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‘AIR’ Recounts Nike’s Drive to Win Over the Icon

James Francisco

AIR narrates a formidable tale centered on the Swoosh-basketball legend’s sneaker courtship. Occurring before Air Jordan ever set foot on the professional hardwood, a love triangle was established between three notable shareholders of basketball footwear in America for the heart of the scrawny 21-year-old cager from Wilmington, North Carolina.

Making his first feature film debut, screenwriter Alex Convery released multiple copies of the script, as Affleck grabbed the opportunity to direct the masterpiece. With Jordan’s blessing, he strayed away from the idea of it being a Michael Jordan biopic and tackled the reality and drive of the iconic partnership.

Produced by Artists Equity and Mandalay Pictures, AIR is scheduled for a Philippine release this April 19th in cinemas nationwide (though don’t worry, we do not intend to spoil the greatness you’re bound to experience).

Remarkable star-studded cast

Grounded on the idea of Jordan being the face of Nike’s Basketball division, the story revolves around the illustrious campaign of the “Mr. Miyagi of High-School Basketball,” Sonny Vaccaro searching for the next headliner athlete.

Given the overwhelming market position of both Converse (54%) and Adidas (29%) in the ‘80s, Matt Damon avidly portrays the Nike Patriarch in the pursuit of landing the forecasted third overall selection in the draft.

Director and co-star Ben Affleck harnesses the mantle in his somewhat detached yet mediating representation of C.E.O. Phil Knight. Chris Tucker (Howard White), Jason Bateman (Rob Strasser), and Matthew Maher (Peter Moore) complete Nike’s unconventional roster.

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Photo caption: AIR’s pillars in Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) and Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis)

Julius Tennon breathes life into the character of James Jordan, as the 2009 Hall of Famer personally requested the selection of Viola Davis to play his mother. Likened to the traits of all nurturing-female figures, Davis’ depiction of Deloris was convincing and distinctly her, gravitating towards her instinct of Jordan’s ultimate success. Her role remains pivotal in the film and history, providing guidance and endearment for her young calf in his pursuit to become a bull.  

Convery’s script departs from emphasizing the casting selection of Jordan, with Damian Delano Young’s contribution to the film would highlight his 6-foot stature, provided with limited dialogue.

Breathes ‘80s nostalgia

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Photo caption: Nike C.E.O. Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) featured in Nike athleisure

Initially greeted with a montage of events and figures of the year—the original release of Ghostbusters, the birth of Prince Harry, and a plethora of memories, viewers are sure to be immersed in the 80s. From the local Beaverton 7-Eleven inventory to the early hand-held consoles and vehicles used, AIR features countless remnants of the past reflected through its cinematography and set details.

Costume designer Charlese Antoinette Jones provided the classic threads and styling to fit the decade’s pop and sneaker culture era. Her creative direction catered directly to the characters’ identity—mixing smart-casual and athletic themes, dabbling slightly in the selection of appropriate footwear. 

Nike’s abundant running culture was also emphasized, as several silhouettesnotably the Nike Blazer, Nike Waffle, and the Nike Pegasus '83, all received screen time.

It’s gotta be the shoes

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Photo caption: Peter Moore (Matthew Maher) constructing the Nike Air Jordan 1 prototype

Immortalized as the creative mind behind several Air Jordan silhouettes, Tinker Hatfield’s character was sadly absent in the film as Peter Moore provided the nest—with Michael learning how to fly. AIR captures the lengths of Nike’s team in their ability to woe the intended face of their franchise through the construction of the coveted model. 

Although Hatfield was present at the company during the birth of Air Jordan, the Chicago Bull legend influenced the decision of the character’s removal from the original script, as it was Moore who conceived the first two models of the shoe.

Verdict: Worth the watch

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Photo caption: Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) at the Beaverton, Oregon headquarters

Feature films, sporting history, and the sneaker culture are not themes constantly bound together. Iconic footwear models have made several appearances—such as the Green Goblin’s Nike Air Flightposite in the initial Sony Spider-Man series, though nothing entirely stands out like the Affleck-Convery masterpiece. Its effective delivery and storytelling raise the question of sneakerheads and basketball fanatics of the possibility of future feature films catered to the rich and entertaining Jordan-era storyline.

If you’re specifically interested in a sports-related production of arguably the greatest of all time, then maybe Netflix's 8-episode run of ‘The Last Dance’ (if you haven’t seen it) might be a safer bet. The nearly two-hour feature provides a condensed yet informative depiction of pivotal moments of the Swoosh’s fledging basketball division. AIR leaps beyond the NBA legend’s career, tackling why kids still aspire to be “Like Mike” almost 40 years after its events (so ultimately, just do it).

Art Credit: James Francisco

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