Air – The Story Behind Nike’s Ascent with Michael Jordan

The history of sponsorship is long and intriguing. Some deals work out well, others go up in flames. I’m looking at you, Michael Jackson and Pepsi. Here the star power of Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman and Matt Damon deliver an enjoyable recounting of the improbable selection of third round draft choice Michael Jordan.

Adidas had been the runaway success in what most of us would call the sneaker market, but the professionals call a shoe market. In years before that Converse was the shoe of choice among basketball players.

Sonny Vaccaro, admirably played by Damon, is in charge of deploying Nike’s limited funds across a range of athletes. Using Moneyball statistics before there was such a thing, Vaccaro the talent scout zeroes in on rising star Michael Jordan. Vaccaro must overcome the understandable trepidation of Jordan’s mother, Viola Davis in a superb role. The banter between Vaccaro and Mrs. Jordan is clever and insightful. Vaccaro knows that even if he wins over Michael (subtly played by Damian Delano Young), he must convince the maternal boss. Even when he seems to have the Jordan family in his court, Vaccaro faces corporate headwinds back at the home office.

Marketing VP Rob Strasser (Bateman) and CEO Phil Knight (Affleck) are the other two legs of the three point dynamic in the plotline. Bateman continues to confirm his mastery across genres, here there is none of the chilling urgency he showed in “Ozark;” instead we have an executive caught between competing and equally viable agendas.

The banter among the three executives is crisp and droll.

The machinations and company politics are endlessly enjoyable, even when we know the results of the endgame. The script by Alex Convrey is well crafted, and Affleck’s role behind the camera as director keeps the pace very brisk.

The film is sprinkled with familiar faces, which is an enjoyable distraction when we see the likes of Jay Mohr, Chris Tucker and Marlon Wayans popping up on the screen. A few well-chosen songs fir the era and the mood, most specifically “Money For Nothing” by Mark Knopfler and Sting.

Poignantly, the song came out in 1984, the same year Nike signed Jordan.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.