Who Is Stan Smith? Image

Who Is Stan Smith?

By Michael Talbot-Haynes | April 26, 2024

COMING TO THEATERS! You better get your Adidas on to run to the theater to catch Who Is Stan Smith?, a pop-culture jamboree of a documentary directed by Danny Lee. It starts in the world of contemporary sneaker culture with the Stan Smith, the Adidas tennis shoe that is prized and collected the world over. From there, we go to England in the 1970s when the sneaker craze began. Here, youth cultures started adopting sportswear as a fashion statement. When David Bowie was photographed wearing Stan Smith Adidas sneakers, it suddenly made the shoes hip and desirable. Later, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys did a tour that highlighted their Adidas Stan Smith kicks, starting a fire that hasn’t gone out. So, who is the man whose name is written on the sneaker?

Lee grabs you by the eyeballs right away with a sweeping montage that immediately infuses the viewer with the renown of the Stan Smith shoe. Pharrell gleefully gushes over getting to design his version of the sneaker with Smith. I was taken aback by a photo showing the Stan Smith sneakers on Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. This whirlwind of excitement surrounding the shoes is crucial as a launch ramp into the story of Smith’s life, which is based on the sport of tennis.

The next half of Who Is Stan Smith? is a detailed overview of Smith’s tennis career, which can be a little dry but is the answer to the mystery posed by the title. Smith was a remarkable player, attending Wimbledon several times. Smith’s manager, Donald Dell, crafted the pioneering endorsement deal where both the champion’s name and face would appear on the shoe, which had never been done. It also covers Smith’s tennis contemporaries, like the great Arthur Ashe, who was a black tennis champion during the fight for civil rights. His later involvement in rescuing a teenager from South African Apartheid persecution is explored as well. It is all part of the story of the man who is ironically more known as a fashion icon than as the top tennis player in the U.S. at one time in history.

“…the pioneering endorsement deal where both the champion’s name and face would appear on the shoe…”

The filmmaking style is swift and eye-catching, though still a regular sports doc until the halfway mark when we are shown the Run DMC material. Then we have Smith’s very intriguing post-career explored before bringing in a final montage of a tidal wave of celebrities fawning and fiending over the shoes again. This keeps the audience in enough ice cream as we learn more about the cone. Lee makes several potent moves that remind me of the Dawn Of The Dead sequence with a tennis ball falling off the mall roof into the zombie parking lot. There are several tennis game moments when contemporary world issues erupt outside the court. The way Smith held on to his faith and believed in the brotherhood of all during these moments is beyond commendable.

Also, Smith is one of the spryest figures in his late 90s I have ever seen. I could have sworn he wasn’t a day over 72. He is genuinely nice; one of the nicest guys, in fact. The actions he took when he was in South Africa during the Soweto riots, where the police opened fire on school children, are some of the most hard-hitting parts of the narrative. It still seems weird, though, that all of Smith’s extraordinary feats in the 20th century have been reduced to feet in the current one.

For reasons, the frenzy over the Stan Smith shoes has stood the test of time. In fact, its appeal should draw a broad audience to this movie. For as impressive as the sneakers, Who Is Stan Smith? shows that the man is doubly so. The film is packed with the kind of history that makes you realize what a groovy point we as a planet have arrived at.

Who Is Stan Smith? (2024)

Directed and Written: Danny Lee

Starring: Stan Smith, Donald Dell, Darryl McDaniels, John McEnroe, Bob Lutz , etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

Who Is Stan Smith? Image

"…grabs you by the eyeballs right away..."

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  1. Randi Haim says:

    How to I get to go to Stan Smith premier. Had the pleasure to hang out with Stand several times, would love to support the film!

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