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A shoo-in: ‘Air’ cements Nike’s legacy in the shoe game

Graphic by Sarah Irwin

Nearly absent from the film, Michael Jordan takes an unfamiliar role by riding the bench and letting other stars shine in the Amazon Studios film “Air.”

The movie, which focuses on Nike’s courting of Jordan to sign with the company, does everything right when it comes to getting the audience invested in the marketing and sales representative, marketing director and CEO of the struggling footwear company in 1984.

Directed by Ben Affleck, “Air” features the actor as Phil Knight, Nike’s barefoot and purple Porsche driving CEO as the shoe company’s basketball department continues to struggle.

Trying to pick up the pieces is Nike’s marketing director Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) alongside marketing and sales representative Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), who can only be described as a basketball guru who enjoys risk-taking thrills.

The film focuses on Sonny’s task of turning around the department. He decides that his halfcourt-heave to save the department will be a small guard from North Carolina who loves all things Adidas and rejects anything with a swoosh on it.

“Air” does a nice job of showing you that this isn’t just a movie about the inner workings of a shoe giant. It highlights the process of landing a once-in-a-generational talent in hopes of saving a brand, spreading a message of taking risks and going with your gut.

Alongside Sonny and Phil are supporting characters that add to the story in their own way. Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis) is exceptional with her stern supportiveness of her son and her wisdom when it comes to the organization’s best sales tactics. As the clear leader of the Jordan household, Deloris makes that clear even though she appears for the first time nearly halfway through the film.

Howard White (Chris Tucker) and David Falk (Chris Messina) are the glue to the business and relational side to courting Jordan. David, Jordan’s result-driven agent, is exceptional throughout “Air,” but more so during a telephone tirade that left Sonny and myself in a fit of laughter.

Howard acts as the common-sense and necessary humorous piece to the puzzle. As the only African-American in Nike’s pitching process, Howard makes that point clear to the Jordans and relates to their mindset before Sonny even begins the pitch.

For fans of the Chicago Bulls legend or of the ‘Air Jordan’ brand, “Air” gives good background to how that process, which changed the NBA’s relationship with Nike and the way that deals are done with professional athletes. 

Once again, “Air” is not just a film about a shoe—it’s a story about getting the man in the shoe, and in this case, the leather red-and-white beauty fits.

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