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Is Ben Affleck’s ‘Air’ based on a true story?

‘Air’ follows the story of how the world’s most popular basketball shoes were created, but is it based on a true story?

‘Air’ follows the story of how the world’s most popular basketball shoes were created, but is it based on a true story?
Christopher PolkGetty

Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort ‘Air’, released on Wednesday, has been praised for telling the story of how Nike created one of the most popular basketball shoes, the Air Jordans.

Movies can exaggerate or make up new characters or facts in order to fit into more cinematic pacing. Keeping this in mind, how much of ‘Air’ is based on a true story?

‘Air’ is based on the story of Sonny Vaccaro

‘Air’, written by Alex Convery, is based on the true story of Sonny Vaccaro (played by Matt Damon), a Nike salesman tasked with pitching a new shoe line to help the struggling company.

Vaccaro was brainstorming ideas for a sponsor for a new shoe line, when he considered players in the NBA’s 1984 draft, which included Michael Jordan. Jordan was initially not considered, being an Adidas supporter, along with too expensive for Nike’s budget.

But Vaccaro got the gutsy idea to sign the then-rookie basketball player to the company in order to create a shoe centered around him after seeing a videotape of Jordan playing, already showing hints of his legendary skill.

Both Nike president Phil Knight (played by Ben Affleck) and Jordan himself were hesitant to the idea of making a shoe centered around the rookie. Vaccaro went to great lengths to convince Jordan, first meeting with his friend George Raveling (played by Marlon Wayans), assistant coach to Team USA’s basketball team.

Vaccaro also met with Jordan’s parents, Deloris Jordan (played by Viola Davis) and James R. Jordan Sr. (played by Julius Tennon) telling them that their son would receive the attention he wouldn’t get from Adidas or Converse.

The Jordans schedule a meeting at Nike headquarters, where a prototype of the shoes is created, dubbed “Air Jordans” after Nike’s Air Sole technology.

Nike then offered Jordan a sum of $500,000 per year for five years, which he accepted before Jordan even completed his first season with the Chicago Bulls.

While Knight expected shoe sales to earn at least $3 million, the ‘Air Jordan’ outperformed, earning $126 million in one year.

How accurate is the movie?

While ‘Air’ has been praised for telling the story of the iconic shoe, some former Nike employees have noticed a few inaccuracies.

One is Jason Bateman’s portrayal of Rob Strasser, Nike’s former marketing director, as a meek man, whereas in real life he was brash and loud, and was a big force in Jordan’s campaign.

“That’s the Bizarro World Strasser,” said former Nike marketing manager Jeff Kramer.

Shoe designer Peter Moore (played by Matthew Maher) was portrayed as a wacky scientist, whereas he was calmer and more straightforward according to those who actually knew him.

“They made no effort to make these portrayals accurate,” said Strasser’s wife, Julie.

There are also concerns that Vaccaro wasn’t as central to Air Jordan’s development as the movie makes him out to be.

“What worries me is that the historic success of the Jordan footwear came because Rob and Peter made it happen,” said Ric Long, a longtime friend of Moore.

“With Rob and Peter gone, Sonny told the story he wanted. It’s great theater, but the truth gets a little murky.”

‘Air’ is now out in theaters.