The year is 1984. Michael Jordan, to me the greatest basketball player of all time, is still a rookie, having recently joined the Chicago Bulls as their third overall draft pick, still far from his total of 32,292 points scored in his NBA career.
Yesterday I watched Air, an Amazon Prime movie directed by Ben Affleck and released this week, showing us how Nike executives went after the Jordans to try to turn Michael into their basketball shoes division spokesperson. I had never heard about the movie — until some Brazilian NBA sportscasters talked about it and how it would be release on May, 12. With Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing as the opening tune and many more nice music in the soundtrack, I found the movie plot very interesting.
And Air is not a movie about Michael Jordan. I mean, it’s not his biography. Ben Affleck, by the way, opted for not showing Michael on screen, directly. The director did this out of deference to him, because no one would portray him up to his legend. So it is that actor Damian Delano Young, who plays Michael, barely speaks during the movie, appearing few minutes and always shown from behind. When Michael does appear, it’s through historical footage, that is, using videos from his own games.
So, it is actually a movie about Nike. I didn’t know Nike was the underdog in the basketball shoes industry, I guess much because I’ve always seen Nike as the giant it is nowadays. Back in 1984 it had a very little marketshare, behind Adidas and Converse, the two dominant powers in the market. And Air shows Sonny Vaccaro, a Nike executive working directly with Phil Knight, the company’s co-founder and CEO, pursuing to hire Michael Jordan as a means to flip the industry’s game board — what they get to do, by closing a historical partnership which resulted in the Air Jordan sneakers family.
Now, I’m not a movie critic or a sports expert. But I really enjoyed the movie. It was nice to see how Air Jordans were sneakers customized to Michael Jordan’s feet, maybe the first ones to be made specifically for an athlete — as the movie makes us understand. Until Nike’s move, the athletes signed with Adidas and Converse and used the shoes these companies provided them without custom features.
From a business perspective — and the movie was pure business, it was something fantastic and unprecedented at that time. Along with another unexpected decision, the one of not only offering Michael Jordan a yearly salary of 500,000 dollars, but giving him participation in the sales of the Air Jordans, something that started a new trend, where athletes started to profit from their partnerships with sports companies.
The Jordan brand is perhaps the sneaker market’s most valuable name. When the movie finished, it was possible to understand that Nike targeted earning $3 million dollars in four years. But that figure was far off what really happened — and only in the first year, the shoe was so popular it sold $126 millions. Today, the Air Jordan brand fetches Nike and Michael Jordan $3 million in revenue every 5 hours. That’s amazing, and that’s way the movie makes us understand the beginning of. So, if you have the chance, give the movie a try.