‘Air' dramatizes the evolution of Air Jordans
By Chuck Lavazzi
Sports fans revere Nike’s Air Jordan shoes for many reasons, and they wouldn’t exist without Nike basketball scout Sonny Vacarro’s absolute conviction that Michael Jordan was a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Nothing deters Sonny, not his antagonistic exchanges with Jordan’s agent, David Falk or Nike CEO Phil Knight’s refusal to invest the entire 1984 basketball budget of $250,000 in one promising player.
Aiding in his astute evaluation, Sonny gets encouragement from Jordan’s Olympics coach George Raveling plus support from Nike colleague Rob Strasser. It proves a Sisyphean struggle to scrape and fight for every inch when Jordan’s beloved Adidas shoes and Converse’s huge budget (including a Mercedes Benz 380SL) present formidable roadblocks. We all know the result of Peter Moore’s magnificent, innovative design and that Jordan’s Last Dance, NBA finals shoes auctioned off this April for $2.2 million.
Director Ben Affleck (who plays Phil Knight) has “Air” crackling with Alex Convery’s dialogue, quiet scenes alternating with loud, combative ones, especially agent David Falk’s vitriolic, profanity laced phone exchanges with Sonny. Robert Richardson’s cinematography beautifully presents interior and exterior environments, and William Goldenberg’s editing adds energy even to calmer scenes, not that there are many. But the film’s thoroughly entertaining presentation goes to Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro (he deserves an Academy Award nomination) and Viola Davis as Deloris Jordan. She’s the anchor, the dignified presence, the always perceptive person who conveys volumes with a glance and a calm comment.
Thanks to Deloris’ insistence that Michael earn a percentage of every Air Jordan sold, he still earns millions of dollars in royalties from Nike Air Jordans. A true revolutionary, Deloris stipulated the progressive belief that all athletes deserve to benefit from the use of their likeness and endorsements, an idea now reaching fruition, with Sonny also championing this then and into contemporary times. This concept lies at the heart of Damon and Affleck’s company, Artists Equity, that fairly pays filmmakers for their value through a sharing of projects’ profits.
“Air” presents a thrilling, behind-the-scenes drama of this gripping, equitable and profitable business deal, thanks to Deloris’ wisdom and Sonny Vaccaro’s tenacity and perceptive recognition of true greatness in its embryonic stage—one of the best scenes is Sonny’s explanation of how he realized Jordan’s greatness. This is entertaining filmmaking. “Air” is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.