Sport star endorsements are a big deal with fans investing into greatness and perhaps the fantasy that greatness might rub off on them should they wear a pair of Air Jordan’s. It might also explain why there’s never been an Air Carlton Palmer. Michael Jordan’s story as possibly the greatest basketball player ever is matched only by what a landmark deal was struck with Nike then playing a very much smaller position in the sports shoe market behind Adidas and others.

The 1980’s was a very different time and director Ben Affleck (who also plays a supporting role as Phil Knight the big boss of Nike) sets the period well with a great montage of music (Run DMC’s endorsement of Adidas trainers) as well as cultural and political moments.  Nike was a publicly traded company and yet few decent basketball stars wanted to endorse their sports shoes to such a degree that Nike’s basketball division was on the verge of being shut down and staff laid off. But it’s the company’s guru of the game Sonny Vaccaro (an entertainingly tubby Matt Damon) battling with a paltry budget that has to be used to share amongst several stars they want to contract to the company.  Sonny knowing they just can’t compete on the same level and budget as Adidas becomes one of those characters who reaches for the stars but at great risk to himsef, his colleagues and the company itself.  His plan to up the budget, put it all on one man – the rookie Michael Jordan and circumnavigate Jordan’s ferocious agent David Falk (a great turn by Chris Messina) is destined to be rejected as just too high a risk for the board of Nike.

The rest is history but there’s a line by Affleck’s Knight who tells Damon’s Sonny, ‘ It’s not the finish line it’s the journey’ and so it is with Air as Sonny commits and gives his all to get the deal. It culminates in a powerhouse speech in the board room that is truly inspirational. It’s the sort of reach for the stars moment that would never appear in The Graham Taylor story. Quite whether it was ever said is another matter but it’s a stand out moment in the film

Damon is great in the role and this is a well cast film with Jason Bateman as Nike’s divorced marketing exec (with another great speech about seeing his daughter), Chris Tucker, normally something of an on screen irritant but ideally suited to the role of player turned company exec and add to this Marlon Wayans as Olympics coach George Raveling makes this something of all boys picture. But once again its Viola Davis who single handedly balances it out in a supporting yet crucial role as Jordan’s mother Deloris who commands the film whenever she appears. She’s as much the powerhouse as Deloris Jordan was for her son watching out for him and in a pivotal scene cutting the ground breaking deal that would see her son’s income sky rocket forever and setting a benchmark that impacted on all future endorsement deals. The big man himself is never really seen, always having his back to camera or glimpsed in part which only adds to his myth but equally shows that the power behind the throne at that time in his life was his mum.

Affleck’s film , as much his ode to Jordan, is also a nod to the power of sports endorsement and there’s a debate to be had as to whether any sportsman should be paid the money that his contract entitles him to (he still earns a passive income of $400m a year from the deal) but then his brand boosted the company to the No1 position from which it’s never really shown any sign of slipping from. Air has Affleck and Damon working together on screen for the first time in years and Air shows that they’re still a great on screen combo.

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Here’s the Air trailer……


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