Is it the shoes? For Michael Jordan, Sonny Vaccaro and Nike, the answer in 1984 was yes. (Courtesy of Nike)

Without Sonny Vaccaro, Michael Jordan would still be Michael Jordan, but would he be Michael Jordan, father of Nike’s Air Jordan brand and billionaire?

Probably not. A new ESPN “30 for 30” documentary airing on Thursday night shows just how Vaccaro became the godfather of sneakers, operating in “the gray areas” of college basketball as the multibillion-dollar athletic shoe industry blossomed. He was, as “Sole Man” illustrates, “present at the creation of the culture of the athletic shoe and the money that flows from that.”

That creation moment came in 1984, when Vaccaro and Nike executives met in an Oregon mansion to choose a player to build a brand around. Vaccaro tells ESPN that he looked to the upcoming draft and bypassed Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton after seeing Jordan play against Georgetown. Over a plate of ribs at a Tony Roma’s in Santa Monica, Vaccaro convinced Jordan with the words, ” ‘Michael, it’s going to be your shoe,’ ” Vaccaro recalls. “…It was the signature line that swayed him and that’s how Michael was born.”

Of course, there’s much, much more to Vaccaro than that. For an idea of the scope of the documentary, Grantland has more clips.