The Film ‘Air’ Isn’t Actually About Michael Jordan At All (2023)

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The Film ‘Air’ Isn’t Actually About Michael Jordan At All (1)

The film “Air,” which tells the story of Nike’s signing of Michael Jordan, isn’t actually about Michael Jordan at all.

It’s about the beauty of design and the seduction of marketing. It’s about power suits, purple Porsches and Rolexes. It’s about white men languishing through midlife crises who salivate over the branding potential of a star basketball player.

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As for Jordan? Audiences just see his back as he strolls into the Nike offices and his hands as he admires the Air Jordan prototype – but never his face. In the entire film, he utters only three words.

Much has been made about Michael Jordan’s representation or lack thereof in “Air.”

How could a film about one of the most famous Black men in the world obscure his presence?

The film’s true power is its ability to convey an unnerving truth about the sneakers’ mystique: Jordan’s athletic ability was crucial to the success of Nike and Air Jordan; not so much his face – and definitely not his words.

In this way, “Air” becomes the story of how a struggling company created one of the most successful brands in the world on the back of a Black body, a tale as old as the nation itself.


In 1983, Nike’s marketing director, Rob Strasser, wrote an internal memo explaining the importance of using star athletes to sell their products: “Individual athletes, even more than teams, will be the heroes; symbols more and more of what real people can’t do anymore – risk and win.”

This memo appeared during a turbulent period for Nike. The company had gone public in 1980 with a listless opening. In 1984, the company posted its first losing quarter and initiated a monthlong wave of layoffs employees called the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

Who would be that hero? The ailing shoe company sought a body brimming with transcendent talent, a superhuman athlete.

Enter the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan, of whom Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird once said, “I think he’s God disguised as Michael Jordan.”

The Film ‘Air’ Isn’t Actually About Michael Jordan At All (3)

During the summer of 1984, Nike shoe designer Peter Moore and Strasser gathered in the Washington, D.C., office of Jordan’s agent, David Falk.

In a scene authors Rodrigo Corral, Alex French and Howie Kahn detail in their 2017 book, “Sneakers,” Falk, after exchanging pleasantries, looked to Strasser and said, “Rob, I’ve got an idea. I want to marry Michael to your airbag technology.”

Nike had developed its air cushions in 1977. It involved infusing the midsoles of shoes with pockets of pressurized gas to absorb shock, but the company was having a difficult time marketing it.

Falk then paused for dramatic effect, before uttering, “Air Jordan.”

In 1985, Nike released the first Air Jordan sneaker. A year later, Nike sold US$100 million worth of Air Jordan shoes and apparel, boosting the company’s profits to $59 million from only $10 million the year before.

After 38 years and 37 iterations of their flagship line of basketball shoes, Jordans have become a transcendent cultural talisman memorializing Michael Jordan’s career and basketball’s influence on American life – but also, his labor.

Today, Nike is worth a staggering $200 billion. Meanwhile, the Jordan brand, which was spun off into its own company in 1997, brings in billions of dollars per year, of which Jordan pockets 5%.

Buying a piece of Blackness

I’m writing a book that explores the intimate connections between sneakers and Blackness. In it, I argue that the Black body’s long history of objectification and commodification undergirds the branding, mass consumption and culture of sneakers.

What “Air” does better than anything else is to unbox a provocative, sobering truth about Jordans’ meteoric rise: They are cast as literal extensions of Black bodies. They represent the literal molding of a Black man’s feet, with their vulcanized rubber, leather and laces encapsulating Black athletic greatness and cool.

Finally figuring out how to sell Nike’s airbag technology was the other side of Air’s recipe for success.

In truth, Nike Air was a curiosity. It was unstable and unreliable. But runners became enamored with the idea of a cushioning technology they couldn’t see and much less understand. People knew they loved the sensation of Air even though the “how” remained a mystery.

The seemingly simple concept of explaining Air had eluded the company. In an interview with journalist Scoop Jackson, Bruce Kilgore, Nike designer responsible for the Air Force 1, articulated the difficulty of taking the air midsole from idea to execution to market: “How do you take something inherently unstable and put [it] into [a basketball shoe] that is all about stability?”

But six years after the development of the air midsole, David Falk cracked the code of Nike’s transparent, little black box: Don’t market the technology. Market the body that wears it.

This marketing ploy to shift the attention of consumers from mundane pockets of polyurethane to on-court performances, while indeed innovative, centers an incredibly old tradition of Americans seeing Black bodies as being spectacularly convertible to profit.

Air Jordans romanticize an American wistfulness for the stoic and branded Black workhorse. John Henry, the legendary steel driver, was a hero, and so, too, is Jordan. For Black bodies – Jordan and Henry, but also athletes like Damar Hamlin, who suffered a near-fatal injury during an NFL game in early 2023 – heroism is articulated through the hypnotizing anthem of toil and exhaustion.

Sports provide an easy cover for the perpetuation of this myth. Disgraced sports commentator Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder once said, “The Black is a better athlete to begin with … They can jump higher and run faster.”

How far removed is the marketing of Air Jordans from the words of Jimmy the Greek?

As the voiceover in the first Air Jordan television ad proclaims, “Who says man was not meant to fly?”

Bodies ripe for the picking

Before Nike’s dominance, brands like Pony, Converse and Adidas were popular on street corners and basketball courts around the country – a history told by DJ and author Bobbito Garcia in his 2003 book, “Where’d You Get Those?

Nike and the Air Jordan, however, represented a watershed moment in which this bubbling market of “sneaker fiends,” as Garcia calls them, went mainstream. Through artful placement in Black films – specifically Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” – with an assist from Michael Jackson and hip-hop culture and music, the Air Jordan line transformed sneakers into one of the most important footwear items and fashion brands the world has ever witnessed.

Nike would go on to feature scores of other Black athletes in its ad campaigns, and the names of these heroes ring off the tongue sharp and proud like a trumpet’s blare: Bo Jackson, Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant, Venus and Serena Williams, Lebron James.

None of this would be possible without Nike’s big bet on Jordan.

So why does a film give Michael Jordan, the man who had so much to do with Nike’s success, so little to say?

I believe the answer is as uncomfortable as it is simple: Michael Jordan isn’t the film’s subject, but its object.

In one of the film’s more memorable scenes, Nike marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro, played by Matt Damon, goes to visit the Jordan family in Wilmington, North Carolina.

When he arrives, he greets James, Michael’s father, before being passed off to the real decision-maker: Deloris Jordan, the matriarch of the Jordan clan. Viola Davis portrays Deloris with a drowning depth. Every utterance and glance simmers.

“Five generations of Jordans are buried in these forests,” she announces as she sits with Vaccaro in their backyard. She’s polite but distant. Her piercing eyes know to be wary of unannounced visits from white men in shiny cars. Everyone wants a piece of her son, and it’s her job to keep him whole.

In the film, before unveiling the Air Jordan 1 to Vaccaro and Strasser, Peter Moore, played by Matthew Maher, describes the shoe: “It has the logic of water, like shoe was always here, like it always existed.”

What Moore cannot know is how right he really is. Deloris Jordan and those five buried generations have always been here.

The Black body, from America’s inception, has always been there, as cotton and as sugar, ripe for the picking.The Film ‘Air’ Isn’t Actually About Michael Jordan At All (4)

A. Joseph Dial, Disco Network Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Purdue University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Michael JordanNBANike


Why didn't they show Michael Jordan's face in the movie air? ›

He's too big for anyone to imitate

In the midst of promoting the film, Ben Affleck has given an interview to the Hollywood Reporter, where he explained the conscious and excellent decision for the star not to appear in the film.

Is air movie accurate? ›

Despite some minor fabrications, Vaccaro says the film accurately depicts how the deal went down. “Everything that I saw, they were 80% on board,” said Vaccaro. “What isn't always correct, is the scenes weren't necessarily where they were in the film.”

What is the meaning of Air Jordan? ›

In the name “Air” means air cushion technology. “Jordan” means Michael Jordan who is an NBA basketball player. Also, “Air Jordan” or mj is a nickname of Michael Jordan. There have been many styles of Air Jordan shoes and it has been selling over the past 20 years.

What was one thing about Michael Jordan? ›

He was only the second player (after Wilt Chamberlain) to score 3,000 points in a single season (1986–87). Jordan was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player (MVP) five times (1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998) and was also named Defensive Player of the Year in 1988.

Why didn t Michael Jordan speak in air? ›

However, MJ himself never appears in the movie. Affleck explained why. “Jordan is too big. He exists above and around the story, but if you ever concretize him, if you ever say, 'Yes, that's Michael Jordan,' we know it's not, really.

Did Nike really pay Jordan's fines? ›

The NBA sent a letter to Nike, stating “the red and black basketball shoes” violated league policy, incurring a $5,000 per game fine. The NBA policy was that “shoes had to be 51% white and in accordance with what the rest of the team was wearing.” Nike welcomed the controversy, agreeing to pay each fine.

Did Michael Jordan approve of Air? ›

Michael Jordan Gave "Air" His Blessing, But Not Without a Few Special Requests. Ben Affleck's Air got the stamp of approval from Michael Jordan (yes, the Michael Jordan), and rightfully so. After all, the film is about the basketball legend inking his deal with Nike and the creation of his first shoe, the Air Jordan 1.

What was true in the movie Air? ›

'Air' is based on the story of Sonny Vaccaro

Vaccaro was brainstorming ideas for a sponsor for a new shoe line, when he considered players in the NBA's 1984 draft, which included Michael Jordan. Jordan was initially not considered, being an Adidas supporter, along with too expensive for Nike's budget.

Does Nike still own Jordan? ›

Air Jordan is a line of basketball shoes and athletic apparel produced by American corporation Nike, Inc.

Does Michael Jordan own the Jordan Brand? ›

He also owns the majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets, as well as a sizable percentage his personal brand under Nike, the Jordan Brand.

What does the word Jordan mean in the Bible? ›

In Hebrew, the name means “to flow down” or “descend.” Jordan is a biblical name and a perfect baby name option for religious people. In the Bible, John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan River.

What is Michael Jordan's famous quote? ›

"To be successful, you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve. And once you get to your highest level, then you have to be unselfish. Stay reachable.

What are 3 important facts about Michael Jordan? ›

Michael Jordan is an avid golfer. He played 36 holes of golf a day while in Barcelona for the 1992 Olympics. He hosted his own charity tournament, the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational, from 2001 to 2014, and has his own golf course, The Grove XXIII, in Florida.

What is the lesson from Michael Jordan? ›

Seven Life Changing Lessons Michael Jordan Taught Me Failure is part of the journey to success. When we let go of our fears, we're free to be more aggressive and take full advantage of our opportunities. Action breeds action. And if you're initiative and consistent in what you do, you'll succeed.

What disabilities did Michael Jordan have? ›

Michael Jordan took advantage of his ADHD symptoms – hyperfocus and hyperactivity – and merged them with his determination. And that's how he succeeded. Michael Jordan got blessed with an activity he enjoyed: basketball. He was the only accomplished athlete in basketball history who had ADHD disorder.

What disorders does Michael Jordan have? ›

Considered to be the best professional basketball player in history, Michael Jordan, who dazzled fans with his moves on the court, was diagnosed with ADHD. His accomplishments on and off the court have undeniably inspired many, including those with ADHD.

Was Michael Jordan a smoker? ›

In an interview with Cigar Aficionado in 2017, Jordan admits to smoking quite a lot. ”I smoke six cigars a day,” he said. He said again that the Partagas Lusitania was his favorite. “I like a big cigar, but I can smoke a smaller cigar, too,” Jordan explained.

What was Michael Jordan's fear? ›

But Jordan had aquaphobia, the fear of water. Michael's fear of water started when he was a young kid. It is reported that when he was 7, one of his friends drowned in the ocean and died. And Michael was holding his friend's hand trying to save him but he couldn't.

Why are Michael Jordan's eyes so yellow now? ›

That said, Michael Jordan may have conjunctival melanosis — specifically racial melanosis. It's a benign type of conjunctival pigmented lesion sometimes found in individuals with darkly pigmented skin. Conjunctival melanosis can increase with age, and is not shown to often progress to melanoma.

How does Michael Jordan deal with anxiety? ›

Michael Jordan told ESPN he never let nerves impede his performance because of the way he practiced. Jordan practiced harder than he played the games. He practiced so much he felt prepared for anything that came his way. Psychologist Andres Ericsson says "deliberate practice" is the key to peak performance.

How much royalty does Michael Jordan get from Nike? ›

Instead, Michael Jordan gets royalties from the footwear company. More specifically, Jordan gets 5% of the earnings from Jordan Brand. Considering that the brand made over $5 billion in 2022, Jordan's cut was very significant.

Why are Jordan 1 banned in the NBA? ›

While a pair of sneakers that Jordan wore were banned from play, it wasn't the Air Jordan 1. In fact, it was the Jordan 1 precursor — the Nike Air Ship — that was banned because of the color scheme "His Airness" wore.

How much money does Michael Jordan get from Nike? ›

According to Centuro Global, as of 2020, Jordan has made $1.3 billion from his Nike deal. Front Office Sports reported Jordan was paid $256 million from Nike in 2022 alone, more than doubling his entire NBA career earnings in one year of sneaker sales.

Who owns Air Jordan now? ›

The Jordan brand is owned by Nike (owned by the Knight family), as, at the time, the company was building its strategy to work with athletes to launch shows that could inspire consumers.

Did MJ sell Jordan to Nike? ›

The deal between Nike and Jordan

A deal was signed in 1984, which led to the birth of the world-famous Air Jordan sneakers and transformed Nike, in particular, into the globe-straddling sportswear company it is today.

Why is it called Air Jordan banned? ›

The NBA decided that the Air Jordan's design was too distinctive and would be a distraction to fans. As a result, the NBA banned the shoes from the league, and Michael Jordan was fined $5,000 every time he wore them on the court.

Are those real people at the end of up in the air? ›

If the individuals who are told they're being laid-off in Jason Reitman's film Up in the Air look genuinely devastated, that's because they're not acting. Rather than cast actors for those scenes, Reitman instead cast real people who had recently lost their jobs.

What is the true story behind the movie true story? ›

The following year Franco portrayed convicted murderer Christian Longo in True Story. The film was based on a memoir by former New York Times reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), who formed a strange bond with Longo after the killer assumed his identity while attempting to evade arrest.

Why was Vaccaro fired from Nike? ›

In the decades since, Vaccaro was fired from Nike, allegedly investigated by the FBI as part of an investigation into corporate espionage, hired by Adidas (where he signed Kobe Bryant as a high school student), and then, according to Vaccaro, burned by Adidas over what he says was supposed to be a $100 million deal ...

Who made Nike famous? ›

It was agency co-founder Dan Wieden who coined the now-famous slogan "Just Do It" for a 1988 Nike ad campaign, which was chosen by Advertising Age as one of the top five ad slogans of the 20th century and enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution.

Who owns Nike brand? ›

Nike, Inc. is owned by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman. Founded in 1964, it is an American multinational corporation that manufactures and sells clothing, footwear, and accessories. Currently, John Hoke serves as the company president and CEO.

Who owns the Jumpman logo? ›

The "Jumpman" logo is owned by Nike to promote the Air Jordan brand of basketball sneakers and other sportswear. It is a silhouette of former NBA player and current Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan.

How much does Michael Jordan make a day? ›

Jordan has a net worth of $2 billion. Though it's impossible to say how much his Airness makes in one day, that net worth equates to making about $5.5 million daily.

How long do Jordans last? ›

How Long Do Jordans Last? Similar to Air Max sneakers, Air Jordans can last around 7-10 years in storage. Occasionally wearing them can increase this time period. Conversely, wearing them daily can accelerate their deterioration.

How many businesses do Michael Jordan have? ›

Michael Jordan has stakes in a number of businesses. In addition to his investments, he owns a car dealership and five restaurants.

Why is Jordan important in Christianity? ›

As the site of the baptism of Jesus Christ, the Jordan River is the source of all holy water in Christianity and has for centuries attracted pilgrims from across the world.

What does Jordan mean for a girl? ›

Jordan Origin and Meaning

The name Jordan is both a boy's name and a girl's name of Hebrew origin meaning "flowing down".

What does Jordan mean in Greek? ›

From Latin Iordanēs, from Ancient Greek Ἰορδάνης (Iordánēs), from Biblical Hebrew יַרְדֵּן‎ (yardén, “Jordan (river)”).

What was the most important thing Michael Jordan did? ›

Considered one of the greatest players ever, Michael Jordan made 11 All-NBA teams, won 5 MVPs, 6 Finals MVPs and 6 NBA titles and crafted a legendary legacy.

Who was Michael Jordan's biggest inspiration? ›

Jimmy Rogers, the 'Bishop of Brixton' who inspired Michael Jordan | Marca.

What was Michael Jordan's best quote from the life book? ›

“Everybody has talent, but ability takes hard work.” “Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.” “Always turn a negative situation into a positive situation.” “To learn to succeed, you must first learn to fail.”

What is one thing about Michael Jordan? ›

On the court, Jordan played in the NBA for 15 seasons, winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan finished his career with the Washington Wizards, but those seasons were less memorable. Jordan's basketball accolades include six NBA Finals MVPs, five MVP awards and 14 All-Star nods.

What is one cool fact about Michael Jordan? ›

He was only the second player (after Wilt Chamberlain) to score 3,000 points in a single season (1986–87). Jordan was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player (MVP) five times (1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1998) and was also named Defensive Player of the Year in 1988.

What is Michael Jordan's personality? ›

Michael Jordan is an ISTP personality type. He is practical and has a drive to understand the way things work. Adaptable and relaxed, Michael values his freedom and there's nothing he dislikes more than being controlled or feeling restricted.

What does Michael Jordan the life talk about? ›

Lazenby draws on his personal relationships with Jordan's coaches; countless interviews with Jordan's friends, teammates, and family members; and interviews with Jordan himself to provide the first truly definitive study of Michael Jordan: the player, the icon, and the man.

Was Michael Jordan involved in the movie Air? ›

And according to Convery, although Jordan was not involved in the making of the film, he did speak with Affleck ahead of filming to weigh in on the story, including helping land Davis as Deloris.

How did Michael Jordan stay in the air? ›

Jordan makes it seem longer because he holds onto the ball longer than other players before shooting or dunking, waiting until he's on the way down to let go of the ball. His tendency to pull his legs up as the jump progresses also makes it seem like he's staying higher than he really is.

What is Michael Jordan's disability? ›

Michael Jordan

Perhaps the most accomplished athlete in basketball history, Michael Jordan is known to deal with issues of ADHD.

Did Michael Jordan approve air? ›

Michael Jordan Gave "Air" His Blessing, But Not Without a Few Special Requests. Ben Affleck's Air got the stamp of approval from Michael Jordan (yes, the Michael Jordan), and rightfully so. After all, the film is about the basketball legend inking his deal with Nike and the creation of his first shoe, the Air Jordan 1.

Is Nike involved with the movie air? ›

— The Amazon Studios film "Air" was released in select theaters on Wednesday. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon joined forces in co-producing and starring alongside a heavy-hitting supporting cast in the film based on the historic Nike deal between Michael Jordan and Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro.

What percent does Michael Jordan get from Nike? ›

More specifically, Jordan gets 5% of the earnings from Jordan Brand. Considering that the brand made over $5 billion in 2022, Jordan's cut was very significant. According to Centuro Global, Michael Jordan has made approximately $1.3 billion from his Nike deal until 2020.

Has anyone ever had a 50 inch vertical? ›

Volleyball player Leonel Marshall reportedly has a 50" (127 cm) vertical leap from standing.

Did MJ really have a 48 inch vertical? ›

Air Jordan: Owner Of The NBA Vertical Leap Crown

Major Achievements: Way too many to list. See link below. Bottom Line: Jordan's incredible full 4 foot vertical leap put the top of his head 6 inches above the rim and the bottom of his feet higher than the rest of our NBA studs.

How long can Jordan stay in the air? ›

It's measured from the moment something leaves the ground until it is back. An average human's hang time is about 0.53 seconds. Jordan's record is 0.92 seconds. That's why they call him His Airness.

Does anyone in the world have yellow eyes? ›

Amber eyes: A golden yellow or copper colour occurs due to higher quantities of the pigment lipochrome (yellow pigment) and very little melanin, and are considered very rare. Amber-coloured eyes are most often seen in Asian and South American areas of the world.

How much is Michael Jordan worth? ›

Who did Michael Jordan give a black eye? ›

During training camp for the 95'-96' season, an altercation broke out during practice and Michael Jordan punched Steve Kerr, giving him a black eye. Kerr said he felt he had "passed the test" with MJ and had earned his trust from that moment onwards. Steven Flores and 4,695 others like this.

Who has the lowest handicap on the PGA Tour? ›

Tiger Woods has the lowest handicap of any tour pro.

Technically, Tiger Woods hasn't had an official handicap since he was 20 and playing off +8.

What are 3 interesting facts about Michael Jordan? ›

Michael Jordan is an avid golfer. He played 36 holes of golf a day while in Barcelona for the 1992 Olympics. He hosted his own charity tournament, the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational, from 2001 to 2014, and has his own golf course, The Grove XXIII, in Florida.

Are Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan friends? ›

While Jordan has won six NBA titles and 10-scoring titles to his name, Woods holds a record 82 PGA tours and has bagged 15 major championships in his career. It is intriguing that the two athletes share an incredible bond despite being from different fields. Jordan and Woods have a relationship that dates back decades.


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