Did you know that Michael Jordan makes $400 million a year and a passive income because of the percentage he gets from selling Air Jordans? To understand how this came about, we have to travel back to the 1980s and the famous sneaker label Nike in Ben Affleck’s latest film Air. Written by Alex Convery, the film stars Affleck, Matt Damon, Viola Davis, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker, Jason Bateman and Julius Tennon.
Sonny Vaccaro (Damon) likes to gamble – which shows that he likes to take risks. He works for Nike CEO Phil Knight (Affleck) in the company’s Basketball Division expert. He scouts upcoming b-ball games and offers them shoe endorsement deals, and currently has his eye on an 18-year-old Michael Jordan. Sonny believes Jordan is worth the full price they’re offering ($250,000), as does Vaccaro’s advisor Howard White (Tucker), but Knight, and VP of Marketing Robert Strasser (Bateman), believe it’s a liability to do it. He tries to get a meeting with Jordan by talking to his agent David Falk (Messina), but the athlete is more interested in signing a contract with Adidas.
With no plans to give up, Vaccaro steps up the chain of command and flies to North Carolina to speak with Jordan’s parents Delores (Davis) and James (Tennon). With two shoe endorsement meetings coming up with Adidas and Converse, Sonny asks his mom to reconsider talking to Nike and warns her about what to expect when she talks to these companies. With Nike CEO Falk and Strasser breathing down his neck to close the deal or lose his job, Vaccaro uses clever maneuvers to secure the client and stay employed.
In his fifth feature, Affleck’s talents exceed expectations. He has grown as an actor and director, but is at his best when he does both. Not sure how he does it. The organization and patience required to balance all these elements must be stressful, but I couldn’t tell because he never breaks a sweat. In Air, Affleck makes great use of aerial shots that show just how large some of these corporate campuses are. A staple of his visual style are desaturated scenes that use a mix of green and blue, which suits the tone of his previous work, but he changes it here by increasing the brightness and color, making the viewing experience a hopeful one.
Air has the best cast with some of the biggest in Hollywood. Each of them gives a commendable performance, it’s hard to pick a favorite and that’s a rarity for good acting across the board. I’ve seen two Affleck appearances at SXSW and you can just tell when he’s excited about a project and when he’s calling it quits. Convery’s script has all the elements needed to evoke the energy needed to pull this off.
Delores Jordan is responsible for the career her son has today. Despite opposition from Nike, she was able to negotiate a deal where Michael gets a global percentage of every Air Jordan shoe sold. Her attitude was that she knows her son’s worth and that “A shoe is just a shoe … until my son steps into it.” The goal was to create footwear that reflected his personality and give fans something that will make them feel closer to the Chicago Bulls player.
To see Air, and how the world’s most popular sneaker came about, makes me think about the evolution of the shoe almost 40 years later. People steal, kill and die for a few. It’s crazy to think that this trajectory starts out innocently and turns customers into rabid consumers. Of course, that’s not Jordan’s problem, but this story puts things into perspective. So many white men had control over his career, I’m glad to see some form of advocacy on screen for athletes like Mike and others like him, as this deal with Nike has changed the sneaker and basketball industry in monumental ways.