Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Air Jordan

You would be right to be suspicious of this review.  First off I am a basketball fan, second I am a Michael Jordan fan, but the focus on this story is more on risk taking for marketing.  My favorite line in "Air" (2023) is "everybody knew."  After the decisions were made and the results were overwhelming one character declared he knew all along and the main character replied that "Yeah, everybody knew."  Not true in this story and not true in a lot of stories.

Nike, the company known for running shoes was in trouble, especially in their basketball division.  Their budget for sponsorships had been cut and top basketball players were not interested.  It seemed likely if they don't pull off something unexpected they are going to eliminate the department.  In the early part of the movie, the main characters are in despair.  They argue which of the upcoming draft choices they should target.  Basketball fans will recognize some of the names, but I confess I don't even have a vague memory of some of them.

Michael Jordan had made a last second basket that won the March Madness tournament, but wasn't thought to be the top draft choice and had even dismissed Nike, not even wanting to talk to them.  Sonny Vaccaro, a Nike shoe salesman hired for his basketball expertise has an analytical talent  He studies endless clips of several players.  We see a lot of repetition of Jordan's winning basket and he sees and understand something that others missed.  There was actually a more famous player on the same team and he was bypassed at this critical point of the game.  The coach, Dean Smith had been criticized for coming very close in previous years and was determined to win.  Looking very closely Sonny concluded that this most crucial play was made for the 18 year old freshman, Michael Jordan.  Dean Smith had trust he would not be let down.

Having decided on this new target there was still the problem of how to overcome the Jordan indifference and a limited budget.  First Sonny demanded to be able to use the entire $250,000 budget for one player instead of 3 originally budgeted for.  All of the executives above him thought that because of the Jordan family declaration they did not want to talk to Nike made it not worth while.  Talking to Jordan's agent Sonny was told there could not be any direct talk to the Jordan family.

One of Sonny's colleagues said his success had come from talking to the mothers of top players and sure enough it was clear the Delores Jordan was a tough bargainer.  Risking a sanction against a direct approach Sonny decided to fly from Oregon to North Carolina.  He had a few words with Mrs. Jordan, who was impressed with his audacity and speech.  

He convinced her to to come to Beaverton, Oregon to meet the Nike board.  In the meantime he realized the money and clever words weren't enough.  He conceived the idea of developing a special shoe for Michael.  Working with their design they aimed a very high end shoe that could be adjusted.  They also thought a shoe with more red in it (he had been drafted by the Chicago Bulls) would be worth a fine of $5,000 for each game.  They came up with the idea of Air Jordan, although his agent also claimed credit.  Later they developed a logo based on a silhouette of Michael jumping through the air.  

The Jordans were impressed, but a later phone call (agonizingly delayed) from Mrs Jordan had one revolutionary request that her son get a commission on each shoe sold with his name on it.  Sonny explained this couldn't be done, but with some haggling it was done.  Afterwards (learned as the credits rolled) Sonny helped extend the commission idea to college athletes.

If you know about basketball you will know Nike signing up Michael Jordan was one of the smartest ever marketing decision anywhere.  And some people claimed that everybody knew he would be a superstar.

For basketball fans this is mostly a big tease until the end when they show a few clips of the real Michael Jordan doing what justifies the whole fuss, plus you hear a tribute to his mother.

The story had a guarantee of a good audience, but they were aided by an all star cast of actors and experienced crew.

For Alex Convery this was his first feature movie script.  He had grown up in Illinois and had been a Chicago Bulls fan.  He decided he wanted to be a film script writer.  During the Covid lockdown he watched "The Last Dance" (2020) a biographical series about Jordan.  In there was a 5 minute or so clip about the Nike deal and that provided the inspiration.   He wrote and re-wrote the script several times and sent it out.  It reached the attention of Ben Affleck who liked it and discussions soon resulted in a decision to start filming.

Ben Affleck was director and producer and played the role of Phil Knight, founder of Nike.  He is the one who sat with Michael Jordan to get permission. He is part of a creative team that started in his youth when he befriended Matt Damon, both living close to each other, taking part in Little League baseball and taking drama lessons.  Ben's first acting job was for a Burger King commercial.  They worked together with small roles, writing scrips.  Together they teamed up writing a script for "Good Will Hunting" and taking a role.  The film won an Oscar for the two writers and was a artistic and commercial success. He went on to win other awards including another Oscar.  His film credits include "State of Play" (2009), "The Company Man" (2010),  "The Town" (2010), "Tower Heist" (2011), "Argo" (2012) "Gone Girl" (2014), "The Accountant" (2016), "The Way Back" (2020) and "The Tender Bar" (2022).  He has a very calculating mind and was able to win a $365,000 pot in a Las Vegas poker tournament.       

Matt Damon also was a producer and the main lead.  As part of his teaming with Ben, they were extras in "Field of Dreams" (1989).  Matt Damon had dropped out of Harvard to concentrate on a film career.  His film credits include "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (1994), "The Rainmaker" (1997), "Invictus" (2009), "The Informant" (2009), "Inside Job" (2010), "Hereafter" (2020), "We Bought a Zoo" (2010), "The Adjustment Bureau"" (2011), "Contagion" (2011), "Elysium" (2013), "Interstellar" (2014), "The Martian" (2015), "Manchester By the Sea" (2016) and "Ford vs. Ferrari" (2019)  He is best known by many for his 3 films as Jason Bourne.  Along with Ben he was very involved in fine tuning the script.

Peter Guber was another producer.  The films he has been a producer or an executive producer have earned $3 billiion dollars around the world and gained 50 Oscar nominations.  His film credits include "Rain Man" (1988), "Gorillas in the Mist" (1988) and "The Last Dance" (2020).  He was the producer for Grammy winning music and official soundtrack for the 1984 Olympics.  Perhaps more important he has been in charge of Sony Pictures and turned them around and then going on to set up other studios.  He has been on the faculty of UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television and is a full professor.  He has had a 20 year business relationship with Magic Johnson involving a theatre chain and ownership of the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Dodgers.  He is a man who believes in the power of stories and inspired me to tell one of my most useful ones in his best selling book "Tell to Win".  check  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2011/06/tell-to-win-offers-winning-formula.html

Robert Richardson was the cinematographer and has won 3 Oscars plus another 4 nominations.  Before starting with feature films he did documentaries for PBS and BBC.  His film credits include "Eight Men Out"  (1988), "JFK" (1991),  "Heaven & Earth" (1993), "The Horse Whisperer" (1998), "The Aviator" (2004), "Inglorioius Basterds" (2009), "Eat Pray Love" (2010), "Hugo" (2011), "Django Unchained" (2012) and "A Private War" (2018).

William Goldenberg was the editor.  He won an Oscar for "Argo" (2012).  Other film credits included "Gone Baby Gone" (2007), "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012), "The Imitation Game" (2014), "Unbroken" (2014), "Concussion" (2015), "Detroit" (2017, "News of the World" (2020) and "The Outfit" (2012).

Jason Bateman played Rob Strasser Sony's immediate boss.  He is a versatile film maker.  Among his early roles at age 12 was with television series, for 21 episodes of "House on the Prairie".  At age 18 he directed 3 episodes of another tv. series.  His film credits include " The Invention of Lying" (2009), "Up in the Air" (2009), "The Change Up" (2011), "Bad Words" (2013), "This is Where I Leave You" (2013), "The Gift" (2015), "Zootopia" (2016), "Ozark "(2017-2020) and "Game Night" (2018).

Viola Davis was requested by Michael Jordan himself to play his mother.   She is another Oscar winner, this time for "Fences" (2016) for a supporting role she originated on Broadway.  She also is the first African American to win an Emmy for the lead in a television dramatic series,  "How to Get Away With Murder" (2014-2020).  Altogether she has won  112 awards and 231 nominations.  Other film credits include  "It's Kind of a Funny Story" (2010), "Eat Pray Love" (2010), "Trust" (2010), "The Help" (2011), "Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close" (2011), "Prisoners" (2013), "Widows" (2018), "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (2020), "The Unforgiveable" (2021) and "The Woman King" (2022).  She was chosen to play Michelle Obama in "The First Lady" (2022).    I had not seen that at this time, but insired to watch it was not disappointed.  Check http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2023/12/the-first-lady.html  She also has been a producer for 18 films with more on the way.

Viola Davis' actual husband Julius Tennon played Michael Jordan's father.  He received a football scholarship to University of Tulsa where he also became the first African American to graduate from their theatre program.  Has over 60 film credits (as actor and producer) including "How To Get Away with Murder" (2017) and"The Woman Warrior" (2022).  They try to arrange to work on the same film projects.

Chris Tucker plays the one role Michael Jordan requested to be included, Howard White.  He is well established as a stand up comedian.  For a brief time he was he highest paid actor in Hollywood, with $25 million for "Rush Hour 3" (2007).  Other film credits include "Rush Hour" (1998), "Silver Linings Playbook" (2012) and "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" (2016).

 One surprise was there was almost no sign of Michael himself.  The most was a telephone voice.  This was a decision by Ben Affleck who felt anything but the real Michael Jordan would seem a fake.

It may seem like a mundane subject, a sponsorship for a basketball shoe, but it illustrates that everybody didn't know.  A lot of very talented people put an effort to its success.

You can read about my 60 years of basketball involvement  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2019/06/my-60-year-love-affair-with-basketball.html

As usual I have bolded the first mention of films I have seen.  Not so usual was the large numbers of such films, hopefully reflecting the calibre of the people involved rather than my vanity (really I was lucky to have seen such films).   

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