Did you know that Michael Jordan makes $400 million a year and passive income due to the percentage he gets from selling Air Jordans? To understand how this came to be, we must travel back to the 1980s and famed sneaker label Nike, in Ben Affleck’s newest film Air. Written by Alex Convery, the movie stars Affleck, Matt Damon, Viola Davis, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker, Jason Bateman, and Julius Tennon.
Sonny Vaccaro (Damon) likes to gamble—which shows he likes to take risks. He works for Nike CEO Phil Knight (Affleck) as the company’s Basketball Division expert. He looks for up and coming b-ball players and offers them shoe endorsement deals, and currently he has his eye on an 18-year-old Michael Jordan. Sonny thinks Jordan is worth the full price they’re offering ($250,000), and so does Vaccaro’s advisor Howard White (Tucker). Knight and VP of marketing Robert Strasser (Bateman) think it’s a liability to do so. He tries to get a meeting with Jordan by talking with his agent David Falk (Messina), but the athlete is more interested in signing with Adidas.
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With no plans to give up, Vaccaro steps over the chain of command and flies to North Carolina to talk to Jordan’s parents Delores (Davis), and James (Tennon). With two shoe endorsement meetings coming up with Adidas and Converse, Sonny asks his mother to reconsider talking to Nike, and warns her on what to expect when speaking to the other companies. With the Nike CEO, Falk, and Strasser breathing down his neck to close the deal or lose his job, Vaccaro deploys clever maneuvering to secure the client, and stay employed.
In his fifth feature film, Affleck’s talents exceed expectations. He’s grown as an actor and director but is best when doing both. Not sure how he does it. The organization and patience needed to balance all of those elements must be stressful, but I couldn’t tell because he never breaks a sweat. In Air, Affleck makes great use of aerial shots showing just how large some of these company campuses are. A staple of his visual style is desaturated scenes that utilize a mix of green and blue which fits the tone of his earlier work. But he changes it up here by upping the brightness and color which made the viewing experience a hopeful one.
Air has the best cast featuring some of the greatest in Hollywood. Every one of them gives an award worthy performance, it’s hard to choose which is a favorite, and such a rarity to watch such good acting across the board. I’ve seen two Affleck performances at SXSW, and you can just tell when he’s enthusiastic about a project, and when he’s phoning it in. Convery’s script has all the elements to invoke the energy needed to pull this off.
Delores Jordan is responsible for the career her son has today. Despite resistance from Nike, she was able to negotiate a deal where Michael gets a global percentage from every Air Jordan shoe sold. Her stance 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 persona and give fans something that will make them feel closer to the Chicago Bulls player.
Seeing Air, and how the world’s most popular sneaker came into existence makes me think about the evolution of the shoe nearly 40 years later. People are stealing, killing, and dying for a pair. It’s crazy to think about this trajectory starting off innocently and turning customers into rabid consumers. Of course that’s not Jordan’s problem, but this story puts things in perspective. So many white men were in control of his career, I am glad to see some type of on screen advocacy for athletes like Mike and others like him as this deal with Nike has changed the sneaker, and basketball industry in monumental ways.
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