Whether you are a basketball fan or not, you would probably have heard of the name “Michael Jordan”. Not only is he one of history's greatest basketball players, he is even considered THE greatest sportsperson of all time, period.
While his life and career would have fueled and inspired countless films and TV shows, Air focuses on another aspect of his life that has also had a significant impact in the world and pop culture in general, the creation of the sneaker range that bears his name – Nike’s Air Jordans.
Matt Damon plays Sonny Vaccaro, a sports marketing executive searching for the one great basketball player who can elevate Nike from bit-part player in the basketball sneaker market to the top. Frustrated with Nike's inability to compete with the other companies, he bets his entire career on signing an 18-year-old Jordan whom he thinks has the potential to be THE greatest player of them all.
Only one problem though – Nike is a nobody in the basketball business, and Jordan already has his sights set on signing for one of their rivals - Adidas.
That’s not the only obstacle he faces – his boss, Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) thinks it’s ‘insane’ to put all his eggs into one basket, and Jordan’s agent David Falk (Chris Messina) refuses to allow Sonny to even meet the young star.
Faster than you can say “Space Jam”, Sonny takes a gamble by going to Jordan's hometown to meet his parents, and manages to convince his mother Deloris Jordan (played by the formidable Viola Davis, who could be in line for her second Best Supporting Actress award in two years) to at least hear Nike's pitch before making a decision.
The rest of the movie then revolves around Sonny’s scramble to come up with a concept that would entice Michael, design a shoe that would be appealing to him, and draw up a contract that will convince Jordan to ditch Adidas for Nike.
It’s no spoiler to say that Sonny eventually secures Jordan’s signature and Nike goes on to be one of the biggest sports companies in the world thanks to the boost that the NBA star gave them. Air Jordans have also become some of the most priceless sneakers in the world.
What matters in this movie is the journey, not the end. As both director and star, Affleck has taken a niche event in history that would have probably only interested sports nerds or NBA fans, and crafted it into a well-written, tightly edited movie that is more compelling and entertaining than you expect it to be.
Now, the mere utterance of Michael Jordan’s name is usually enough to inspire awe and create feelings of nostalgia in people, and Affleck knows that. Hence, he wisely decides not let his “star” shine too brightly by never letting us see his face.
As a result, Jordan may be what the story revolves around, but Affleck uses his shining star to illuminate the people around him, and lets us see Jordan the way they see him, instead of letting us see him with our own eyes.
Through Sonny's eyes, we see a player with the potential to achieve immortality. Through Phil, we see him as a desperate gambit to take Nike to the next level. Through shoe designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher), we see an iconic shoe taking shape around him. And ultimately, through Deloris’ eyes, we see a boy whose mother will do anything to guarantee her son’s future.
This isn’t a movie about Michael Jordan. It’s a small slice of how Michael Jordan changed the lives of people through what he achieved on the basketball court. And Affleck tells this story with the reverence and elegance that his subject deserves.
Whether you’re a fan of Jordan, sneakers, Affleck and Damon, corporate and sports history, basketball and the NBA, or just sports in general, you should definitely watch this. Go on, just do it.
Affleck shoots, he scores!