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“Air: The Birth of a Legend – How Nike Turned Michael Jordan’s Sneakers into a Global Phenomenon”

Hollywood can turn anything into a captivating conversational drama. Do you want to rivet the viewer to the screen with disputations about machinations on the stock exchange? Please here is the movie Bet on Uncertainty. For a change, director Ben Affleck’s latest venture is all about how someone sold sneakers to someone.

Its name is as simple as the simple story it tells. Air. Three letters that, in the sports and footwear business, represent a variation on the age-old clash between David and Goliath.

The film, which Czech cinemas are screening from Thursday with the subtitle Birth of a Legend, begins at the time when its biggest future star, Michael Jordan, enters the NBA’s top basketball competition. His importance for basketball, the imaginary competition for the post of the most famous player of all time, which his successor James LeBron tried to deprive him of, or the last moments of his career have already been captured by many works, for example a documentary series Last performance from Netflix. But the legend in the name of the news is not the most famous player who ever wore the jersey of the Chicago Bulls team. Ben Affleck instead filmed how Jordan signed with Nike and turned its “bullshit” into one of the most successful brands in the world.

Almost the entire genre of sports dramas revolves around a similar pattern. Images like Indiana players filmed in 1986, it tells the story of outsiders who overcome themselves and adverse conditions and paint it to the favorites. Now the makers have found a similar story behind the scenes.

That outsider is Nike’s Sonny Vaccaro. Matt Damon plays him as a persistent guy with a vision and a dream. And he’s not going to give up, even though all the facts are against it. It’s 1984, Michael Jordan is just getting started, but everyone predicts a great future for him. And if there’s one thing the talented basketball player hates, it’s Nike shoes. Although this company is third on the market behind the companies Adidas and Converse, it is therefore not a pronounced David among Goliaths. Nevertheless, there is one fundamental difficulty in the way. Nike sells more running shoes, its shoes are not “cool” enough for “basketball players”.

In addition, if Nike wanted to offer Michael Jordan similar conditions as Adidas, it would give the entire budget for a single player, bet on a single card, which is against the company’s statutes and the cautious idea of ​​director Phil Knight, played by the director Ben Affleck himself. But Sonny knows why to bet on that one card. And he also knows how to turn an apparent weakness into an advantage.

Matt Damon jako Sonny Vaccaro. | Foto: Vertical Ent.

Screened by debutant Alex Convery, Air takes place mostly in Nike’s offices. And actually, they don’t focus so much on the expected conflicts, for example, on the fact that Sonny Vaccaro will fight against his superiors, promote his crazy idea. At first, of course, this is a problem. But in the end, we follow the simplest story of how a big idea permeated him and Director Knight. They figured out how to kick open the marketing door and take an unprecedented step that will change the rules of the entire business.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there are two things to be done first. Sonny has to get around Michael Jordan’s agent, who, like his client, does not approve of dealing with Nike at all. Oba knows it would be unprofessional to call the player’s parents. So Sonny gets into his Porsche and drives straight to the door of their house. When he overcomes the first obstacle, a second small problem arises: to develop the most brilliant shoe in the world in a few days.

Ben Affleck has, in a sense, pulled off a hussar stunt. He’s made a thrilling film that harnesses the charisma of great actors, from Viola Davis as Jordan’s mother, to Jason Bateman as Sonny’s anti-corporate sidekick, to Matthew Maher as a sleazy, balding designer for whom the shape of athletic shoes is the holy grail.

The film Air: The Birth of a Legend is able to transfer the passion of the characters to the audience, to convince them that doing business is slowly a mission. It is the most direct embodiment of the American dream. And therein lies the fundamental problem. Ben Affleck has made an old-fashioned title that awakens the forgotten powers of Hollywood storytelling. He can make drama even out of a minute-long sequence in which Sonny walks up the stairs while his boss on the sofa mentally bites his nails at how a crucial phone call went.

For a similar effect, sports dramas need stunning shots of the action, taking advantage of the speed or agility of the heroes. The protagonists of the film Air have to convince the audience purely with their verbal abilities. And they succeed.

Ben Affleck jako Phil Knight.

Ben Affleck jako Phil Knight. | Foto: Vertical Ent.

Similar motivational stories usually have their “buts”, apart from potential inspiration for all those who feel like outsiders and emotional rendering, they don’t offer much more. However, the most successful sports films and documentaries of recent years also deal with the darker aspects of sports and business. They are often strong precisely because they explore those moments when they are not winning.

The creators of Air talk about an unprecedented “deal” between an athlete and a corporation, which changes the rules and thus ensures other players not only a fixed amount, but profits from the sale of products with their name. However, making an entrepreneurial stunt almost a noble mission, in which there is even a serious parallel with the famous speech Martin Luther King about how he “had a dream”?

Air is an unexpectedly captivating, sometimes very funny film that turns a banal business transaction into two hours of entertainment. At the same time, one cannot turn a blind eye to how absurd his tone is. How much – albeit unintentionally – it becomes a critique of what it celebrates. Having a dream is not automatically a value. In fact, there are undoubtedly many people who would rather not follow their dreams.

Air, in its naivety and reluctance to ask disturbing questions, is both the embodiment of Affleck’s directorial skill and the embodiment of a certain monstrosity of Hollywood, which can give a stamp of magnificence and exceptionality to anything.


Air: Birth of a Legend
Director: Ben Affleck
Vertical Ent., Czech premiere on April 6.

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