“Air” tells the story of how one man at Nike, Sonny Vaccaro, revolutionized the world of athlete branding. Though the plot covers how Vaccaro was able to recruit Michael Jordan and his family away from Adidas and over to Nike, it focuses more on how the deal changed the course of how athletes get paid for their likeness, rather than what they wear.
The movie has a star-studded cast including Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, Jason Bateman and Marlon Waynes. “Air” is also directed by Affleck, which goes down as his fifth Hollywood directing credit, joining “Argo,” “The Town,” “Gone Baby Gone” and “Live By Night.”
The film, which is based on a true story, begins with Nike’s basketball division in jeopardy of being cut completely. Up until the ‘80s, Nike was strictly viewed as a running company, and with the basketball department not taking off, the board of directors were looking to make some cuts. It quickly became clear that Vaccaro, played by Damon, needed to find a star NBA athlete to endorse Nike.
Of course at the time of the film, which was immediately following the 1984 NBA draft, Nike did not have the funds to pursue an athlete of Jordan’s quality and magnitude. It was clear that Jordan’s preference after the draft was to sign with Adidas, but Vaccaro became determined to sign him, largely due to his performance in the University of North Carolina’s National Championship in 1982.
The movie dives into every small detail the company went through in order to pursue Jordan, including flying out to their family’s home without an invitation, forcing their way into an official meeting with Jordan’s agent and how the notorious Air Jordan 1s came to be.
We are shown the accelerated process Nike went through in order to complete one of the best-selling shoes of all time. Every detail is laid-out, from how Nike’s Peter Moore designed the “perfect basketball shoe” in one weekend to how the company was willing to pay fines from the NBA for making the shoe “too colorful.”
The film also shows how important a role Jordan’s mother, portrayed by Davis, played in her son signing with Nike. We see how vital it was to her that her son signed with a company that would treat her son right, rather than just another corporate conglomerate, which Adidas was at the time.
One of the bolder artistic directions Affleck went for in the movie is that we are never shown the young Jordan’s face, nor does he have any lines. Rather, the film focuses exclusively on the relationship between Vaccaro, Mrs. and Mr. Jordan, and Rob, Vaccaro’s co-worker, played by Bateman.
While this decision is understandable as it forces the audience to focus on the shoe and the story rather than Jordan, it would have been interesting to see Jordan’s perspective of the high-pressure situation throughout the process. Either way, the film is filled with intense emotions, racial undertones and witty ‘80s comedy that leaves the audience with a true understanding of how Nike changed the course of sports history.
The only reason the film is receiving four stars rather than a full five is due to its niche audience. If you do not understand the story of who Jordan is, some parts of the film may be lost on you. Otherwise, it is an intense cinematic portrayal of one of America’s greatest underdog stories and how Nike created a new standard for athletes.
Featured photo courtesy of @airmovie, Twitter