It’s 1984. Shoe salesman Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) is scouting for basketball talent at high school games. His company, Nike, is the clear leader in running shoes, but not even considered in other sports, let alone basketball. Sonny has a total budget of $250,000 a year he can spend on athletes marketing the shoe, which is nowhere near enough to attract any first-rate talent.
But Sonny sees Michael Jordan, who then was just a kid getting started. This story is about how the underdog Nike, led by Sonny’s indomitable will, is successful in recruiting Michael Jordan. He does the unthinkable and completely unacceptable: He shows up unannounced at the house of Michael Jordan’s parents in rural North Carolina. The picture above shows him talking to Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis) trying to convince her to come visit Nike for a pitch.
This movie is directed by Ben Affleck, who also stars as the iconic Nike founder and CEO, Phil Knight. Phil started the company in 1964 when he was a track team member in college, along with his coach as co-founder. In the first few years, Phil sold running shoes at track meets out of the trunk of his Plymouth.
I have heard people say this is a movie about Michael Jordan, but it’s actually not. It’s a movie about Nike and how a team of dedicated people succeeded in attracting Michael Jordan in a sponsorship deal which would change how shoes are sold worldwide. Michael Jordan isn’t even seen in this movie. He is usually outside of the frame. Only a few times he is seen at all, but partially obscured and only from the back. The only views of Michael are in archival footage that supports the story.
I could not watch Air and not think of the book Shoe Dog which I read and reviewed here five years ago. It tells the story of a startup, Blue Ribbon Sports, Inc, which later became Nike, from a one-man show to a global giant, making Phil Knight one of the richest people in the country. Nike was even included in the Dow in 2013, replacing Alcoa. I always thought it to be an incredible rags to riches story. If you haven’t read Shoe Dog, go and do it now.
And if you haven’t seen Air, go ahead. I predict there will be Oscars won by this movie.