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30 for 30: ‘Sole Man,’ Chapter 1 — How Sonny Became Sonny

In the latest 30 for 30 film, directors Jon Weinbach and Dan Marks offer a definitive look at Sonny Vaccaro, one of the most polarizing and influential figures in basketball recruiting and sports culture. In the first of six chapters, we learn about his beginnings.

Meet John Paul Vaccaro, the pudgy native of Trafford, Pennsylvania, whose success at identifying and befriending top basketball players changed the game forever. His Dapper Dan Roundball Classic in Pittsburgh, one of the first national all-star games for high school players, not only became a fixture on the recruiting circuit for top college basketball programs, but also cemented Vaccaro’s relationships with high-profile coaches — who would then become Vaccaro’s business partners after he joined a young sneaker company called Nike. During the ’70s and early ’80s, Vaccaro signed such college coaches as Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, John Thompson of Georgetown, and Jerry Tarkanian of UNLV to “shoe deals” that turned the feet of the top players into billboards and launched Nike’s basketball business. 

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Visit Grantland every day this week for a new chapter of Sole Man. Sole Man will make its prime-time television debut on Thursday, April 16, at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN. 

Filed Under: 30 For 30, Video, Sole Man, Sonny Vaccaro, Basketball, NBA, College Basketball, ESPN Films