Sonny Vaccaro: ‘Greatness’ behind iconic Air Jordan brand introduced in ‘Air’ film

April 20, 2023 - 7:51 PM

“A shoe is just a shoe until someone steps into it.”

This iconic line of Rob Strasser, Nike’s vice president of marketing, portrayed by award-winning actor Jason Bateman, was the core of the film “Air.”

“Air,” now showing in Philippine cinemas, introduced the “great” brains behind the iconic Air Jordan brand of Nike.

The film was set in 1984 when Nike’s basketball decision failed to recruit top players to endorse its shoe company.

Rival company Converse, at that time, was one of the top brands, securing endorsements of legendary ballers Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Adidas, during that period, was also hyping its “cool factor” attracting the hot prospects from the draft, including the sought-after third pick, Michael Jordan. Jordan was then a guard out of the University of North Carolina.

To arrest the looming loss of Nike from its competitors, Sonny Vaccaro, played by Matt Damon, put his career on the line and the biggest gamble of his life.

He proposed to create a shoe designed specifically for Jordan.

Damon shared how Vacarro played a key role in the birth of the Air Jordan brand.

“It is an all-or-nothing gamble, but one in which he entirely believes because he absolutely knows and loves the game,” the actor said.

“But he’s at a point where his career is in a precarious place and Nike’s entire basketball division is on the brink. He is risking all their jobs by pushing that agenda because he’s been told Jordan really wants to go with Adidas. Their shoes are cooler, and Nike is considered a jogging shoe company that Michael doesn’t associate with basketball. Nobody really does,” Damon added.

The actor said this was what surprised him in the script.

“Because I always had this idea of Nike as this absolute powerhouse in the basketball shoe market, which they are now. But when you catch them at the beginning of this story, they are the clear underdog,” Damon said.

“One thing Sonny Vaccaro was very clear with me about was that the feelings of camaraderie, friendship and loyalty are his takeaways from that time. That’s what we wanted to put in the movie—a story about these underdogs doing something that had never been done before,” he added.

Aside from Vacarro, the film also introduced fellow Nike colleagues who revolutionized the world of sports and contemporary culture with the Air Jordan brand.

“Air” also stars Ben Affleck as Nike founder and CEO, Phil Knight; Chris Tucker as Howard White, Sonny’s colleague and advisor; Chris Messina as David Falk, Jordan’s agent; Marlon Wayans as George Raveling, one of Jordan’s coaches at the 1984 Olympics; and Viola Davis as Michael’s mother, Deloris Jordan.

The main cast also includes Matthew Maher as Peter Moore, Nike’s creative director; and Julius Tennon as Michael’s father, James Jordan.

More than the shoe brand, the film also unveiled the uncompromising vision of Michael’s mother, Deloris, who knows the worth of her son’s immense talent, and the basketball phenom who would become the greatest of all time.

“Air” is directed by Affleck from a screenplay by Alex Convery. It is produced by Peter Guber, Jason Michael Berman, David Ellison, Jeff Robinov, Madison Ainley, Damon and Affleck.

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Damon said he appreciated working with friend Affleck.

“Obviously, we’ve written and produced together over the years, but getting to work with him as a director was utter joy and so creatively rewarding,” the actor said.

“We tend to have similar sensibilities about what’s working in a scene and what isn’t, so we had such an ease with each other,” he added.

Affleck had similar sentiments for Damon.

“He is very, very gifted and it was a pleasure to direct him for the first time and discover even more about him as an actor,” Affleck said about Damon.

“I feel very lucky that my oldest friend and I are in the same line of work and get to work together. We’re doubly blessed in that way,” he added.

“Air,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Discovery company,  opened in cinemas nationwide on April 19.

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