Talk to any sneakerhead, and you will understand what value the original Nike Air Jordans hold for them. The first Air Jordan shoe was created for former basketball player Michael Jordan during his time with the Chicago Bulls. The story behind getting him to sign a deal with Nike is an inspiring one. And that’s exactly what encouraged the team of Matt Damon & Ben Affleck starrer Air to make a movie about it. The true story behind the riveting plot of Air is moving and you do not want to miss watching this movie when it arrives on Amazon Prime Video on 12 May.

Air has been directed by Ben Affleck, and the movie travels through important incidents involving a Nike employee seeking to strike a business deal with Michael Jordan. Apart from Affleck and Damon, the film stars Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker and Viola Davis in pivotal roles. Damon, Bateman and Affleck take the lead in Air which is based on the true story of Sonny Vaccaro (Damon), Rob Strasser (Bateman), Nike co-founder Phil Knight (Affleck) and the inception of Air Jordan. Here’s how the incidents unravelled in real life.

The true story behind Matt Damon & Ben Affleck starrer movie Air

The origin of Air Jordan was a result of Nike Inc. being on the verge of closing its basketball shoe division back in 1984. Due to low sales, the team was almost prepared to discontinue production until Vaccaro took the lead and came up with a genius idea. The movie Air is based on the true story of his efforts to get Nike back on track, his connection in the NBA world, and his heated discussions with Phil Knight to bet on a rookie like Michael Jordan to become the face of Nike.

The crazy vision of Vaccaro

Air movie

Adidas and Converse had always been the favoured shoe brand for top NBA basketball players. Nike, like any other standard sports shoe brand, aimed to get one of these basketball players to associate with their brand in order to shoot up their sales. To achieve the same, Nike’s Marketing VP – Rob Strasser, along with co-founder and CEO — Phil Knight, asked Nike’s basketball talent scout Sonny Vaccaro to come up with some ideas to keep the basketball shoe division afloat.

Sonny was just the right person for this because of his connections in the basketball world. He used to host basketball tournaments for high school kids where he developed beneficial relationships with coaches. One of the coaches that he was in touch with was Dean Smith, who coached Jordan at the University of North Carolina when he was playing for the Tar Heels men’s basketball team. He then came up with the idea of an exclusive show line with an NBA star and convinced the team at Nike to go ahead with this idea.

While Sonny’s dream to launch an exclusive show line did not happen at the time of ideation, he did manage to earn the trust of Rob and Phil because of his efforts. He managed to convert the coaches he knew into Nike ambassadors. With an offer of USD 5000, he managed to attract coaches to talk about the brand and the basketball shoe division. Sonny even got a young player named Larry Bird to feature on the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing a pair of Nikes. And while this did help boost Nike’s sales a little, Sonny still held on to his vision of an exclusive shoe line.

The Michael Jordan effect

Air movie

Sonny once again started chasing his vision for an exclusive shoe line when he spotted a young boy named Michael Jordan scoring the winning points for North Carolina. He knew Jordan was a legend in the making and decided to introduce him as the new spokesperson for Nike. Jordan’s coach, Dean, already had a tie-up with Converse, and Jordan’s personal preference was always Adidas, but Nike’s Marketing VP still gave a green light to Sonny’s vision.  They decided to have a meeting with Jordan’s agent, David Falk, to discuss things over. After all, they desperately needed to crack the sports shoe industry to retain themselves in the market.

Nike’s determined attempt to get the NBA player on board

Air true story

Nike was quite desperate to get Jordan on board because, at that time in 1980, their stocks were already hitting an all-time low. By 1984, the company had incurred great losses too. The NBA player representing Nike was a safe bet back then, and the team got working on it almost immediately. Rob, along with Nike’s creative designer, Peter Moore, met for a brainstorming session with Falk and discussed how to go about the new launch. It is said that it was Jordan’s agent who had suggested the name “Air Jordans” as well.

Convincing Michael Jordan

Air movie

The movie, Air, will slowly move to the point where they talk about the true story of how Sonny Vaccaro convinced Michael Jordan to represent Nike. Post the ideation, Sonny’s next task was to persuade the NBA player to ditch Adidas and convert into a Nike enthusiast. It was a hard task, considering that Nike was the least favourite contender at that time. He met the NBA player through his friend, George Raveling, who was assistant to the national team coach, Bobby Knight. While Sonny was confident that Michael would say yes to his proposal, the first meeting between the two was a nightmare. Things, however, changed when Jordan’s team won the Los Angeles Olympics. The player had not yet proved his worth, but Nike was ready to offer him USD 2.5 million for a five-year partnership with a 25% royalty on every shoe sold by Nike. This finally convinced the NBA player to say yes to the shoe brand.

Nike at this point understood that the decision to come on board for the deal was not just 21-year-old Jordan’s decision. Strasser and Moore then invited his parents to Oregon and gave them an introduction to the deal. At this time, Jordan indirectly expressed his dissatisfaction with the blue colours of North Carolina missing. His mother, Deloris, played by Viola Davis, then did all the discussions about the changes on his behalf to ensure that her son got the best out of the situation. Strasser was able to convince Deloris that Jordan would end up becoming richer than any basketball player, and this helped the deal become even more solid.

The introduction of Air Jordan to the world

Air true story

Even after several discussions, Michael was loyal to Adidas. He tried to persuade the shoe brand to propose a similar kind of deal. Adidas, however, could not make that happen. The basketball player then debuted for Chicago Bulls wearing a pair of Air Jordan 1s. He was even fined for not donning a pair of shoes similar to his teammates, but Nike covered those costs for the player too. It was Sonny Vaccaro, Strasser, and the team’s belief in Jordan that made them strike one of the biggest deals with an NBA player. Adidas and Converse could not do the same because they did not have that one thing that Nike had — their faith in Jordan’s abilities and the confidence that his charisma would make him a bigger star than his game.

What happened next? Well, that’s history. Nike became one of the biggest shoe brands with USD 126 million worth of Air Jordans being sold within the first year. Their target was just USD 3 million. Air Jordans also went on to become a cultural emblem in the sporting world.

More about the movie Air

Air Jordan story

The film marks Affleck and Damon’s first film backed by their new production company Artists Equity. Air narrates the story of Jordan’s partnership with Nike, but the basketball icon is not in the film or is portrayed by an actor. He, however, did guide the director about small details of the partnership. The film was initially set to premiere on Amazon Prime Video, but the distributors decided to screen the film in theatres first after it received positive reviews during test screenings. This made Air the second movie to be released in theatres without also premiering on Prime Video. Air had its premiere at South by Southwest on 18 March 2023 and was theatrically released in the United States on 5 April. The film will now release on Amazon Prime Video on 12 May 2023.

All Images: Courtesy IMDb

This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India