How ‘Air’ Film Is Different From The True Story Of Air Jordan


When the announcement for Ben Affleck’s Air was made, I personally thought that it was going to be the story of the living legend Michael Jordan and would take us through his fascinating and inspiring journey, but it turned out to be false, and I am glad that Ben Affleck and writer Alex Convery took a slightly different approach. Air is the story of a few people who were passionate about what they did and also about parents who made sure that their gifted son made all the right choices while climbing the ladder of success and never let it cloud his judgment or make him egoistic. Ben Affleck has taken a lot of creative liberty, but he has kept the essence of what happened in reality, intact. So, let’s separate facts from fiction and find out how much of it actually happened and how much of it was tweaked in order to dramatize the narrative.

Spoilers Alert

Was Nike’s Tagline Really Inspired By An Inmate?

At the beginning of the film Air, we see Sonny Vaccaro and Howard White in a conversation while Vaccaro is trying to decipher why Nike is lagging behind when it comes to basketball sneakers market share. Sonny liked gambling, and his bets were always backed by research and, sometimes, just pure intuition. He wanted to revolutionize the shoe industry and do something to convince A-list basketball players to endorse their brand, but due to the scarcity of resources and the brand’s public perception, he was just not able to figure out a solution. During his conversation with Howard White, a very interesting fact came to light when White said that Nike’s tagline, “Just Do It,” was inspired by the last words spoken by an inmate who had been given capital punishment. The death row inmate was probably done waiting for the day when the court would finally tell him that it was his last day, and in that frustration, he uttered the golden words, “You know, let’s do it.” The co-founder of an advertising firm, Dan Wieden, who was handling the marketing for Nike, found the phrase let’s do it very catchy, and he wanted to make that Nike’s tagline. Wieden changed the word “let” and instead used “just,” and just like that, the most iconic tagline in the world was created. It is funny how something so legendary had such grisly inspiration and how that tagline remains a benchmark for every copywriter and advertiser in the business.

Did Sonny Vaccaro Go To Meet Michael Jordan’s Parents In Real Life?

There is a scene in the film where Sonny Vaccaro, after having a conversation with George Raveling (the assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball team), decides that he needs to go to North Carolina to meet Michael Jordan’s parents, Deloris and James Jordan. In the film, it is shown that Sonny was finding it very hard to negotiate with Jordan’s agent, David Falk, who didn’t believe that Nike would be able to offer his client what Adidas and Converse were offering at that time. Air has shown that Falk and Vaccaro didn’t like each other, and that’s why Vaccaro decided to cut through the agent and directly approach Jordan’s parents and try to pitch Nike’s offer. In reality, nothing of this sort had happened, and Ben Affleck has taken some creative liberties to spice up the narrative and portray David Falk as the antagonist. It is true that Michael Jordan didn’t want to cut a deal with Nike, and his first choice was Adidas, but it was David Falk who told Jordan’s parents to convince him to at least hear out Nike’s proposal. David Falk loved the idea of a unique sneaker line that embodied Jordan’s personality and what he represented. David was an exceptional agent, and he knew a good deal when he saw one. He knew that Adidas and Converse were great companies, but they wouldn’t negotiate or compromise on anything as they knew that players would want to be associated with them because of their brand value rather than the other way around. But Nike, on the other hand, was struggling to increase its market share and was desperate to negotiate terms, sign a prodigy like Jordan, and revive its business.

Who Came Up With The Name Air Jordan?

As shown in the film, David Falk coined the term Air Jordan for the very first time, and in addition to that, it is also shown that Peter Moore also proposed the same name later, though we don’t know how true that is. David’s inspiration was the Nike Air-Sole line, and he thought that adding “Air” before the legendary player’s name would give a philosophical and larger-than-life meaning to the Jordan shoes. Today, the Air Jordan is not seen as merely a basketball shoe; it represents an aspiration, and that is the power of branding. Rob Strasser had correctly said that the value of the shoes is not assessed on the basis of their design or functionality but instead by the feet that wear them. The current generation wasn’t even born when these things were being decided in the Nike headquarters, and today, after almost 40 years, the youth still resonate with it. Jordan is not just a shoe; the ideation and the conceptualization make it no less than an artifact, and owning it makes us feel that we are part of a legacy.

Did Phil Knight Actually Come Late For The Meeting With Jordan?

Well, we don’t know whether Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike, came late for the first meeting with Michael Jordan and his family or not (most probably he didn’t), but the reason for which that scene is added in the film holds true. Michael Jordan’s first preference wasn’t Nike, as it was seen as a company that made running shoes at the time and was making most of its profit from them. Maybe the board of directors didn’t see the potential in the basketball market, and surely, they didn’t feel that launching a player-specific line of shoes was a viable option. Even after Jordan came on board, Phil Knight believed that a sales goal of 3 million dollars was a safe assumption, but Air Jordan earned them a revenue of 162 million dollars in the first year itself. We often underestimate the power of faith, but I think it can do wonders. Whenever a person wants to do something that hasn’t been done before, there are a lot of people around him who tell him how it couldn’t be done, solely because they cannot imagine it themselves. Sonny’s journey told us that having a dream is the easy part, but standing by it and staying determined, even when the world goes against you, is what matters in the end.

Did Sonny Vaccaro Give An Emotional Speech In Real Life?

As shown in the film, everybody in the Nike core team was nervous about the meeting with the Jordan family, and they knew that they had to make the deal no matter what. But when the stakes are so high, people generally cannot stay calm and get a sort of stage fright, which was visible on the faces of the characters in the film. They were fumbling and speaking in such a manner that it showed their desperation to sign the basketball sensation. It was then that Vaccaro took the reins in his hands and spoke to Michael Jordan in a manner that he couldn’t say no to the deal. Vaccaro spoke from his heart and made the Jordan family privy to the harsh reality of the sporting world. He said that Air Jordan gave them an opportunity to make Michael immortal, and that was something that rival companies could never offer him.

When we went through our research, we found out that, in reality, a similar sort of speech was given by Rob Strasser and not Vaccaro. Ben Affleck and Alex Convery kept the essence of the words intact, and he might have deemed it fit for Matt Damon to deliver them, considering his character was taking the lead in the narrative.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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