Ben Affleck’s filmmaking and acting career spans from Batman to Good Will Hunting, with a few Oscars, picked up along the way. His latest directorial venture explores the rise of Nike Air Jordan.

Working the polished hardwood boards of the basketball court with absolute awareness, in full command of his body, Michael Jordan demonstrated a seldom-matched athleticism, ultimately rewarding him on and off the court with a lineage of Nike models released under his name. Ahead of the April release of Air, Affleck’s biopic explores Nike’s decision to sign a then-unknown Michael Jordan, which would be the first deal of its kind. As part of the film’s star-studded line-up, Matt Damon plays Sonny Vaccaro, the Nike executive responsible for the signing, alongside Hollywood legend Viola Davis who plays the basketball star’s mother, Deloris Jordan. 

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Affleck talked of the importance of speaking to Michael Jordan to ensure the story was told correctly, which changed the course of the film and the characters included. In the interview, Affleck recalls the one request that Jordan had. He wished for acting legend Viola Davis to play his mother, a big ask that was fulfilled nonetheless.

In 1984, when Nike approached Michael Jordan, it was a brand largely associated with long-distance running, falling behind its competitors Converse and adidas, who were dominant in the basketball world. During this time, Sonny Vaccaro would propose signing Jordan at the start of his professional career with a record amount of money for the era.

Chicago Bulls Jersey. Credit: Marcin Wichary (CC)

As part of the brand’s collaborative partnership with Jordan, they agreed to pay $500,000 a season for him to wear Nike sneakers exclusively on the court. While the basketball legend was in talks with adidas at the time, the lucrative deal with Nike ensured he stayed with the Swoosh brand. This mutually beneficial relationship would provide the blueprint for future brand partnerships. 

Peter Moore designed what would become the Air Jordan 1 in a similar style to Nike’s competitors, using the technology available in 1984, featuring a high-top silhouette with a padded collar and traction-grabbing sole. The creation of the Jordan Wings logo set the sneaker apart from its rivals and marked the start of the Oregon label’s branding dominance. 

The early stages of the collaboration were not without controversy. Nike was issued a warning by the NBA for uniform violations, with the Air Jordan 1 debuting in a distinctive Black and Red hue, now commonly referred to as theBred colourway. At the time, players in the league had to wear all-white sneakers, as stipulated by commissioner David Stern. Complex reported, “Michael Jordan was fined $5,000 by the NBA every time he wore the shoes during their debut in 1984 because their colours broke the league’s uniform rules”. Nike paid the fines, confident that the exposure would benefit the brand. According to Complex, the proof of Nike being fined is also unclear, with evidence only showing that the shoe violated the regulations. While a popular myth in the sneaker community, it was not the Air Jordan 1 that was banned, but a non-signature model worn by Michael Jordan, known as the Nike Air Ship. 

In the sneaker industry, rumours and leaks are commonplace. Drawing on the hearsay surrounding the now-iconic colourway, Nike has released several Banned iterations of the Air Jordan 1, proving extremely popular with fans, rivalling the legendary ‘Chicago’, a testament to the sporting giant’s 13-season tenure with the Chicago Bulls. 

Without the technical features we have come to associate with newer releases, the Air Jordan 1 serves as a nostalgic nod to the sporting successes of an icon. For many, the silhouette symbolises quality and prestige, thanks in part to the triumphs of the shoe’s namesake. Following the success of Michael Jordan and Nike’s partnership, Jordan Brand was allowed to separate from Nike to become an official subsidiary in 1997. The brand is now one of Nike’s most lucrative offshoots almost four decades later. As published by Hypebeast, “in the past five years, the Jordan Brand has brought in $19 billion for Nike”. 

Shop a range of Jordan models on Laced. Credit: Laced Studio.

In 2021 a pair of Nike Air Ships, the predecessor to the Air Jordan 1, that had been worn by Michael Jordan, sold at auction for $1.47 million USD. Fortunately, Nike recently honoured the GOAT with the Nike Air Jordan 1 OG Chicago Lost and Found, providing an accessible dose of Jordan nostalgia. Paying homage to the legacy of the Jordan 1, the sportswear manufacturer released the silhouette in the sought-after ‘Chicago’ colourway whilst acknowledging the shoe’s heritage with an aesthetic to mirror its age.

Owning a pair of Jordans is possessing a piece of history. Through his sporting talent and hard work, Michael Jordan had an appeal that traversed the court to the streets, a commercial attraction used by Nike to create one of the most lucrative sneaker partnerships in history, inspiring many more. Ben Affleck’s Air serves as a testament to the longevity of design, providing both die-hard sneakerheads and film fans with a portrayal of the work that went into Nike Air Jordan. Ahead of the release, find the most sought-after sneakers from Jordan Brand with Laced.