Ben Affleck: Michael Jordan shifted 'Air' focus away from himself

Ben Affleck directed "Air" and plays Phil Knight in the movie. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
1 of 6 | Ben Affleck directed "Air" and plays Phil Knight in the movie. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, April 5 (UPI) -- Director and co-star Ben Affleck said that Air, in theaters Wednesday, originally made Michael Jordan a more central character before Jordan directed the filmmakers' attention to his family and mentors.

Air is set in 1984, when Nike exec Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) persuaded Jordan to be the face of Nike's basketball shoes. Jordan never appears on screen in the film.


"Initially, to be honest, I was going to have it be a story about Michael himself saying, 'This is what I'm worth and this is what I deserve,'" Affleck said at a Zoom press conference.

Air Jordans have remained lucrative long after Jordan's retirement from the NBA in 2003. The film shows how Vacarro first had to convince Nike CEO Phil Knight (Affleck) that Jordan was the right choice, and then persuade Jordan to sign with Nike.


"His parents weren't so much a part of the story," Affleck said. "So I was trying to flesh that out."

In meeting with Jordan in Florida, Affleck was struck by how much the basketball great spoke about the other people in his life. Coach George Raveling became a character because of that, played by Marlon Wayans.

Jordan also spoke about Nike's vice president of athletic relations, Howard White, played by Chris Tucker in Air.

But, when Affleck asked Jordan about his parents, he discovered James (Julius Tennon) and Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis) were characters in the Air Jordan story.

"I saw an awe, a reverence, a respect and an adoration when he talked about his mother," Affleck said. "It's the story about Deloris Jordan and what she means to Michael."

Davis also was Jordan's first choice when Affleck asked the NBA superstar who he thought could play his mother. Davis said she found that personal request intimidating, but got to work researching Deloris.

"If you watch videos on Deloris Jordan, she is a study in zen neutrality," Davis said. "The woman is very, very steady and quiet. I would imagine that even when she gets mad, she's probably very, very, very steady."


Deloris fields offers from Adidas and Converse, as well. Michael is not interested in Nike, but Deloris sees the opportunity with the company.

Air explains how the Jordans insisted on Michael receiving royalties for Air Jordan branded shoes. Nike initially resisted this, but the Jordans ultimately set a precedent for future athlete endorsement deals.

"I wonder if she plays poker," Davis said.

Damon, who produced Air with Affleck, said he missed the meeting with Jordan because of a family obligation. However, he agreed that including Deloris was the key to making the story of Air Jordans a movie.

Alex Convery wrote the scripts based on historical events. However, Damon said the 112-minute film could only hope to capture the spirit of the year 1984 at Nike and the NBA.

"They were the underdog, which is such a weird way to think of Nike now," Damon said. "Before this incredible deal, they really were these kind of renegades, outsiders. That was really what we were trying to get."

Ben Affleck, Matt Damon attend 'Air' premiere in LA

Director and star Ben Affleck (R), and his wife, Jennifer Lopez, attend the premiere of "Air" at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles on March 27, 2023. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Latest Headlines