In 1982, North Carolina freshman, Michael Jordan, was figuratively and literally "flying high". He played for the Tar Heels as a freshman and was a part of their National Championship win; shooting the game-winning shot. At the same time, he was being courted by the biggest companies producing basketball sneakers. Rumor had it that he was planning to sign a half-million-dollar endorsement deal with Adidas but he was still entertaining an offer from Converse. At that time, Nike was a smaller athletics shoe company with a fledgling basketball division and as much as Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon; Jason Bourne) tried, he couldn't even get Jordan to take a meeting. Air, the Ben Affleck (Zack Snyder's Justice League) directed film, chronicles one man's determination to sign the county's biggest athlete.
Athlete endorsement deals are worth large sums of money and back in the 80s companies that made sports sneakers and apparel, clamored to sign athletes they thought could further their brand. One of the hottest markets was basketball sneakers and Converse and Adidas seemed to have locked it up quickly by signing the top basketball players in the United States. However, Vaccaro's vision made his resolve to sign Jordan even more important. Luckily, his gamble paid off for both Nike ad Jordan.
With a decent script written by first-time screenplay writer Alex Convery and a film directed by Affleck, Air has a winning combination behind the storytelling. Affleck has a knack for camera angles and story pacing that make his films interesting to watch and dissect. Even when we already know the plot and the eventual outcome, Affleck manages to keep the viewer invested while entertaining them all at the same time. It helps that he surrounds himself with a talented cast and crew.
Damon is very strong as the lead character which, for Affleck, was a bit of a risk hiring one of his best friends. Damon has had some great performances in the past but he has also had some bombs under his belt. Luckily he plays Vaccaro as a straight shooter who is passionate about his quest to sign Jordan. Joining Damon is Affleck as Nike CEO Phil Knight, Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Viola Davis (Suicide Squad), and Chris Tucker (Rush Hour). These actors have great chemistry and they all seemed determined to make their characters as interesting as possible which is rather easy since the script lends itself to offering the actors personas and lines they can sink their teeth into.
For those going into the film thinking it will be all about Jordan, they will be disappointed. This movie is more about Vaccaro and Nike and how they changed the face of endorsement deals for professional athletes forever. In fact, Affleck doesn't hire anyone to look even remotely like Jordan since he knew it would be almost impossible and because Jordan doesn't physically enter the picture until the final act. Davis, as Jordan's mom, had more interaction with Vaccaro than the player does himself, at least in the film anyway.
Michael Jordan has made numerous contributions to the game of basketball and the world of sports as a whole. But perhaps his biggest contribution was to negotiate a deal that not only benefitted him but that elevated Nike to the upper echelon of sportswear and athletic shoes. One has to wonder what would have happened had Jordan signed with Adidas or Converse but, perhaps lucky for Nike, the world will never find out.
Air is the story of how a little company that could, courted and signed one of the biggest basketball players to an endorsement deal that rocked the very foundation of athlete endorsements. Affleck, Damon, Viola, etc. take the well know and anticlimactic story and breathe new life into it with stellar performances and outstanding direction.
Regardless if you are a basketball fan or not, this is a feel-good film that is well-executed.