Ben Affleck goes to the source – Michael Jordan

Ben Affleck likes to say “Air,” his new film about Michael Jordan’s groundbreaking Nike signing, is a family affair with old friends including Matt Damon in front and behind the camera.

But it was Affleck, 50, who did the lion’s share of the work. He produced, cast and directed this, his fifth film, and also earns laughs as the legendary and legendary eccentric founder of Nike, Phil Knight.

“Air” has already won acclaim for its storytelling, humor and heart. Damon, 52, carries the saga as Nike marketing agent Sonny Vaccaro, who argues fiercely – against intense Nike indifference – to sign rookie Michael Jordan.

“It was a group of people that I knew and had a lot of respect for and worked with often, that I adore and admire,” Affleck said during a Zoom conference call. “This movie is a huge failure if it’s just my voice.”

While “Air” didn’t buy the rights to Jordan’s story, Affleck wanted the legend’s blessing. “I didn’t understand the movie until I went to talk to Michael. I had to say, ‘Can I walk past you?’ because from a selfish point of view, the stupidest thing would be to make a film that tells part of his story and if he objects to it, there is no film.

“I found him to be very likeable. I said, ‘Look, that’s not historically accurate. It’s a fable, a parable, an inspiring story, so I’m going to take liberties. But I don’t want to violate anything that’s true for you.

“He wanted to make sure other people were taken into account. That’s why Howard White” – a Nike Air Jordan basketball executive and personal friend of Jordan – “is an integral part of this. Chris Tucker came along and created this role of Howard White.

“Initially,” Affleck added, “I had to make it a story about Michael himself saying (during negotiations): ‘This is what I deserve.’ His parents weren’t part of the story. But when he said, ‘I didn’t want to go to Portland'” – Nike headquarters – “and he’s a powerful, intimidating man! It’s like being around someone as close to a deity as you will find. At this movement, I saw awe, adoration and respect when he spoke of his mother.

“When I heard it, I immediately realized it was the story of Deloris Jordan! She is iconic to so many mothers of athletes and artists. It takes a lot of advice.

“And who should play your mother?” He said, “It MUST be Viola Davis” – it has to be the best. And it was up to us to create a role that she would say yes to.

He did.

“Air” opens April 5


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