YOU KNOW MICHAEL JORDAN, NOW MEET THE OTHER KEY PLAYERS IN
Nike. Michael Jordan. The Air Jordan. They are some of the most iconic, instantly recognisable names in sport, fashion and pop culture.
Everyone knows these names. They’re all so recognisable that you might not think there’s anything left to learn about them. But, the story of how Nike and Michael Jordan first joined forces is anything but simple, and their success was anything but guaranteed.
Air, now streaming on Prime Video, tells the story of the meeting that changed everything, and does so with a star-studded cast: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans and more. We’ll leave it to the movie to let you know all the details, but why not get acquainted with all the people besides Michael Jordan who brought the iconic shoe to life.
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Leading this star-studded movie is none other than Matt Damon, who plays Nike basketball talent scout Sonny Voccaro. We follow Voccaro through his conception of the Air Jordan, the many, many roadblocks he faces while trying to bring it to life and his work with people who were all too ready to shut him down.
“AIR” depicts Voccaro truly going above and beyond to make the deal work, even going as far as driving out to North Carolina to meet with Michael Jordan’s family himself to get their blessing. Matt Damon puts his all into this role, under real-life bestie Ben Affleck’s direction, delivering a performance that’s both moving without getting too cheesy or sentimental.
Mothers know best, we know that, but Viola Davis playing Deloris Jordan, Michael’s mother, takes that mantra to the next level. If one single performance in “AIR” is gonna stay with you forever, it’s this one.
Davis plays Deloris as an unstoppable force, who will not budge until her son gets what she thinks he deserves. While no character could possibly have known how legendary Michael Jordan would become, Deloris frequently reminded all key players that he was something special. She’s resolute, powerful, and won’t settle for anything but the best. In fact, and no spoilers, she plays the most instrumental part in Michael Jordan’s longstanding success and wealth. She is the negotiator, and she’s electrifying to watch.
Not only is Ben Affleck leading the “AIR” ship behind the camera, but he’s also playing the big Nike boss — Phil Knight. In “AIR”, Knight is headstrong, a little bit eccentric and at the mercy of the Nike board. Amongst Voccaro’s insistence that signing with Michael Jordan — who was still in the very preliminary stage of his career — Knight is hesitant. The story is set in the mid-80s, yet we’re presented with a very current conflict: running businesses the way they always have been, or taking the dive and trying something new.
Affleck plays Knight as someone that’s confidently holding everything together, despite things feeling like they might fall apart for the deal. He spends plenty of time barefoot and exercising in his office, with plenty of comedic jabs to counteract Voccaro’s singular, unwavering focus. Hold out for the scene where they plan how to approach their pitch to Jordan — an absolute scene stealer.
In a trio filled with Voccaro’s optimism and Affleck’s confidence, Jason Bateman’s Rob Strasser helps deliver the right amount of pessimism (or, if you ask him, realism) that the team needs. “AIR” depicts Strasser as the sceptical middle manager we’ve all dealt with, always on standby to remind Voccaro how outlandish he thought the whole idea was. He’s definitely not the villain of the story by any means, moreso the grounded colleague who is risk-averse and understands what could happen to the business if they make the wrong move.
After all, Voccaro wants to spend the team’s entire basketball budget on this one player, and no-one really knew just how big the shoes would become. Bateman’s role isn’t exactly the flashiest, but it grounds the whole story and stops the plot from going over-the-top. It’s an inspiring and remarkable story, but that doesn’t mean everything (or anything) was guaranteed, and Strasser is always there to bring the team, and us, back down to Earth.
While the role of Peter Moore in “AIR” doesn’t have as much screen time as some other characters, his impact on the story, and the shoe, cannot be understated.
For context: the first edition of the now legendary shoe caused controversy almost immediately after it was conceived. As shown in Air, designer Moore helped make the very first Air Jordan prototype. There were some issues, though. At the time, and up until very recently, sneakers worn by players were required to be 51% black or 51% white. The Air Jordan 1, in its iconic black and red colour scheme, didn’t fit those criteria, and MJ would risk being fined $5,000 each time he wore them.
Maher plays Moore like a bit of a mad scientist, locking himself away in his studio, but his guidance (albeit a little wacky at times) helps bring the shoe that would change everything to life.
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