AIR*CUT TO THE CHASE*
1984 – Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon), a basketball scout for Nike, is seen visiting high school games to look for players to wear Nike shoes. At this time, Converse leads shoe sales, with Adidas coming in second and Nike much farther behind.
Sonny goes to work to talk to his co-worker and head of the Nike basketball division, Howard White (Chris Tucker), who tells Sonny that kids, teens, and athletes have no interest in wearing Nikes when Adidas is a more popular pick. Sonny then goes to a meeting led by marketing vice president Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman). They and some of the other men in the room look over draft picks for prospective players.
Sonny later meets with Nike CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), who is considering shutting down the basketball division and laying off many employees. Sonny’s pick for their player is then-rookie Michael Jordan (Damien Delano Young), but not only is he considered too expensive, but Michael has already stated that he refuses to meet with Nike.
At home, Sonny watches a commercial from tennis player Arthur Ashe where he is promoting his rackets. He also watches a game of Michael playing and brings it to Rob. Sonny pitches his idea to get Michael to be their player by creating the sneaker line around him and also showing Rob how Michael looks passionate and determined to play as he is open for the ball. Slowly but surely, Rob comes around and gets on board with Sonny’s idea.
Sonny gets in touch with Michael’s agent, David Falk (Chris Messina). He reiterates what was already said about Michael refusing to see Nike. David also advises Sonny not to attempt to contact the Jordans in any way, as it would be incredibly unprofessional.
Later, Sonny meets with George Raveling (Marlon Wayans), who coached Michael in the Olympic tournament. He tells Sonny that Michael would sign with anyone that would give him a Mercedes Benz 380SL, EXCEPT Nike. George then tells Sonny about how he has a copy of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech as a means to encourage Sonny to reach out to the Jordans.
Against everyone’s advice, Sonny drives to Wilmington, North Carolina to the Jordan home, where he meets Michael’s parents James Sr. (Julius Tennon) and Deloris (Viola Davis). Sonny convinces Deloris to hear him out, and they sit down together as Sonny delivers his pitch to her about how Converse and Adidas will try and throw money at Michael, but he stresses the potential that Nike sees in Michael’s future, and how the shoe will be created around his image. When David finds out about Sonny’s visit, he delivers an angry, foul-mouthed tirade toward him, which Sonny just finds amusing. Sonny also learns that the Jordans are going to meet with the other sneaker companies to see which deal suits them best.
Sonny meets with Nike’s shoe designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher) to come up with the look for the shoe. They also decide to call it “Air Jordan”, even though Sonny recalls David using the phrase during the angry phone call. The shoe has shades of red but is mostly white, which Sonny thinks is too bland-looking. He is told that the NBA has rules over shoe colors and that any color that exceeds the white in the shoe means the player wearing the shoe will face a fine, but Phil agrees to pay whatever fines Michael encounters as long as he wears the shoe.
The Jordans meet with Converse, and later Adidas, who both offer big payments to Michael to sign with them. When the Jordans arrive at Nike, Phil says he is willing to pay Michael $250,000, which is the entire budget of the basketball department. Michael takes a look at the shoe design and then listens to a big speech from Sonny. He tells Michael that while he will go on to have a great future in the sport, he will encounter a number of hardships (juxtaposed with real clips and news from Michael Jordan’s career, including his golf career and the later murder of his father), ending with Sonny saying that the shoe will be part of his legacy. The Jordans appear satisfied and then leave.
Later on, Sonny gets a phone call from David, saying that Adidas is matching the $250,000 offer, in addition to giving Michael the Benz that he wants. Sonny gets discouraged, thinking they have officially lost the deal. Moments later, however, he receives a personal call from Deloris. She tells Sonny that they are set to take the deal, with one other condition – Michael wants to receive a percentage of every shoe with his name on it sold. Sonny is brought down, as he tells Deloris that that’s just not the way that business works. She rephrases something that Sonny told her regarding the Air Jordan – “A shoe is just a shoe until my son steps into it.”
Sonny takes the news to Phil, feeling that there is no way he will agree to the terms. To Sonny’s surprise, Phil says “fuck it” and agrees for Michael to receive his cut. Sonny calls Deloris back and informs her of the good news. She then allows him to speak to Michael, and Sonny tells him “Welcome to Nike”. He then goes out to the office to tell his coworkers the news, and everyone cheers.
Sonny later receives another phone call from David, who seems pleasantly pleased with Sonny’s success in the deal. Sonny then buys himself a pair of shoes to go for a run on a track (his weight was previously made fun of), only to change his mind after a few steps.
The ending text states that the Air Jordan exceeded Phil Knight’s initial sales estimate and sold $162 million in a year. Michael Jordan earned his percentage and eventually got his car. Rob Strasser became a big name in marketing, while Howard White became head of the Air Jordan brand. Peter Moore died shortly before production on the film began, but he is credited with creating the now iconic design of the Air Jordan sneaker with the silhouette of Michael flying through the air with a basketball in his hand. George Raveling turned down payment for his copy of the Dr. King speech. David Falk sold his company for $100 million. Phil Knight has donated over $2 billion to charities, and Nike later bought out Converse. Deloris Jordan became and author and runs a fund in honor of her late husband. In 2014, Sonny Vaccaro was part of an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA that ruled in favor of the players, making Sonny an important figure in the history of sports.
The film is based on the true story of the Nike deal with Michael Jordan to create the Air Jordan sneaker.
In 1984, Nike is trailing behind Converse and Adidas in sales. Basketball scout Sonny Vaccaro proposes they pick Michael Jordan to wear their sneakers, even though Michael refuses to meet with Nike and prefers Adidas. With a few people by his side, Sonny sets out to convince the Jordans that they are the right pick by building a shoe brand around Michael. The Jordans meet with the heads at Nike, and Sonny delivers an impassioned speech that works in their favor.
When it seems like Adidas is set to close the deal, Michael's mother Deloris personally calls Sonny to say they will sign with Nike on the condition that Michael receives a percentage of all shoes with his name on it sold. While Sonny fears that the heads of Nike will not agree to it, CEO Phil Knight accepts the terms, thereby closing the deal.
The Air Jordan became a huge success for Nike, while everyone involved in the shoe's development also had successful careers.