A shoe is just a shoe — until someone steps into it.
This was the theme of the critically-acclaimed movie “Air,” which centers around the creation of the immortal Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes and the legendary basketball star who helped make them the highest-selling shoes of all time.
In “Air” Matt Damon plays Sonny Vacarro, Nike’s marketing executive who is tasked with finding an up-and-coming NBA player to help revive the company’s struggling basketball division in the mid-1980s. With a limited budget, and an uninspiring pool of rookie players to choose from, Vacarro takes on the daunting task of courting Michael Jordan, who has shown little interest in the Beaverton, Oregon-based company.
With a willingness to go all-in on the unproven star from North Carolina, Vacarro puts his job on the line and goes around Nike CEO Phil Knight’s . After showing up unannounced to the Jordan family home, he talks a skeptical Deloris Jordan into a meeting with her son and the team at Nike.
During a passionate plea to Deloris, Vacarro expresses his sincere interest in creating a shoe that is modeled after her son, which was rare among professional athletes in the eighties.
“I believe in your son, I believe he is the future. And his story is going to make us want to fly.”
Throughout the movie, the filmmakers take for granted the fact that a great deal of the members of the audience are aware of who Michael Jordan is. Damian Delano Young, the actor who plays Jordan has a very limited role in the film, so much so that he only speaks two lines of dialogue and you don’t even get to see his face!
For as much criticism that this “omission” has garnered from some moviegoers, Jordan’s visual absence from the movie adds to the mystique of his legend and helps highlight the work that went on behind the scenes to secure what wound up being the most lucrative shoe deal in the NBA.
To this end, “Air” is not a Michael Jordan movie, but rather a movie about the shoes and Nike’s overall effort to revolutionize the athletic shoe industry. If anything, it is Jordan’s mother Deloris (played by Viola Davis) who does the heavy lifting for her son. She understands her son’s value and pushes Vacarro and Nike to give her son royalties on each sale, the first deal of its type in the world of shoes.
“Every once in a while, someone comes along that’s so extraordinary that it forces change because they are so very special.”
On its surface, the movie is a sports fan’s dream, but it doesn’t take a fan of sports to enjoy it. At its core, Air is a story of redemption and an example of how perseverance ultimately wins out in the end.
Matt Damon delivers a compelling performance of a man who is driven by a vision of attaching a product to the most talented athlete in sports, by any means necessary.
Air is rated R for strong language and is playing in major theaters.