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The revolutionary story of Nike Air Jordans and how one shoe changed the game forever

“A shoe is just a shoe until someone steps into it”

Can you even imagine a time when the legendary Nike brand was considered an underdog and Converse All Star was King? I guess maybe I’m relatively young, but in 1984 after Nike recently went public and was struggling financially with slow growth unable to break into the NBA with a star player contract, they only had 17% of the entire market share. But thanks to the ambition of one of their top executives Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), things were about to change for Nike forever.

For anyone who has ever sat at a company’s marketing roundtable, they would know groupthink, laziness, recycled ideas, and unoriginality can often stink up the room (also of course the budget has its limitations). So when a bunch of worn out middle-age dudes are in charge of the Nike brand turnaround, you could imagine the mundanity of the conversation and a frustrated Sonny—especially when their quirky CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck) is not the biggest risk taker he once was considering the company’s dwindling balance sheet and a board of directors to worry about.

After one night when Sonny is rewatching old footage, he has an epiphany: create an entire shoe line revolving around one of the NBA’s biggest rookie prospects, none other than the would-be future GOAT himself, Michael Jordan. There’s only one problem: Jordan is the most-wanted player by Converse and Adidas, who is already offering him big contracts with bonuses such as a little red Mercedes Benz, and Nike simply cannot afford him.

However sometimes it happens to be the one idea that seems impossible at first that actually ends up being the most successful. And there is something about Sonny that was not like the rest, even though his life might seem pretty boring. When he’s not scouting high school basketball stars, he mostly spends his time home alone eating burgers and takeout watching endless hours of game tape (also: gambling on his work trip layovers). He’s also always in contact with his trusted colleague Howard White played by the hilarious Chris Tucker, who played a huge role which I loved.

Call it ego, ambition, a “feeling”, whatever it might be, there was no backing down. Going against all odds, bypassing big-time basketball executives (played by Chris Messina from The Mindy Project), and even making an unapproved work trip to North Carolina so Sonny can pitch to Jordan’s parents in-person—more so the “boss” Mrs. Jordan (Viola Davis) who only wants the absolute best for her son, “no” simply was not an option for him. Nike was going to get a meeting with Michael Jordan, even if it meant Sonny (and the entire marketing team) losing their job in the process.

The Nike team ended up having a deadline of one weekend to come up with the Air Jordan shoe concept with help of the company’s brilliant designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher) and of course the main marketing guy Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman) who both definitely added to Air‘s overall touch.

I do not want to spoil the whole movie for anyone reading this who has yet to watch, but Air was an incredible film for sports fans and sneakerheads or even if you just appreciate really good storytelling. Affleck as director inspires to capture all of the elements of the time period with a stellar soundtrack featuring hits like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and Dire Straits “Money for Nothing”. You will definitely leave the theater nostalgic if you actually remember the year 1984, and even if you don’t, Air is a feel-good for all.

Oh, and it’s actually really funny, so be prepared for those perfectly-timed moments of in-sync laughter from the entire audience if you’re lucky enough to see it on the big screen.

(shoe photo via Rally, main photo via The Sun with credit to Nike)

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Kaitlin Duffy is a writer from Cleveland. When she's not blogging or pondering the great complexities of the world and outer space, she is finding rare vinyl steals, visiting new places, laughing often, Instagramming everything in sight, watching movies, or working on her first feature Port de Cleve.