Vol. 16, No. 17 – May 17 – May 30, 2023 – Movie Review

Streaming Spotlight by Cindy Summers
AIR – Amazon Studios

4 out of 4 palm trees

AIR” shares the incredible true story of how Nike and Michael Jordan created a brand with a partnership that completely changed the sports industry, athletic branding and even popular culture. Just after the NBA draft in 1984, Nike only held 17% of the basketball shoe market, far behind the leader which was Converse with 54% followed by Adidas with 29%. Nike’s basketball shoes division had to do something big with a comparatively small budget or risk being cut by the board. The film stars Matt Damon as Nike athletic scout Sonny Vaccaro and is directed by Ben Affleck, who also stars as Nike CEO Phil Knight.

Sonny Vaccaro held the unique position of basketball athletic scout with Nike and was responsible for finding talented athletes that would promote the Nike brand. He worked with Nike Basketball Division Marketing VP Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) who picked the talent pool for the scouts and was mainly focused on the players from the recent NBA draft. Michael Jordan was 4th in the draft going to the Chicago Bulls and had been a vocal supporter of Adidas shoes and track suits, which were very popular at the time.

Nike CEO Phil Knight assigned the team an annual budget of $250,000 for three athletes, which made it difficult for Sonny and the team to get top athletes that were being offered more money by their competition. Sonny requested $500,000 but Phil said no, so Sonny suggested they use the entire budget to try to sign Michael Jordan. Phil was resistant at first, but then agreed and Sonny set off to meet with his friend George Raveling (Marlon Wayans) who coached Jordan in the Olympics and could offer some support in bringing him to Nike.

Howard White (Chris Tucker) was VP of Nike basketball athletic relations and had told Sonny that when dealing with black families that it’s always best to go through the mothers, so Sonny set off to North Carolina without notice to meet with Michael Jordan’s parents. Michael’s father was out front working on his car when Sonny arrived and felt it was a very bold move for him to show up unannounced. Michael’s mother, Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis) came out and Sonny was able to convince her to allow him to discuss the potential of a deal with Nike.

Sonny told Deloris the contract would be for $250,000 and that Nike had an advantage in that they could devote much more attention to Micheal than the other brands that carried some very well-known athletes. Deloris told Sonny she would consider his offer and get back to him, but a short time later he had heard that Adidas matched the offer and included a Mercedes-Benz 380SL so thought that the deal was not going to happen.

Sonny got a call from Deloris who said regardless of what he had heard that Michael was going to sign with Nike but under one additional condition, that along with the $250,000 he would also receive a percentage of any Nike product sold under his brand. Sonny knew this had never happened before and felt it would definitely be the deal breaker, but after talking with Phil they decided to go for it and began immediately to develop a prototype shoe to show the Jordans.

Their chief designer had been working on a line he named “Air”, and named Michael’s shoe the “Air Jordan”. Though the NBA had rigid standards on color, they designed a colorful shoe based on the Chicago Bulls colors and agreed to pay the fine of $5,000 a game for Jordan to wear the shoes. The Air Jordans were like no other shoe on the market and a record-setting instant hit selling $162 million in its first year. Currently the Air Jordan brand represents $4 billion in annual sales for Nike, and Micheal is reported to have made $400 million a year in passive income as a result of the revenue share with Nike.

Rated: R (Language)
Runtime: 1h 52m

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