The movie AIR was released on April 5th of this year and it is about the legendary partnership deal between NIKE and Michael Jordan that came to fruition. We get a chance to get a sneak peak behind the scenes look at how the sneaker industry and marketing works for a top athlete such as Michael Jordan and what it takes to make these types of deals happen. As a fellow sneakerhead of course I was anticipating this film because the Jordan 1 silhouette is not only the most popular silhouette till this day but it will always be a classic shoe that will be around for generations to come. However, the film doesn’t necessarily focus or cater to sneakerheads. It focuses more on the storyline of the actual characters such as Sonny Vaccaro, Rob Strasser, David Falk, Howard White, Phil Knight, and of course the legendary Deloris Jordan. AIR is not a movie about sneaker culture at all really, but more so a movie that highlights how black mothers are the foundation for black athletes at the professional level and how the Jordan family started the conversation about young athletes, especially Black athletes, being compensated for their talents.
The film is the first project from Affleck and Damon’s Artists Equity, in collaboration with Amazon Studios, Skydance Sports and Mandalay Pictures. The film focuses on the rise of Nike and Michael Jordan, who joined forces to create the Air Jordan brand. At the time Nike was second string to Converse, while Jordan was a rookie that had never stepped foot on an NBA court. As the film carries on the audience begins to realize that the movie is focused on the storyline of Sonny Vaccaro, Deloris Jordan, Rob Strasser, David Falk, and Phil Knight in creating a brand for the North Carolina rookie Michael Jordan.
To give some background information on a few of these characters, let’s start with the legendary Sonny Vaccaro. Sonny Vaccaro is a former marketing executive who is known for his contributions to the world of sports marketing. He is particularly known for his work with Nike and Michael Jordan.
In the 1980s, Vaccaro was working as an executive at Nike, where he helped the company sign some of the biggest names in basketball, including Michael Jordan. Vaccaro was instrumental in convincing Nike to create the Air Jordan line of sneakers, which became one of the most successful and iconic sneaker lines in history.
Vaccaro is also credited with popularizing the concept of paying college basketball players to wear specific brands of sneakers. In the 1990s, he helped broker a deal between Nike and the University of Michigan basketball program, which became the first college program to sign a team-wide endorsement deal with a shoe company. Overall, Sonny Vaccaro is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in sports marketing, and his contributions to the world of basketball and sneaker culture are still felt today.
Rob Strasser was a former Nike executive who played a significant role in the company’s early success and growth. He joined Nike in 1979, when the company was still a relatively small athletic shoe manufacturer based in Beaverton, Oregon.
As Nike’s Vice President of Marketing, Strasser was responsible for creating many of the company’s most successful advertising campaigns, including the “Bo Knows” and “Just Do It” campaigns. He also played a key role in building Nike’s relationships with high-profile athletes and sports teams, including Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Rob Strasser played a key role in developing and promoting the Air Jordan line of sneakers. When Michael Jordan signed with Nike in 1984, the company was still a relatively small player in the athletic shoe market. Strasser recognized the potential of Jordan’s talent and charisma, and he worked closely with him and his agent, David Falk, to create a marketing strategy that would help establish Jordan as a global brand.
Strasser was instrumental in designing the Air Jordan line of sneakers, working closely with Jordan to create shoes that were both stylish and functional for basketball players. He also helped promote the Air Jordan brand through innovative advertising campaigns and partnerships with high-profile athletes and celebrities.
Thanks to Strasser’s efforts, the Air Jordan line of sneakers became a massive success, helping to establish Nike as one of the most dominant players in the athletic shoe market and making Michael Jordan one of the most recognizable and successful athletes in history.
David Falk on the other hand is a prominent sports agent who is best known for his representation of Michael Jordan during his career in the NBA and beyond.
Falk first began representing Jordan in 1984, when he negotiated his landmark endorsement deal with Nike. The deal was unprecedented at the time, and it helped establish Jordan as one of the most recognizable and marketable athletes in history.
In addition to his work with Nike, Falk also negotiated Jordan’s contracts with the Chicago Bulls and other endorsement deals with companies such as Gatorade, McDonald’s, and Hanes. He also played a key role in helping Jordan transition from his playing career to his post-basketball business ventures, including his ownership of the Charlotte Hornets and his work with Nike’s Jordan Brand.
Overall, Falk’s representation of Jordan helped establish him as one of the most successful and influential athletes in history, and it also helped to set new standards for athlete endorsements and brand partnerships.
Another vital person to the development of the Air Jordan brand and legacy was Howard White who was played by legendary actor Chris Tucker. Howard White is a former Nike executive who played a significant role in the development and promotion of the Air Jordan line of sneakers, as well as in the branding and marketing of Michael Jordan as a global icon.
White joined Nike in 1980, and he became one of the key figures in the company’s efforts to build relationships with high-profile athletes and sports teams. He was instrumental in getting Michael Jordan to sign with Nike in 1984, and he worked closely with Jordan throughout his career to develop and promote the Air Jordan brand. In addition to his work with the Air Jordan line of sneakers, White was also involved in the development and promotion of other Nike shoe models, including the classic and ever so popular Nike Dunk and the Nike Air Force 1.
White retired from Nike in 2020, but his contributions to the company’s success and his role in shaping the legacy of Michael Jordan and the Air Jordan brand continue to be celebrated as a key part of Nike’s history and culture.
Last but certainly not least was the very important foundation piece for Jordan’s brand–his mother Deloris Jordan. Michael Jordan’s mother, Deloris Jordan, did not directly broker his Nike shoe deal. However, she did play an important role in the process.
According to various sources, including Michael Jordan’s own autobiography, his mother was the one who initially convinced him to meet with Nike executives in 1984. At the time, Jordan was more interested in signing with Adidas, but his mother urged him to listen to Nike’s pitch.
During the meeting, Nike’s marketing team made a strong impression on Jordan with their vision for a new line of basketball shoes and their willingness to create a brand around him as a young, up-and-coming star. Jordan was also impressed by Nike’s commitment to supporting him in his personal and philanthropic endeavors.
The original deal that Jordan signed with Nike in 1984 was a five-year contract worth $500,000 per year, with additional bonuses for performance-based incentives. This deal included the creation and marketing of the Air Jordan line of sneakers, as well as other merchandise featuring Jordan’s name and image.
However, as Jordan’s popularity and success grew, so did the terms of his deal with Nike. In 1992, Jordan signed a new contract with Nike that was reportedly worth $20 million per year, making him one of the highest-paid athletes in the world at the time. This new deal included royalties on the sales of the Air Jordan line of sneakers, as well as a percentage of the profits from other Jordan-branded merchandise. So while Jordan did eventually receive a percentage of the sales of his branded products, it was not part of his original deal with Nike, and it took several years of success and negotiation for him to secure those terms.
While Deloris Jordan did not directly negotiate or finalize the deal, her influence on Michael’s decision to consider Nike played an important role in shaping the trajectory of his career and the legacy of the Air Jordan line of sneakers.
AIR focuses on all of these key figures in shaping the iconic Jordan Brand we recognize today. We always hear about the stories but we don’t see the behind the scenes legwork it takes to build something great. What I enjoyed most about the film is it showcases the strength, wisdom, and support of a black mother for her young black son in an industry that typically “pimps” our young black athletes for their talents and skills and not getting anything in return. I believe it’s important to highlight the black mothers of black athletes who have gone above and beyond to not only support their child but also protect their children from being used by these larger entities.
A few notable mothers we should highlight that are very involved with the wellbeing of their sons are Wanda Pratt who is the mother of the superstar Kevin Durant, Brandy Cole who is the mother of Jason Tatum, WNBA player Pamela Mcgee whose son is Javale McGee the center for the Denver Nuggets, and Kawhi Leonard and his mother Kim Leonard who gave him all the support he needed after his father was killed at an early age. When Kawhi Leonard was drafted he lived with his mother for his first few years in the NBA. Later he bought a house 10 minutes away and gave the larger house to his mother. Our athletes are celebrated for their talents and high skill level of a professional sport, but really we overlook how black mothers are really the solid foundation for our athletes achieving their accolades.
Lastly, the movie AIR focuses on the beginning of the conversation and idea of the NIL initiative. NIL stands for “name, image, and likeness,” and refers to the ability of college athletes in the United States to profit from the use of their name, image, and likeness without violating NCAA rules. NIL deals allow athletes to receive compensation for the use of their personal brand and can include a wide range of activities such as endorsements, social media sponsorships, appearances, and autograph signings.
Prior to July 1st, 2021, college athletes were not allowed to profit off their NIL due to NCAA rules. However, after several state legislatures passed bills allowing for NIL compensation, the NCAA announced that it would permit NIL deals for college athletes.
NIL deals work by allowing college athletes to sign endorsement contracts with companies and receive compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness. Athletes can negotiate deals directly with companies or use an agent to help them secure endorsement opportunities. These deals can vary widely in terms of compensation and requirements, with some athletes earning thousands of dollars per endorsement while others receive smaller compensation for social media posts or appearances.
One important aspect of NIL deals is that they must be reported to the athlete’s school and the NCAA. This helps to ensure that deals are legitimate and comply with NCAA rules. Additionally, athletes must make sure that their NIL deals do not conflict with their team’s existing contracts, such as those for sponsorships or uniforms.
Overall, NIL deals provide a new way for college athletes to benefit from their personal brand and earn income while still competing at the collegiate level. Sonny Vaccaro has been a vocal advocate for college athletes’ rights for many years. He played a key role in initiating the NIL initiative by helping to connect athletes with endorsement deals while he worked for major sports apparel companies such as Nike and Adidas.
In the early 1990s, Vaccaro was instrumental in securing endorsement deals for high school basketball players, including Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. He believed that these athletes deserved to be compensated for their talent and the use of their name, image, and likeness.
Vaccaro continued to advocate for athletes’ rights throughout his career, and he was one of the first people to publicly call for college athletes to be able to profit from their NIL. He argued that it was unfair for colleges and the NCAA to make millions of dollars off the backs of athletes without allowing them to earn a share of the profits. Vaccaro’s advocacy helped to bring attention to the issue of NIL compensation, and his work laid the groundwork for the current NIL rules. Although he is no longer involved in sports marketing, his contributions to the fight for athletes’ rights continue to be recognized and appreciated by many.
The NIL initiative became official on July 1st, 2021, when several states passed laws allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness. This prompted the NCAA to adopt temporary NIL rules that allow college athletes to benefit from their NIL without violating NCAA rules.
The first college athlete to sign an NIL deal under the new rules was women’s basketball players Haley and Hannah Cavinder from Fresno State. On July 1st, the day the new rules went into effect, the Cavinder twins signed an endorsement deal with Boost Mobile, a mobile phone service provider. The deal reportedly paid the twins a six-figure sum for promoting the company on social media. Since then, many other college athletes have signed NIL deals with a wide range of companies, including sports apparel brands, local businesses, and social media platforms. The new NIL rules have opened up a new world of opportunities for college athletes to earn income and build their personal brands while still competing at the collegiate level.
The Jordans ran so this next generation of athletes could fly. The movie AIR does a great job of displaying Deloris Jordan specifically being very instrumental in the treatment of her soon to be legendary son Michael Jordan. We only get a chance to see one major sneaker silhouette and display which is the Air Jordan “Chicago” 1. The online sneakerhead community has been vocal about not seeing more sneakers or easter eggs during the film, however I felt it was better to learn the story and key figures behind the biggest brand partnership in sneaker history. AIR is a good movie for anyone who is interested in seeing a movie with a good storyline and based on true events. It was not a NIKE promotional movie for me but moreso an opportunity to shed more light on the individuals who help build NIKE and the Jordan brand as well as the future of brand endorsements and partnerships for athletes.