Is Rob Strasser Based on a Real Person? Is He Dead or Alive?

Ben Affleck’s sports film ‘Air’ revolves around the origin of Air Jordan, the basketball shoe line that saves Nike from an impending fall. The company’s co-founder, Phil Knight, and his right-hand man Rob Strasser join hands with Sonny Vaccaro, a salesman who introduces the idea of launching a shoe line by striking a deal with Michael Jordan, who hasn’t played in the NBA at the time. Strasser plays a vital role in introducing the shoe line that saves the footwear company from a tragedy, making the viewers intrigued about the character’s real-life counterpart. Well, here’s what we can share about the same!

The Real Inspiration Behind Rob Strasser

Yes, Rob Strasser is based on an actual person. The character is based on the eponymous executive who worked for Nike when Michael Jordan joined hands with the company to launch Air Jordan. Strasser and Phil Knight met while the former was working at a law firm in Portland. He was assigned to settle an international dispute for Knight’s company Blue Ribbon Sports, which eventually became Nike. “Strasser was our five-star general, and I was ready to follow him into any fray, any fusillade,” Knight wrote about the lawyer in his memoir ‘Shoe Dog.’

Rob Strasser (left)//Image Credit: Brendan Dunne/Twitter

The co-founder’s trust and belief in Strasser paved the way for the latter’s growth to become the company’s Marketing Director. In 1984, Nike wanted to sign a college basketball player who had the potential to become an icon. According to reports, Sonny Vaccaro asked Knight to strike a deal with Michael Jordan before the player even debuted with the Chicago Bulls. Knight assigned Strasser to close the deal with Jordan, especially when the player’s camp had their mind set on signing with Adidas.

Nike then brought the budding basketball star and his parents to Oregon to listen to the company’s presentation, done by none other than Strasser. Although Jordan’s agent had concrete talks with Adidas to sign a deal, the said presentation made the difference. “I absolutely fell in love with (Strasser) when he actually made the first presentation of the Jordan thing, the Air Jordan concept,” Jordan said about Strasser’s pitch, according to USA Today. The Marketing Director was a big part of Nike’s success story.

Yet, along with the company’s growth, the differences between Strasser and Knight also grew. By the late 1980s, the conflicts between the two paved the way for his exit from the company. “He [Strasser] felt that he should no longer be taking orders from anyone, including me. Especially me. We clashed too many times, and he quit,” Knight added in his memoir. In 1987, Strasser and Air Jordan designer Peter Moore formed a consultancy firm named Sports Inc. Meanwhile, Nike’s top rival, Adidas, considered him an unmissable potential asset. In 1989, Strasser joined Adidas with Moore.

Rob Strasser Died From a Heart Attack

After joining one of Nike’s most competitive rivals, Rob Strasser served as the Chief Executive of Adidas America, a privately held company started by Adidas. In 1993, the Adidas America team attended a sales meeting in Sonthofen, a resort town in southern Germany. During the session, Strasser fell ill and was taken to a nearby clinic in an ambulance. He was eventually taken to Munich in a helicopter. The Cardiologist who treated Strasser found it hard to pinpoint the cause of his distress but concluded that he must have suffered from a heart attack.

Although Strasser returned to the United States for further treatment, he died on October 30, 1993, at 46. His wife, Julie, told the press that her husband appeared to be recovering, only to die of a massive heart attack after he was taken out of intensive care. ″Nobody is going to replace Rob’s broad shoulders, his creative insights, nor his love and flare with people,″ said Peter Moore, who served as Adidas International’s Creative Director at the time, in a statement.

Rob Strasser was survived by his wife Julie, daughter Avery, parents Robert and Marilyn Strasser, and sister Rebecca Hicks. After several decades, Air Jordan remains one of the most celebrated sports-based shoe lines of all time. Several individuals involved in the original deal between Nike and Jordan have contested the importance and influence of the others in the deal.

As far as Moore is concerned, Air Jordan is a big part of Strasser’s legacy. “[Strasser] was an MVP in the deal. He was the one who decided that Nike needed a basketball icon. He figured out that Nike was going nowhere in basketball, which at the time was on the brink of becoming a big, big market opportunity. […] It all makes great sense today, 30 years later, but back then, Rob’s idea was thought to be risky, and so we kind of Just Did It,” Moore told USA Today for the same feature.

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