In the mid-1980s, Adidas largely dominated the sneaker industry. All young people want to wear them and the song My Adidas, by Run-DMC, only increases their popularity. Converse manages to stand out thanks to its basketball branch which has in its stable the new stars Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Nike, on the other hand, sells millions of running shoes, but very few sneakers. Sonny Vaccaro, an luminary in the world of amateur basketball, is hired to find the rare pearl, otherwise Nike will end this line. The company’s CEO, Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), places great hope in Sonny, but gives him little means to succeed in salvaging the furniture.

Each summer, following the annual NBA draft, equipment manufacturers seek to convince the most promising players to agree with them so that they wear their clothes and shoes. In 1984, aware of their limited means, the leaders of Nike tried to target three or four young people who could surprise. Instead, Sonny Vaccaro thinks it’s all about Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls’ third-overall pick. Since the latter made the game-winning shot in the 1982 NCAA College Tournament final, he has been seen as a future star. However, taller players were still picked first back then – Jordan’s front two are over 2.13m tall compared to his 1.98m.

Almost all of Air is about Sonny Vaccaro’s mission to convince his superiors that Jordan is worth their entire annual budget and more, then persuade his parents and agent that Nike’s offer is the best. David Falk (Chris Messina) has represented Jordan’s interests throughout his career. Prior to signing the landmark deal between his client and Nike, he had already brokered partnerships that focused more on how OEMs could promote athletes and not just how much money they could offer them. Initially, Falk and the Jordans weren’t even planning to meet with Nike executives.

In addition to Vaccaro and Knight, the brand’s Beaverton, Oregon-based team included Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), Howard White (Chris Tucker), and Peter Moore (Matthew Maher). The latter is behind the creation of the mythical Air Jordan I, which are possibly more popular than ever. The silhouette and the technology were not only revolutionary for the time, but the colors too. At that time, the NBA required players’ shoes to be predominantly white. Strasser, Vaccaro and Moore agreed that more red would help their new model stand out. They were even willing to pay the US$5,000 per game fine, which they then used as a marketing tool. The shoes “banned” by the league were actually Air Ships, which Jordan wore early in his career. That didn’t stop Nike from selling Air Jordan for US$130 million in 1985, when their initial estimate was US$3 million in the first three or four years.