All Research

Air: History vs. Hollywood


Matt Damon
Born: October 8, 1970
Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Sonny Vaccaro
Born: September 23, 1939
Birthplace: Trafford, Pennsylvania, USA
Bio: Nike's Marketing Exec who Signed Michael Jordan

Ben Affleck
Born: August 15, 1972
Berkeley, California, USA

Phil Knight
Born: February 24, 1938
Birthplace: Portland, Oregon, USA
Bio: Co-Founder of Nike

Viola Davis
Born: August 11, 1965
St. Matthews, South Carolina, USA

Deloris Jordan
Born: September 1941
Birthplace: Rocky Point, North Carolina, USA
Bio: Michael Jordan's Mother

Julius Tennon
Born: December 24, 1953
Austin, Texas, USA

James Jordan
Born: July 31, 1936
Birthplace: Wallace, North Carolina, USA
Death: July 23, 1993, Lumberton, North Carolina, USA (shot to death during carjacking)
Bio: Michael Jordan's Father

Chris Tucker
Born: August 31, 1971
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Howard White
Birthplace: Hampton, Virginia, USA
Bio: Became Vice President of Jordan Brand

Marlon Wayans
Born: July 23, 1972
New York City, New York, USA

George Raveling
Born: June 27, 1937
Birthplace: Washington, D.C., USA
Bio: Team USA Assistant Coach when Jordan Won Gold at 1984 Olympics

Jason Bateman
Born: January 14, 1969
Rye, New York, USA

Rob Strasser
Born: October 5, 1947
Birthplace: Oregon City, Oregon, USA
Death: October 15, 1993, Munich, Bavaria, Germany (heart attack)
Bio: Nike's Director of Marketing

Chris Messina
Born: August 11, 1974
New York City, New York, USA

David Falk
Born: 1950
Birthplace: Long Island, New York, USA
Bio: Sports Agent who Represented Jordan

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

Why isn't Michael Jordan depicted in the Air movie?

You might be curious why a movie about Michael Jordan's monumental 1984 shoe deal with Nike doesn't actually show the basketball superstar, at least not his face. In researching the Air true story, we learned that director Ben Affleck, who also stars in the movie as Nike co-founder and CEO Phil Knight, said that the main reason he chose not to depict Michael Jordan in the movie was out of deference to him and because he's so famous and familiar to people that no one would be able to portray him without the audience saying, "This is a knockoff Michael Jordan."

Though we never see his face, you might be wondering who is the actor who portrays Michael Jordan in the Air movie? Damian Young is the actor who portrays Jordan in the film. We hear Young utter a couple of words of dialogue and see the back of the actor's head during crucial meetings with Jordan's mother (Viola Davis) and father (Julius Tennon). Keeping him hidden and almost entirely muted during these meetings leads us to believe that he had little agency of his own, despite that not being the case.

Jason Bateman's character, marketing specialist Rob Strasser, states in the film, "a shoe is always just a shoe until someone steps into it." The line reveals the gamble that Affleck took in not actually showing the man who so directly inspired the design of the Air Jordan. In fact, as we see in the movie, it's well known that Nike's strategy was to design a shoe to fit Jordan's personality, rather than forcing the 18-year-old future NBA superstar to embody a shoe that didn't represent him. Yet, that personality is largely absent from the film and we're forced to rely on our own recollection of the basketball icon (younger viewers will be at a loss in this sense since most are far more familiar with the shoe than the superstar behind it). The result is that the G.O.A.T., Michael Jordan, feels inconsequential in a film that revolves around him (technically, we do see the real-life Michael Jordan's face in archival footage).

Director Ben Affleck made the decision to not directly depict Michael Jordan in the movie. Pictured is the real-life Jordan as a young basketball superstar on the Chicago Bulls.

Affleck stressed that his film is not the Michael Jordan movie. It's not MJ's biopic. Air instead focuses on the founding of the historic partnership between Nike and Michael Jordan. "He owns the rights to his story," said Affleck. "And if he wants to make the story of Michael Jordan one day, I hope he gets a very big rev share of that, because he deserves it." The comment begs the question, was Affleck concerned about the rights if he chose to show Jordan? It's a decision that could have also more likely led to Jordan not giving his blessing. -Business Insider

Did Sonny Vaccaro really bypass Michael Jordan's agent and go directly to his parents to make his pitch?

Not exactly. In the movie, Michael's difficult agent, David Falk (portrayed by Chris Messina), is mainly concerned about financial gain. Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), who oversees looking for basketball talent for Nike sponsorship, decides to bypass Falk and travel to North Carolina to approach Michael Jordan's parents face-to-face. An Air fact-check reveals that this version of events seems to contradict what actually happened in real life.

While it was Sonny Vaccaro's idea for Nike to go after just one player, Michael Jordan, instead of three others, it was actually Jordan's agent, David Falk, who convinced Jordan to go with his parents and hear the pitch from Nike. Falk had phoned Michael Jordan's parents, Deloris and James, and told them that he needed Mike to go to Oregon to meet with Nike. Falk got a call back from Michael, who agreed to go to Oregon, but he told Falk that he was bringing his parents with him. When they arrived in Oregon, they met with Nike marketing specialist Rob Strasser, designer Peter Moore, Howard White, and Sonny Vaccaro. It's true the Nike's presentation included a video featuring the song "Jump" by The Pointer Sisters. -Valuetainment

Did Michael Jordan's mother, Deloris, play as pivotal of a role in his historic shoe deal?

Yes. One of the few demands that Michael Jordan made of the film was that director Ben Affleck accurately depict his mother's wisdom and brilliance when it came to negotiating the Nike deal. "None of this would have ever happened without my mother doing everything," Jordan told Affleck. He also requested that actress Viola Davis portray his mother, Deloris, in the film. It was his only explicit demand when it came to casting the Air movie-Business Insider

As Peter DeBruge of Variety put it in his review, Deloris is Michael Jordan's own personal "King Richard," a statement that somewhat accurately sums up her role in the negotiations. Her no-nonsense approach and genuine love for her son helped her to protect him and secure his future. According to Forbes, Jordan's estimated net worth as of March 2023 is $2 billion, with most of his money coming from his corporate deals, especially Nike (he made less than $100 million on his NBA playing contracts and was the highest-paid player during only two seasons of his 15-year career). In 2022 alone, Nike paid Jordan more than $100 million. Over the years, he has struck lucrative partnership deals with other corporations as well, including Hanes and Gatorade.

Was Nike really the underdog when it came to landing the Michael Jordan deal?

Yes. As depicted in the film, Nike was far from the juggernaut of a company that it is today. In researching how accurate is Air, we discovered that it's true that Nike was the underdog when it came to the shoe companies that were trying to negotiate a deal with Michael Jordan. In fact, Nike only had 17% of the market share in 1984, behind brands like Converse and Adidas. Nike was known for their running shoes and had a struggling basketball division.

At a press conference for the film, actor Matt Damon, who portrays sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro (the man who helped convince Jordan and his mother Dolores to sign with Nike), said that the movie tries to recapture the nostalgia of the era and "remind people they were the underdog — which is such a weird way to think of Nike now,” the actor said. “Before this incredible deal, they really were these kind of renegades, kind of outsiders."

Did George Raveling play a crucial role in Michael Jordan's Nike deal?

Yes. While exploring the Air fact vs. fiction, we discovered that Michael Jordan insisted that George Raveling be featured prominently in the film. Actor/comedian Marlon Wayans portrays Raveling, who was the assistant coach for Team USA when Jordan won gold at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the same year Jordan signed with Nike. "I wouldn't be at Nike without him," Jordan told Air movie director Ben Affleck during a lunch meeting. -Business Insider

Is Howard White, Chris Tucker's character, based on a real person?

Yes. When the real Howard White's NBA career got derailed by knee injuries, he switched gears and went to work for Nike. While researching the Air movie true story, we learned that White was instrumental in helping Michael Jordan weigh the deals that had been presented to him by various brands, including Converse, Adidas, and Nike. Howard White would go on to become the Vice President of the Jordan Brand.

"I was like, 'Maybe I can get Chris Tucker [to play Howard White]. I've always wanted to work with Chris Tucker,'" director Ben Affleck recalled saying to Jordan over lunch. "And he was like, 'I know Chris.'" Problem solved.

What were the details of Michael Jordan's contract with Nike?

A rookie at the time, Michael Jordan's Nike deal that he signed in 1984 was worth $500,000 per year, in addition to royalties. -Forbes

I heard that Viola Davis' real-life husband portrays Michael Jordan's father in the movie. Is that true?

Yes. Director Ben Affleck cast actor Julius Tennon to play Michael Jordan's father, James Jordan. Not only does Tennon portray the husband of Viola Davis' character in the movie, he is also Davis' husband in real life as well. Davis and Tennon met in 1999 when they were both working on the CBS series City of Angels. They married in 2003.

The Air true story reveals that in real life, Michael Jordan's father, James Jordan, was tragically killed on July 23, 1993. He had been at a golf outing during the day and decided to pull over on the side of a North Carolina highway to take a nap while driving home. Two men, Daniel Andre Green and Larry Martin Demery, spotted the new red Lexus SC400 that his son Michael had recently bought him. They shot James to death as he slept and then stole his car. James Jordan's body was found more than a week-and-a-half later in a South Carolina swamp. Green and Demery were captured and sentenced to life in prison.

Does Michael Jordan approve of the Air movie?

Yes. Air movie director/actor Ben Affleck asked Jordan for his blessing over lunch. During the meeting, Jordan presented Affleck with a short list of what he cared about seeing represented in the film. On that list was the crucial role that his mother, Deloris Jordan, played in negotiating his Nike deal. Affleck fulfilled each of Jordan's requests.