’s defiant “Fight! Fight! Fight!” response as unpresidential, raising tensions in a crisis.

Perhaps the realization that this botched takeout has all but guaranteed Trump’s election this November was sinking in. So “It’s all his own fault” again became the default position. Axios wants Trump to announce that “he has been too rough, too loose, too combative with his language — and now realizes words can have consequences, and promises to tone it down.” Sure. Victim asked for it.

Sensing that their crazed hosts might resume their Hate Trump mantra too soon, MSNBC took its Morning Joe off the air Monday. Comedy Central said it would shelve some prepared material for the GOP Convention this week. Late night shows sheathed their blades (briefly) to appear sensitive.

In the “anything you can do we can do worse”, Canadian media were quick to get the blame back on a guy who came within a millimetre of having his brains splashed over the stage. Even as the president was being wheeled away my old CBC pal Paul Hunter was lamenting Trump’s speech for poisoning the dialogue and warning about a violent reaction from the MAGA crowd.

CBC News At Issue panelist Andrew Coyne set a world record for pivoting from decrying an assassination attempt to midwit gripes about how this “is going to embolden/incite his more violent followers. It is going to push some who were not disposed to violence to justify it to themselves… it is going to make Trump even  more bent on revenge  if he gets elected.”

Considering this unhinged bias it’s no surprise that the sewer of Canada’s universities continued to produce fruitcakes like this UBC medical instructor who took time from her day to contact her just-as-unhinged friend with a “Damn, so close. Too Bad.” Her pal responded with “I really wish this person had better aim”.

Don’t feel too bad, Canada, Britain’s media are equally odious, with Sky News asking, “Did Trump play a part in changing the rules of engagement?” This from  the gender police who think a woman dressed lasciviously cannot be blamed for enticement. Meanwhile the far-left Guardian accused Trump— with no evidence— of encouraging revenge.

Calls are now going out in America for peace in the valley, finding unity and brotherly/ sisterly love. Don’t believe it. By week’s end the howler monkeys will be back in full voice, trying to get you to unsee what happened Saturday. Sorry, can’t be undone.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster  A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book Deal With It: The Trades That Stunned The NHL And Changed hockey is now available on Amazon. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his previous book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via brucedowbigginbooks.ca.

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