Air True Story | POPSUGAR Entertainment

AIR, Ben Affleck as Phil Knight, 2023.  Courtesy of Amazon Studios / Everett Collection

Ben Affleck once again doubles as director and actor in his new film, “Air,” which hits theaters April 5. The film is packed with a star-studded cast which includes Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis. , and Marlon Wayans digs into the origin story of the Air Jordan, the sneaker and basketball shoeline that revolutionized athletic apparel as well as the overall Nike brand.

The film centers on Nike salesman Sonny Vaccaro (Damon), who is driven to make the company as successful as other major shoe brands of the 1980s, such as Converse and Adidas. With a clear vision in mind, Vaccaro knew that the only way for Nike to become the next biggest shoeline was to have a rising athlete aka Michael Jordan behind him. Although the partnership was not easy at first, Jordan and Nike eventually joined forces to launch one of the most popular and sought-after apparel lines of all time.

Read on to learn more about the incredible true story that inspired “Air,” from Vaquero’s rise to prominence in NBA circles to the other key figures who made the deal.

Who is Sonny Vaccaro?

Born in Trafford, PA on September 23, 1939, John Paul Vincent “Sonny” Vaccaro got his start in the world of sports in the early 1960s when, at just 24 years old, he founded the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic, Joe at a high school basketball tournament with his then-college roommate, Pat DiCesare, as reported by NSS Magazine. After a few years, the tournaments attracted the attention of coaches such as Dean Smith, which helped him build a network of meaningful connections in the sports world.

By the late 1970s, Vaquero was hired by Nike, a lesser-known company at the time, according to The New York Times, to expand its brand and compete with other companies beloved by basketball athletes. In 1977, he presented a new idea for a shoe to Nike executives, which captured the interest of Rob Strasser, who asked him to sell Nike sneakers to collegiate and professional basketball circles. the arrangement was Detailed in the memoir, “Michael Jordan: The Life” by Roland Lazenby. “They hired Vaquero at a monthly salary of $500, placed $30k in an account at his disposal, and asked him to convert the coaches into Nike testimonials,” it read, continuing, “For them it was a piece of cake. piece was: He offered coaches simple deals with Nike, signing checks and sending them free sneakers to be worn by players.”

During this time, Vaccaro learned about a rising UNC player named Michael Jordan, whom he knew would become a worldwide phenomenon.

How did Air Jordan come about?

According to “Michael Jordan: The Life”, Vaccaro witnessed Jordan’s magic in the Final Four in 1982, where he was impressed with the idea of ​​shoehorning a team into a single athlete rather than a team. At the time, Nike had a $2.5 million budget for professional basketball advertising and planned to split the money among several players, but Vaccaro urged the company to reserve it for Jordan. “Give it all to the kid. Give it all to Jordan,” she told Strasser.

In 1984, Vaquero began working with Strasser; Peter Moore, creative designer of Nike; and David Falk, Jordan’s agent, to come up with an effective name and design for the sneakers. After collaboration and brainstorming, the sneaker was named Air Jordan and featured the now-iconic silhouette of Jordan holding a basketball and Nike swoop.

Revolutionary Multi-Million Dollar Deal

Shortly after Jordan’s appearance at the 1984 Summer Olympics, Vaccaro approached the basketball star with the help of his friend, George Raveling, head coach of the Washington State men’s basketball team. It was not easy for Jordan to pitch the idea, as Nike was not the mass brand it is today, and Jordan himself preferred Adidas as a brand.

With the help of Nike co-founder and president Phil Knight, he offered Jordan a $2.5 million package with Nike, to be paid over a five-year period, which also included signing bonuses, annuities and 25 percent royalties. Was. Jordan is paid directly for each pair of shoes sold. Although it took some negotiation, Jordan agreed to the deal and signed one of the most important contracts of his career.

Air Jordan, as a brand, has enjoyed incredible success since its launch in 1984. In the last five fiscal years alone, it has generated $19.4 billion (via Front Office Sports) in revenue. As for Jordan himself, the NBA legend earns an estimated $100 million a year, per Insider, from Nike royalties.

Where is Sonny Vaccaro today?

After working for Nike and spearheading arguably one of the most important brand deals of all time, Vaccaro created ABCD Camp in 1984, a basketball program based around the nation’s most talented and highly ranked basketball athletes. is concentrated. Camp alumni include stars LeBron James, James Harden, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, according to Biography’s report.

He was eventually forced out of Nike in 1991 amid a power struggle within the company. “I feel like a gunslinger in the Old West,” Vaquero reportedly told Knight about his firing, according to the LA Times. “The townspeople hired a gunslinger – me – to clean up the town and turn it into something they were proud of. Now, those townspeople don’t want the gunslinger around anymore because he’s their new Doesn’t seem to fit the image.”

Vaccaro continued to work as a marketing executive for other athletic apparel companies such as Adidas and Reebok. He notably helped negotiate a settlement between Bryant and Adidas in 1996, and later led a lawsuit against the NCAA that questioned compensation restrictions for college athletes.

In 2015, he was the center of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary and has not worked with another company since leaving Reebok in 2007.

Where is Phil Knight today?

Phil Knight retired as Nike chairman in June 2016, according to Forbes, after more than 50 years with the company. Since leaving office, Knight has been involved in a number of sporting activities and donates to a number of organizations and charities per capita.

Where is Rob Strasser today?

Rob Strasser left Nike in 1987, just a few years after Air Jordan sneakers hit store shelves. He continued to work for Adidas and later became the chief executive of Adidas America in the early 1990s. On November 2, 1993, he died in Munich, Germany, where he was attending a sales meeting, as reported by The New York Times.

Where is Howard White today?

Howard White, played by Chris Tucker in the film, is the only executive who is still a major figure in the Nike brand in 2023. According to his official website, White is now the Vice President of Jordan Brand. He founded “Believe to Achieve,” a national Nike movement and traveling seminar that inspires youth.

Where are Deloris and James R. Jordan today?

Much of “Air” focuses on how Jordan’s parents, Deloris and James R. The Jordans (played by real-life husband and wife Viola Davis and Julius Tennon), helped their son get the best deal from Nike and build his legacy.

While Jordan’s father tragically died in 1993, Deloris married James R. Jordan continues to nurture youth to reach their full potential through the Foundation, which she established in 2000 in her late husband’s name. The organization aims to empower disadvantaged youth and families through education and partnerships. “I founded the James R. Jordan Foundation to show kids that anything is possible with education,” Deloris wrote in a letter on the organization’s website. “Our students are bright and eager to learn; all they need is direction and a strong support system. With these goals in mind, A-Team Scholars and Vision for Family/Parent Partnership began.”

“Air” shines a light on the incredible true story of one of the most successful brands of all time. See the film in theaters April 5 and watch the trailer below.