Nike biopic Air feels like the kind of movie practically focus-grouped to specifically shake sneakerheads to their core. It’s a landmark moment in sneaker-dom, wherein Ben Affleck, one of the world’s biggest movie stars, both directed and stars in the story of Nike trying to sign Michael Jordan and create the Air Jordan 1 in the image of the future NBA legend.
So why aren’t sneakerheads making a bigger deal about Air?
I saw Air in an early screening on April 3, two days before it officially premiered in the US. It was a breezy two hours, with countless era-appropriate needle drops and a plot that leaned on convenience for the sake of telling a compact, compelling tale.
And, you know what, it wasn’t perfect but Air was a damn good time. Plenty of laughs, a strong ensemble cast, and standout production work that delivered period-correct outfits, props and sets almost as impressive as the performances.
Air is also a surprisingly Michael Jordan-free movie. Damian Young, who played the all-star in Air, intentionally stays mostly out of frame, leaving the focus on Affleck’s Phil Knight, Matt Damon’s Sonny Vaccaro, and Viola Davis’ Deloris Jordan, mother of the man himself.
Like the Wall Street Journal said, Air isn’t about the man who gave Jordan Brand its name: it’s about the shoe.
Though the film wasn’t produced in partnership with Nike, it feels like a love letter to The Swoosh, presenting Nike’s execs as scrappy upstarts battling against the sportswear industry’s totalitarian regime, complete with love-laden shots that linger over Air Jordan 1 sketches and neon Nike lettering.
Affleck and Air co-stars like Chris Tucker — who delivers a wonderfully sweaty performance as current Senior VP of Jordan Brand Howard White — have been touring the media circuit, showing off their own devotion to Nike sneakers all the while (we all know Ben loves his rare shoes). Celebs have turned out in their own footwear grails for Air‘s global premieres.
Affleck and Damon even went on the ignominious show Sneaker Shopping to pay up for some old sneakers, presumably in an attempt to curry favor with the sneaker set.
Thing is, the sneakerhead community appears mostly ambivalent to Air.
Perhaps it’s the lack of pre-emptive push on the studios’ parts, as the official Air trailer only premiered a couple months prior to the film’s release.
Indeed, as much as Air feels like a labor of love, its rollout feels rushed. As a result, perhaps there wasn’t enough time for Air to diffuse into popular culture (air diffuser pun semi-intended) and thus not enough impetus for hype to build.
Certainly, a lack of support from Nike is no help, though Air likely couldn’t legally be marketed as the Nike vehicle it is unless Nike had been part of the proceedings from the beginning.
But perhaps had Air more savvily pushed to align itself with the Air Jordan 1’s influence, that could have given the film the bump it needed among sneakerheads. To be fair, its team tried to find clever ways to link the movie with the show, like with its paint-by-numbers AJ1 poster above.
But, again, that was only unveiled a week before Air‘s premiere.
Could it simply be that Air is too far removed from “the culture” to have the same kind of impact as seemingly more authentic Jordan material?
Remember the way that Netflix and ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary series, which traced Michael Jordan and the NBA Bulls’ 1997-98 season, took over the internet back in 2020? Everyone made miserable by COVID-19 quarantine was swept up in adoration of the late ’90s Bulls, their swagger, style, their shoes.
It’s proof that Jordan mythology and the surrounding consumerism still fascinates the world.
Maybe it’s just that The Last Dance got right to the source (mostly), whereas dramatized Air is too fanciful to really blow up amongst the footwear faithful. Or maybe it’s too mass, reaching for a mainstream audience mostly out of touch with minutiae like the Air Ship or the greater resume of sneaker design icon Peter Moore.
Either way, Air is a solid movie worth even the time of non-sneakerheads. You don’t gotta know about sneakers to enjoy this thing. But you’d think it would’ve helped.