Michael Jordan Movie ‘Air’ Is In Essence A Mother’s Day Card, And Ja Morant Needs To Read Quote At Bottom

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In the 1975 classic “Jaws” that started the summer blockbuster craze, you don’t see the shark until nearly an hour into the movie.

In 2023’s “Air” about Michael Jordan’s first shoe contract, you never see Jordan’s jaws or face. Only the actor’s back. There are clips of the real Jordan, but no speaking parts by an actor playing MJ. Of course, who could?

Promotional poster for “Air” about Michael Jordan’s first shoe contract in 1984. (Photo By OutKick’s Glenn Guilbeau).

I kept waiting for him to appear or say something, but it doesn’t happen. Mainly we see Matt Damon’s newly created gut and some bad clothes on him portraying Nike marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro. This included a Members Only jacket – a 1980s staple that followed the leisure suit from the 1970s into fashion oblivion. By the late ’80s, the slick, light jackets had few wearing members.

Even without Jordan on screen, his presence is everywhere like the shark, though he is still years away from the iconic superstar and global brand he would become with the Chicago Bulls throughout six championships in the 1990s.

“Air” began streaming at 12 a.m. Friday on Amazon Prime Video after a five-week run in theaters across the country.

Matt Damon Plays Nike’s Sonny Vaccaro

Damon portrays well Vaccaro, a basketball talent guru who founded the ABCD Camp for elite high school basketball recruits in 1984. He is also known for starting the Dapper Dan Classic national high school All-Star game in 1965.

Vaccaro, now 83, signed Jordan away from the favored Adidas to Nike in a monumental upset in the summer of 1984 after the Chicago Bulls drafted Jordan third in the NBA Draft first round out of North Carolina. This was a time when the NBA finals were on tape delay, and guards like Jordan were an afterthought. The first two picks of the ’84 draft were center Akeem Olajuwon to Houston and center Sam Bowie to Portland.

"Air" looks like a great movie. It's about Nike's pursuit of former Bulls star Michael Jordan. (Credit: Screenshot/YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-C82BsqqnM)
Ben Affleck (left) as Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Matt Damon plays Nike sales executive Sonny Vaccaro, who signed Michael Jordan to Nike in the summer of 1984. (Credit: Screenshot/YouTube.)

“Matt Damon played Sonny really well,” ESPN basketball broadcasting legend Dick Vitale told OutKick last week. “I am very good friends with Sonny, and the intense personality of Sonny was played to perfection by Damon.”

Converse, which had a successful “Limousines For the Feet” ad in the 1970s, was the No. 1 athletic shoe company in the world in 1984 out of Massachusetts with a 54 percent market share, according to the film. Converse was the shoe of the NBA, too.

Former LSU basketball player and SEC basketball TV analyst Joe “String Music” Dean was at Converse for 30 years as a top sales executive and vice-president of promotions. But he lost the “sneaker wars” to Vaccaro and others, and soon left Converse as Jordan’s Nike shoes skyrocketed, becoming LSU’s athletic director in 1987.

Adidas. of Bavaria, Germany, was second with a 29 percent share in 1984, but rising, and the shoes Jordan loved.

Michael Jordan Went With Underdog Nike

Nike, a fledgling company in Beaverton, Oregon, known more at the time for jogging shoes, was at 17 percent sales. Damon’s buddy Ben Affleck plays eccentric Nike co-founder Phil Knight all the way down to Knight’s signature barefeet on his desk.

“Black people don’t jog,” says still-hilarious actor/comedian Chris Tucker, who plays Nike executive Howard White. The former Maryland star wants to help Vacarro expand Nike to blacks more.

“No black person is going to run 26 miles for no reason,” Tucker claims.

We see the talented Jason Bateman in his first role since the fantastic “Ozark” ended a year ago after four amazing seasons on Netflix. Bateman is not nearly as stressed as he was as Marty Byrde in Ozark. How could he be? But he is still somewhat stressed as Nike marketing director Rob Strasser, who does not give Vaccaro much of a chance to net Jordan.

Strasser was later credited with revolutionizing sports marketing while making Nike the No. 1 shoe company in the world via Jordan before leaving in 1987. He became CEO for rival Adidas until his death of a heart attack at age 46 in 1993.

The Air Jordan brand now represents $4 billion in sales annually for Nike.

Michael Jordan’s Mom Is The ‘Air’ Of The Movie

This is a sports movie about the shoe of the greatest NBA player of all time that hit theaters just as the NCAA Tournament ended, and the NBA Playoffs that never end were about to start. But it is also off to Prime Video just in time for Mother’s Day weekend. And that fits.

Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan wanted Viola Davis to play his mother in "Air." (Credit: Getty Images)
Michael Jordan kisses his mother Deloris Jordan after a championship (left). Academy Award winning actress Viola Davis (right) portrays Jordan’s mother in “Air.” (Credit: Getty Images)

We don’t see Michael Jordan, but we sure see and hear from his mother Deloris Jordan, played by Oscar winner Viola Davis (Fences, 2016). Deloris strongly directs the courting of her son, and Damon’s Vaccaro learns what so many college basketball recruiters know – recruit mom first.

The key strategy, according to the movie, that gets MJ to Nike is a percentage of each Air Jordan sold going to Michael Jordan. This was unheard of at the time, and Vaccaro did not think it would be approved by Nike’s board.

“Maybe that needs to change,” Mrs. Jordan says. “He deserves a piece. A shoe is just a shoe until my son steps inside it.”

Affleck’s Knight later tells a worried Vaccaro, “Let’s do it.”

Cute, since the Nike slogan would become “Just Do It” in 1988.

And Affleck adds, “You’re remembered for the rules you break.”

‘Air’ Ends With A Mother’s Day Card

Some of this is Hollywood’s patented “based on truth.” But Jordan did say in the superb “The Last Dance” Netflix documentary that his mother told him to visit with Nike after he said he wouldn’t.

“She told me, ‘You’re going to go listen to them. Even if you don’t like it, you’re going to go listen to them,'” Jordan said.

“He didn’t want to go to Nike, that’s for sure,” Vaccaro said on the Dan Patrick Show on March 22. “Family was what guided Michael. After the first meeting, I knew that the only way to Michael’s heart was his family. And Michael Jordan only listened to family and mom. No question.”

Jordan also listened to and was very close to his father, James Jordan, who was murdered in 1993.

Jordan would learn to fly in those Air Jordans, and the money flew in for himself and Nike, which was hoping to make $3 million in the first year. Air Jordans made $162 million that first year. In 2003, Nike bought Converse.

When Patrick asked Vaccaro if Jordan made Nike or Nike made Jordan, Vaccaro said:

“Jordan made everything.”

And Jordan always thanked mom, who is 81 today, for everything.

“She’s an unbelievable woman,” the real Jordan says at an awards ceremony in 2009 as the “Air” credits roll. “She tries to keep me focused on the good things about life – how people perceive you, how you respect them, what’s good for the kids. That all came from my parents. I’m 46 years old, and she’s still parenting me today. And that’s a good thing about that lady. I love her to death.”

And Ja Morant needs to read that quote by Jordan about perception before it’s too late.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau joined OutKick as an SEC columnist in September of 2021 after covering LSU and the Saints for 17 years at USA TODAY Louisiana. He has been a national columnist/feature writer since the summer of 2022, covering college football, basketball and baseball with some NFL, NBA, MLB, TV and Movies and general assignment, including hot dog taste tests.

A New Orleans native and Mizzou graduate, he has consistently won Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) awards since covering Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register (1993-98) and LSU and the Saints at the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004). In 2021, Guilbeau won an FWAA 1st for a game feature, placed in APSE Beat Writing, Breaking News and Explanatory, and won Beat Writer of the Year from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). He won an FWAA columnist 1st in 2017 and was FWAA's top overall winner in 2016 with 1st in game story, 2nd in columns, and features honorable mention.

Guilbeau completed a book in 2022 about LSU's five-time national champion coach - "Everything Matters In Baseball: The Skip Bertman Story" - that is available at www.acadianhouse.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble outlets. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, the former Michelle Millhollon of Thibodaux who previously covered politics for the Baton Rouge Advocate and is a communications director.

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