Stan Smith talks being more than just a sneaker in documentary

"Who is Stan Smith?" tells the story of the man behind the shoe.

May 14, 2024, 5:13 PM

Director Danny Lee and Tennis Hall of Famer Stan Smith have made a new documentary -- "Who is Stan Smith?" -- that explores the story of the man behind the iconic sneaker.

Apart from being a five-time U.S. Open tennis champion across singles and doubles and former world No. 1 in both disciplines, outside tennis circles Stan Smith is also known for his iconic sneaker.

The film starts by exploring some of the better-known aspects of Smith's life, including his successful tennis career and the popularity of his Adidas sneakers. It then delves into the lesser-known parts of his story, filling in the gaps and providing a more complete picture of his life and career.

VIDEO: Tennis icon Stan Smith and director Danny Lee discuss new documentary
VIDEO: Tennis icon Stan Smith and director Danny Lee discuss new documentary

ABC News sat down with Smith and Lee about the humanitarian work of the man behind the tennis champion.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Many of you know the name and likely many of you know the face, but not everybody knows the person. You might be asking yourself, Who is Stan Smith?

More than just a shoe. Trust me when I tell you, way more than just a shoe. Stan Smith is a tennis icon and philanthropist and has done so much beyond being the face of one of the most popular sneakers of our time. Now his story is being told in a beautiful way.

Way more than a sneaker, trust me. Director Danny Lee and the legendary Tennis Hall of Famer himself, Stan Smith, right there joins us in studio. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

Talk about the documentary, "Who is Stan Smith?" Now I knew who Stan Smith was because I grew up a tennis player and loved watching you play and knew about you as a tennis player.

But I did not know a lot of the other things that the documentary shows. So are you excited to bring who you are? And and you know, this, this sneaker that has just gone from for 50-plus years to a new generation of folks?

STAN SMITH:  Well, when they talk to me, you know, LeBron James has a company in Springhill, and they talked about, they saw the book I'd done and they said, 'well, we'd like to do a documentary.' I said, 'well, OK, you know, see what you can do.'

Then, you know, they hired Danny Lee and it's been a real pleasure to work with him and to see him try to figure it out, you know? How do you do that? You know, especially especially without a lot of current, you know, film that's available from the '60s and '70s.

ABC NEWS LIVE: And so, Danny, LeBron James in the company comes to you and said, 'hey, we got to do this documentary.' First of all, what did you know about Stan Smith before you dove into this? And then second part of the question, what surprised you?

DANNY LEE: Well, I think like most people, I knew it primarily through the shoe. I knew he was a tennis icon. I didn't really know to the extent of how deep the story goes in terms of his relationship with Arthur Ashe, his working to democratize tennis and essentially unionizing and paving the way for the players today, his his unexpected relationship with Mark Mathabane, the young black tennis upstart from South Africa.

So I knew sort of cursory, he was a tennis champion and a shoe that I remember in high school, everyone wanted and you kind of always knew was around. You knew it was sort of this name that just had this sort of prestige attached to it. But that wasn't enough. You need to, you know. So for me, making this film was this incredible, colorful journey into tennis history and pop culture history.

And what I discovered is be, you know, beneath being a champion, he's this unexpected humanitarian who did a lot of good for people and never really touted his good deeds.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Yeah. I mean, everybody should see this is such an amazing film. But I think for me, the one thing that was surprising was in 1973 when he was about to repeat. But the ATP started because you all stood up for a tennis player who wasn't allowed to play. That's amazing.

Not a lot of athletes would do that, but you did. So let me ask you, Stan, because, I think one of the great things that you do in this documentary is bring his family into it. It's a big, beautiful, big family. You know, his kids say it best, and I think that's that's the most wonderful way. But I want to ask you, who's Stan Smith?

SMITH: Well, I'd hope that I'd be remembered as somebody who tried to help other people and also treated everybody, tried to treat everybody the same, you know, no matter who you are. I think there's more commonality with all of us around the world, really, than differences.

And, certainly, you know, Arthur said it best. He had a T shirt. His favorite T-shirt was 'Citizen of the World.' And he wore that a lot. And that's really was meaningful to me, as well. So that, you know, I, I'm hoping that people can really see the best in other people and disregard some of the cultural things that might be different.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Yeah. Well, I, as a father, if if my kids ever someday say something like your kids saying this about you, I mean, it's just a beautiful thing. And you got to add fashion icon because these are sold in high-fashion stores now. Everybody wants a pair for more than just playing tennis.

SMITH: Well, it's fun to see men and women and boys and girls and, hippies and, you know, preppies and hip hop and music and across all. So it's fun to see that.

ABC NEWS LIVE: All right, guys, thank you so much. Thank you. This is great. We really do appreciate meeting you. Was an honor. And "Who is Stan Smith?" is now out in select theaters.