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‘Air’ Jumps for the Stars

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Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for “Air.”

Nike, one of the world’s most popular sporting brands, has a surprising yet heartwarming underdog tale. According to Ben Afflick’s “Air”, Nike rose into its position of dominance in the mid-’80s and ‘90s from a minimal share of 17% in the sports footwear industry after being outmatched by giants such as Converse and Adidas. 

The film was released on April 5 and sheds light on a specific time frame in Nike’s journey, portraying how a single deal with the legendary Michael Jordan set up Nike for success.

It follows the true story of Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), a talent recruiter at Nike. Vaccaro is in charge of scoping out young basketball players and convincing them to sign a line of shoes with Nike in exchange for sponsorship, endorsement and monetary compensation. The company is in a state of turmoil and the board of directors has put heavy restrictions on the budget allotted for basketball player deals. Vaccaro has also been facing hard luck in finding the next promising player that will sign a deal with Nike and propel the company toward financial success. 

Damon takes Vaccaro’s character and makes it his own, perfectly fitting into the role’s big shoes. His portrayal of the middle-aged businessman is sympathetic yet fierce at the same time, and audiences cannot help but root for his character to succeed. Vaccaro finds the player he has been searching for while watching a videotape of Michael Jordan jumping and scoring the winning basket. Vaccaro simply knows by watching Jordan’s game sense that he will become a name to be remembered and will go down in history as one of the greats of the game. 

Enthusiastic to start a Nike shoe line in partnership with Jordan, Vaccaro takes a big risk and travels to North Carolina to visit Jordan’s parents. Calm, firm, and resilient, Jordan’s mother Deloris (Viola Davis) knows her son’s potential and value, and communicates them bluntly to Jordan. 

From this point on, “Air” becomes a tale of grit, determination and passion — and shows its characters following their dream and their gut. The writing ensures a perfect pace, slow enough to let the audience take in the emotion and weight behind character decisions and motives, yet never slowing down so much that the story lags. The characters themselves are appropriately cast and stunningly portrayed. Nike CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) seems to place logic and reason above all else, but as the movie progresses he recognizes the importance of risks and the power of intuition. 

The movie also makes the wise decision to never show Michael Jordan (Damian Delano Young) from the front. This decision helps the writers place Jordan in relevant scenes and situations, but strategically helps the audience refrain from trying to compare the actor himself to Michael Jordan in real life. 

“Air” also balanced secondary characters and their story arcs and weaved them seamlessly into the main narrative. At various points in the movie, it is often secondary characters like Howard White (Chris Tucker), Vaccaro’s friend and colleague, who provides the voice of reason and support. 

Along with this, “Air” does a great job of introducing the audience into the world of sports footwear and the financial web of competing companies in the business. While not being overly technical, the movie provides intricate and relevant details regarding the motivations of Nike and its competitors, Adidas and Converse. 

However, the writers ensure that the movie does not get burdened with numerous technicalities and presents this information to the audience who are interested, while at the same time ensuring that the rest of the audience does not feel lost.

Overall, “Air” tells the age-long stories of pursuing one’s dreams and passions, being determined in the face of uncertainty and overcoming obstacles to achieve one’s destiny. However, through the use of well-written and beautifully enacted characters, paired with impactful writing and dialogue, “Air” puts its own personal spin and style to these age-long stories. 

Telling the story of one of the most popular sports shoes of all time, “Air” sets itself apart from other movies with a similar structure through the use of relatable characters who feel and act familiarly human, especially in dire situations. Despite the fact that the majority of the audience knows the ending of its story, “Air” incorporated riveting twists and turns to keep the audience engaged until its conclusion, making it even more memorable.

Ishan Varshney is an Arts & Entertainment Intern for the spring 2023 quarter. He can be reached at