In 1984, Nike’s pursuit of 21-year-old Michael Jordan for a sponsorship deal seemed like an impossible task. But it went on to be the landmark partnership that created the iconic Air Jordan shoe, revolutionising the industry to pay the sponsored athlete a cut of the profits, and to feature the athlete in the shoe’s design.
Matt Damon stars as Sonny Vaccaro, a basketball-obsessive who desperately tries to persuade Nike to blow their entire $250,000 budget on securing young Jordan, with increasingly reckless manoeuvres. While the audience are aware of the irony from the get-go, a subtle script by Alex Convery ensures that we really understand the weight of the risk. Not least for marketing vice-president Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), whose already strained father-daughter relationship could collapse without his position and paycheck.
There is an interesting decision not to show Michael Jordan’s face, even in meetings where he is present. This technique promotes Jordan’s status to deity: even when incarnate, he is not truly knowable. We do see real clips of Michael Jordan’s rise and fall, however, in an incredibly emotional flash-forward sequence that conveys the omniscience of Vaccaro’s pitch.
Directed by Ben Affleck, who also plays Nike’s CEO Phil Knight, the film retains a muted and serious tone throughout. The film was originally produced by Amazon for home release, and it lacks the colour and pizzazz you might expect for a big screen picture. But it’s a story that needs to be told.
Playing in cinemas from 5 April 2023.