Building a brand around the GOAT might sound like a “duh” moment nowadays, but that wasn’t always the case back in Nike’s early years. It took a lot of maneuvering and luck to turn the Air Jordan line into the iconic shoes they are today, and that journey is coming to life with “Air.”
Directed by Ben Affleck, the drama follows Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), the marketing executive who convinced Michael Jordan to sign with Nike before Jordan even played a minute of NBA basketball. Affleck plays Nike CEO Phil Knight, who was hesitant to sign a relatively-unproven rookie.
The rest of the cast includes Chris Tucker, Marlon Wayans, Jason Bateman, and Viola Davis, who plays MJ’s mother, Deloris Jordan. The trailer features Vacarro’s discovery of the North Carolina standout, his pitch to Nike and the Jordans about the collaboration’s legitimacy, and the birth of the first Air Jordan 1 “Chicago” colorway.
The Air Jordan line had a tumultuous beginning. The model was introduced to the public in 1985, when Converse was THE basketball shoe of the NBA. Brands rejected MJ before he settled with Nike. Converse said they couldn’t prioritize him over their established stars Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Adidas couldn’t make a shoe deal work. Nike was known more for its track shoes, which didn’t entice MJ initially.
Nike would later reportedly pitch a deal that was unheard of for a rookie, and both of Jordan’s parents told him that he would be foolish not to take it. When the first Air Jordans finally debuted, the NBA supposedly fined MJ $5,000 each game for violating league rules, which state that NBA shoes must be primarily white and reflect the team’s colors.
However, bad publicity is still publicity, and Nike happily paid the fines on Jordan’s behalf. The Air Jordans would become a status symbol that continues to this day, where each wearer hopes to capture the magic of His Airness.