Air: Is Ben Affleck Movie Inspired by a True Story?

Directed by Ben Affleck, ‘Air,’ or ‘Air: Courting a Legend’ is a sports movie set in one of the unlikeliest settings for the genre. The story primarily revolves around a shoe salesman named Sonny Vaccaro, who is asked to boost his company’s business. To achieve his goal, he sets his sights on a rookie basketball player, much to the surprise of many. Not satisfied with simply making a deal, Sonny suggests that the company create a whole line based around the player, leading to the origin of Air Jordan.

Starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Jason Bateman, the film captures the viewers’ attention due to the intriguing premise that centers around some well-known celebrities. However, the plot has led people to wonder just how much of the showcased story is based on real-life events. Is the journey of Nike and Michael Jordan shown in the movie true to life? These are only some of the many questions that viewers cannot help but ask.

Air: Based on Nike-Jordan’s Historic Deal

Yes, ‘Air’ is based on a true story. The life-changing deal the movie revolves around occurred in real life and led to some extraordinary events. As mentioned in ‘Air,’ in 1984, Nike signed up with Michael Jordan, thanks to the efforts put in by Sonny Vaccaro, and released a unique line of shoes called the Air Jordan. The then-rookie player was given $2.5 million for this deal, about three times more than any other deal within the National Basketball Association (NBA).

As Nike signed up with Michael, they hoped to make about $3 million during the next three years. Yet, thanks to the quality of their shoes and the Chicago Bulls player’s stunning performance, the company earned $126 million in a single year. The Air Jordans were initially only used by Michael, starting with the NBA games in October 1984. Although, on April 1, 1985, the line was made available to the public, with people eager to buy the product.

The journey this particular real-life story took to be adapted into a movie is quite interesting. It all started with a script by Alex Convery that appeared in The Black List in 2021 at the 13th position, with Mandalay Pictures and Skydance Sports listed as producers. The latter two brought the script to Ben Affleck’s attention, leading to this motivating biopic’s creation.

“I wasn’t thinking about doing the story at all until I got the script from Skydance and Mandalay, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a spectacular story,’ and what I liked was that it was a story about people aspiring to something and struggling, each of them struggling, and it felt very real but also felt like an opportunity for humor, pathos, and passion, and meaning,” Affleck shared with USA Today. “Also, a big part of this was we started this new company, this new studio, that sought to build this new model of financing and producing movies that would compensate artists in a reputable, equitable way, and I want to try to fight to demonstrate and show the value in dramas.”

Interestingly, one of the most noticeable things about the movie is the absence of any on-screen counterpart for one of the most crucial characters of the story, Michael Jordan. “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. It’s fake.” Affleck explained to The Hollywood Reporter. That is not to say that the legendary basketball player had no input into the script.

“When I reached out to him [Michael] – and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few interactions with him, get to know him a little bit over the years – one of the things that was really telling about Michael was that I got the sense that he was not interested in somebody doing hagiography or a self-aggrandizing,” Affleck said. “He was like, ‘Hey, here’s a few things, that this is what I know and this is what’s meaningful to me.’ He didn’t seek to have any input about anything around at all that happened that he didn’t have first-person information about.”

The one request that Michael Jordan did have was to have actress Viola Davis play his mother, a choice that is certainly understandable given how well she portrays Deloris Jordan. Fittingly, Viola’s husband, Julius Tennon, can be seen in the movie as James R. Jordan Sr, Michael’s father. Almost every cast and crew member seemed to have enjoyed making this biopic that pays homage to one of the most iconic basketball players and a company that bet on him before most of the world even knew his name.

In all, ‘Air’ revolves around real-life events that took place in 1984 and led to creation of a story as iconic as the Jumpman logo of Air Jordan. The movie is factual when needed and has the seal of approval from Michael Jordan himself. Much of the movie’s engagement can be attributed to its compelling story. Nevertheless, one must also appreciate the stellar acting done by the cast and the directorial choices made by Ben Affleck.

Read More: Where Was Air (2023) Filmed?