SALT LAKE CITY — Ben Affleck was 12 years old in 1984 and growing up in the Boston area. The Celtics were the NBA Champions. The Red Sox and the Patriots were respectable. The Bruins were swept in the first round of the playoffs.
And that’s also when Nike bet a lot of its future on Michael Jordan.
Part of that story will be told in the movie “Air,” directed by Affleck and starring alongside Matt Damon, Viola Davis, Jason Bateman and more. Affleck plays Nike co-founder Phil Knight, while Damon plays then-Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro – tasked with finding a way to save the company’s then-new basketball division.
Affleck made it with one main character absent: Jordan does not appear in the film.
“What I wanted to achieve was for Michael Jordan to have the effect of his story in the world, which is of course that the vast majority of people do not know and have not met Michael Jordan – and yet they know. about it, and they know what it means and they might talk about it,” Affleck said. “So, in a way, it’s like a presence that is felt and discussed and everyone else around him is there. But you never see his face.”
Nike ended up signing Jordan – who had yet to play an NBA game – to a five-year, $2.5 million deal.
It was a huge gamble.
Spoiler alert, with apologies to the movie that gets an April 5 release: It worked out.
Jordan Brand generated $4.7 billion in revenue in 2021, the Jumpman logo is iconic, Nike is now one of the most powerful and recognizable companies in the world, and Jordan won six NBA championships, became a billionaire, and owns the Charlotte Hornets now.
And since most viewers will already know all of those things, Affleck took on the challenge of telling lesser-known parts of the story.
“The film has to be realistic, it has to be authentic, and it has to surprise the audience,” Affleck said. “Because if the audience can predict what happens, even if they like it, they go with it, it’s normal, it’s boring. That’s not what I want to do.”
The trailer, which was released last week, has over 6 million views. Affleck was at All-Star weekend to help promote Friday’s celebrity game, and ads for the movie were displayed on the jumbo scoreboards above the court.
Affleck said he met with Jordan about the film.
“Someone asked me what are you doing in Boston making a movie about the guy from Chicago,” Affleck said in an interview with several media outlets. “I think Michael Jordan has the kind of competition.”
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