How Ben Affleck Got Michael Jordan's Approval to Make 'Air'
From what you've seen about AIR, the upcoming film about the creation of Michael Jordan's famous Nike sneaker, it may seem like the basketball legend had no part in the making of this film. No actor was cast to play Jordan—something the six-time NBA champion insisted on throughout his life—and he doesn't serve any kind of a producing role. But director Ben Affleck didn't set out to make AIR without leaving the story's the most important figure in the dark.
"Jordan is—he’s a hero to me," Affleck recently told The Hollywood Reporter. "And I know how important and meaningful a figure he is, in particular in the African American community. If you’re going to fuck around with talking about Michael Jordan, do it respectfully." So, after finishing a draft of the script—which would later get a full rewrite—Affleck met the basketball GOAT on the golf course. He mentioned that he's friends with MJ, and that the two sometimes play cards together, but the Argo director made clear that Jordan would never say something like, "Oh yeah, Ben’s my boy." Affleck also doesn't golf, despite meeting Jordan on the golf course that afternoon, revealing that he thinks it's a sport that "eats people's lives up... like meth."
This all sounds like he's setting himself up for disaster here with MJ. But according to Affleck, the meeting turned AIR around for the better.
"I have to be very clear, this is not the authorized Michael Jordan story," Affleck explained. "He was not compensated in a way that would be appropriate if this were that. If you’re going to do a Michael Jordan story, they should back the fucking truck up. This was me saying, 'Mike, I’m not going to make the movie if you’re not cool with something about it. I just won’t do it. I want to know what’s important to you.'"
But Jordan was reportedly into the idea, and talked a lot about his mom, Deloris Jordan. Jordan's mother "wasn't really in the script" at the time—and by "wasn't really," Affleck means she only had one line. Still, Jordan said that he wanted Viola Davis to play the role. He told Affleck, very seriously: "That’s my mom." Affleck knew the movie was dead if he couldn't land Davis, but he also realized through talking with MJ that the story "isn’t about Nike.” Luckily, it all worked out. "I was like, 'OK, Mike,'" Affleck recalled, adding that telling Davis that "Michael Jordan wants you to play his mom," was probably not that hard of a sell.
Still, the trailers for AIR—which hits theaters on April 5—may seem confusing. Matt Damon's portrayal of Nike marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro is front and center as the main ideas man for what is undeniably the most iconic shoe deal in history. But as important to the story as Nike is—they did make the shoes, after all—so is Deloris Jordan. "I want what she does in the movie to be a surprise, because as I started writing and working with Matt, and Jen [Lopez] gave me some great lines too, it just started getting better." Affleck teased to THR. "I don’t think there’s an objective best actor. But I do think there’s a group of people who you can say, 'These are the best actors in the world.' And Viola’s quite obviously among them."
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