Economic fairy tale as a feature film: Ben Affleck’s film “Air – The Big Throw” is reminiscent of the upheavals in the sports world caused by basketball star Michael Jordan.
The regular season of the NBA basketball league is ending in the USA these days. Sports fans will follow the playoffs until mid-June, watch superstars who earn over 40 million dollars a year and present themselves on Instagram and Co in the latest fashion and last but not least advertising for sportswear and shoes. 30 years ago it was completely different, 30 years ago basketball was by no means the leading sport it is today, even the finals were not shown live on television.
The man who changed that is the focus of Air, but his face is never seen, and he never says anything, letting his mother do the talking instead. We’re talking about Michael Jordan. In 1984, as the story began, Jordan was hired by the Chicago Bulls, about to transition from varsity to professional basketball, and about to begin an era that would not only make him a billionaire, but transform basketball and pop culture.
Out of respect, director Ben Affleck has pointed out that he didn’t hire an actor to play Jordan, which of course sounds nice, but subliminally it also shows very clearly what “Air” is actually about: not about sports, but about enormous sums of money , – one of the success stories of capitalism, as they are particularly popular in the USA.
Nike was clearly no longer an underdog in 1984, at least when it came to the jogging shoes with which company founder Phil Knight had made a lot of money. In basketball, however, Converse and Adidas dominated, while Nike was a distant third. One man wanted to change that: Sonny Vaccaro, played in “Air” by Matt Damon, who with bad skin and a noticeable belly is the ideal everyman to give a story of greed and money a human face.
Symbiosis of man and product
Vaccaro is supposed to lead his department to success with far too little money, a hopeless task in view of all the top dogs. Jordan also has no interest in Nike but plans to sign with Adidas. So what “Air” tells about now is how Vaccaro managed to convince Jordan and especially his mother Deloris (Viola Davis) that Nike is the right home for the athlete.
“Air – The big hit”. Directed by Ben Affleck. With Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and others USA 2023, 112 min.
The idea that Vaccaro and his team used to convince Jordan against Nike is one of those success stories, comparable to the invention of the mouse to operate computers or the omission of the keyboard on the iPhone: the shoe was no longer the focus, but the athlete. No longer one shoe for everyone, but one shoe made especially for an athlete.
This symbiosis of man and product enabled Nike to suggest that every buyer of this shoe (and later countless other products) could buy a little bit of Jordan, i.e. his athleticism, his talent, his genius.
Equally as remarkable as it is absurd about “Air” is that Affleck manages to make the moment someone comes up with the brand name “Air Jordan” a similar meaning as if someone had found a cure for cancer. Affleck also stylizes Vaccaro’s final and successful sales speech into a heroic, stirring moment. Jordan’s mother’s condition that her son participate financially in every shoe sold is presented as an emancipatory act of black self-empowerment.
The bucolic 80s
A story of a successful company that becomes even more successful through a clever deal than telling an underdog story; you have to come to that first. “Air” thus joins a growing number of films that both satisfy the rampant 80s nostalgia and the interest in stories about entrepreneurial successes.
At the Berlinale, for example, “BlackBerry” told how the phone of the same name was created, at Apple+ you can see in “Tetris” how the still popular game found its way from the computer of a Russian programmer to the West and now “Air”. Three films that look as if the outfitters had used the same 80s pool and combed through the same “Best of 80s” CD collection for their soundtracks to find suitable songs.
It’s colorful and funny, full of balloon silk and unruly hair, but above all with a strong tendency towards nostalgia. If the world of “Air” were to be believed, the 80s would have to be thought of as a downright bucolic time when it was kind of business, but at least for a company like Nike, it was almost friendly.
The fact that Air Jordans are also produced in Asian sweatshops and that Nike is completely committed to the neoliberal promise of unlimited growth does not fit into the picture. So you could call it a modern fairy tale that made Michael Jordan, Phil Knight and the Nike shareholders very rich.
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