How true is the movie Air? Here's everything that didn't happen in real life

Want to know what was fabricated for the movie? We are in the know

Matt Damon as Sonny Vaccaro in Air
(Image credit: Amazon Studios/Future)

How true is the movie Air? Real stories translated into movies are always embellished - here's everything in Ben Affleck's Air that didn't actually happen.

Back in In 1984, sale's in Nike's basketball shoe division were so low the department was about to close. Nike's basketball talent scout - the now infamous Sonny Vaccaro - was not going to let this happen, determined to find a new spokesperson for the shoes. Setting his heart on Michael Jordan, Vaccaro was given a resounding no; Jordan was already affiliated with Adidas, and far too expensive. Undeterred, Vaccaro got Jordan's mother Deloris on board to convince Jordan to drop preferred brands Adidas and Converse. A meeting with Jordan and blowing his budget to sign him to represent the brand followed, and "Air Jordan" history was made. But which parts of the movie Air depicting these events were made up purely for entertainment? We have the lowdown. 

When a movie about Marilyn Monroe was released, many were asking how true is the movie Blonde? Debate continues regarding the accuracy of the film. The true story behind Zac Efron's The Greatest Beer Run Ever, also left viewers astounded - an idea that started in a bar during the Vietnam war, ended with some incredible events unfolding. Viewers often ask if Where The Crawdads Sing is a true story and although it isn't, it takes inspiration from something harrowing that happened to the author of the original story. 

How true is the movie Air? Fiction vs reality

Deloris Jordan wasn't as pivotal in Nike signing her son as the movie shows

Air leads viewers to believe Michael Jordan's mother was pivotal in negotiations with Vaccaro that resulted in Jordan going on board with Nike and saving the brand, which is not true.

 Although Deloris was present during Jordan's meeting with Nike, and had some contact with Vaccaro, her role in proceedings was hugely embellished for the sake of the movie. This change was made due to Ben Affleck wanting to keep Michael Jordan entirely absent from the movie, not appearing at all. Affleck felt that audiences would never believe in any actor portraying such an iconic figure, feeling any depiction of his would feel like poor impersonation. Using Deloris as the key figure in place of Jordan, distracts audiences from the fact the athlete only appears in archival clips. 

Speaking to Hollywood Reporter about his decision to leave Jordan out of the movie, Affleck said "When you are that person, when you become so much more than a hero or an athlete or even an icon, you start to become an idea to people. You touch them and just start to represent hope and excellence and greatness. You are one of a kind. And there is no way I was ever going to ask an audience to believe that anybody other than Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan. Which was also out of my own naked self interest, frankly, because I knew it would destroy the movie."

The length of time Nike took to pursue Michael Jordan

Viola Davis as Deloris Jordan in Air

(Image credit: Ana Carballosa/Prime)

For purposes of the movie, it appears that Michael Jordan was signed rapidly by Nike. The reality was, the process of pursuing him took months.

The fast pacing of the movie would make it appear that Jordan came on board to Nike within weeks of Vaccaro having his lightbulb moment. In reality, the deal took nearly four months to complete. The movie depicts Vaccaro acting in haste, rapidly buying plane tickets and arriving at the Jordan's Wilmington home to seal the deal.

After arriving unexpectedly on their doorstep, he's seen pleading with the Jordan's to go to Oregon and get the deal completed, and having talks with Deloris in the family garden. Vaccaro has said of these scenes "That didn’t happen. What did happen is I had those conversations with Deloris on the phone." The calls happened over months, all while Vaccaro convinced Jordan from afar, that Adidas weren't for him.

Sonny Vaccaro and Michael Jordan's first meeting

The movie would suggest Vaccaro first met Michael Jordan at the end of proceedings, when he finally pins him down to give his pitch - this isn't true.

According to POPSUGAR, Vaccaro first met Jordan just after his appearance at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Vaccaro was friends with George Raveling, head coach of Washington State's men's basketball team, who introduced the pair. Vaccaro began pitching his idea to Jordan then, not after Nike had been in pursuit of him for months.

Not depicted in the film is Vaccaro being pushed out of Nike 1991, over power struggles within the company. He went to to work as a marketing executive for brands including Adidas and Reebok, negotiating a high-profile deal between Kobe Bryant and Adidas in 1996. He eventually retired after leaving Reebok in 2007.

Nike's $250,000 budget to sign Jordan was a lot higher

Ben Affleck as Phil Knight in Air

(Image credit: Ana Carballosa/Prime)

In the movie, Nike's budget to sponsor a basketball player is $250,000. However in reality, the figure was actually $2.5 million.

This budget was also supposed to be divided between sponsorship deals with several players, but Vaccaro insisted it all be spent on Jordan. In the resulting deal, Jordan's five year contract with the Nike brand also saw him see 25% of the royalties from shoes sold bearing his name. It is now estimated that Jordan makes $100 million per year in ongoing royalties from his affiliation with Nike.

Sonny Vaccaro being mainly responsible for the deal

This one remains strongly contested to this day. The movie shows Vaccaro as "the savior" of Nike, but who influenced Jordan to sign has been contested. 

Vaccaro has always asserted Nike only signed Jordan on his recommendation, and through his personal contacts that made connecting with his possible. However, Phil Knight told USA Today "The signing of Michael Jordan, yeah, success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan. A lot of people want to take credit for signing Michael Jordan, most obviously Sonny Vaccaro. On ESPN he said he was the key to the thing. Sonny helped, but he wasn’t the MVP in that process."

Incidentally, Jordan himself credits George Raveling with urging him to sign with Nike. He said "In all honesty, I never wore Nike shoes until I signed with Nike. I was a big Adidas, Converse guy coming out of college. Then actually my parents made me go out to (Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.) to hear their proposal. Prior to all of that, Sonny (Vaccaro) likes to take the credit. But it really wasn’t Sonny, it was actually George Raveling. George Raveling was with me on the 1984 Olympics team. He used to always try to talk to me, 'You gotta go Nike, you gotta go Nike. You’ve got to try.'"

The origin of the name "Air Jordan"

Chris Messina as David Falk in Air

(Image credit: Ana Carballosa/Prime)

David Falk and Peter Moore designed the Air Jordan shoe, with the movie depicting they came up with the name separately.

Falk is seen having a lightbulb moment with the name suddenly forming in his head, while Moore ponders the name for days - they then argue over who actually came up with the name first. In reality, Falk and Moore decided on the name collaboratively, during a meeting with Rob Strasser. However, Falk believes to this day, the name was solely his idea. 

In an interview, Falk said "It literally came to me in probably less than a minute. And I said 'OK, we'll call it Air Jordan.' Air because Nike's just developed these new running shoes that have an air technology that's supposed to cushion your feet, and it's a double entendre in the way Michael plays basketball." He states that after this moment, Moore took out a sketch pad in within five minutes, had sketched out the logo.

Rob Strasser wasn't divorced, and his wife actually worked for Nike

Jason Bateman as Rob Strasser in Air

(Image credit: Ana Carballosa/Prime)

Scenes in the movie depict Strasser expressing concern that if Vaccaro ploughs their entire budget into Michael Jordan for zero results, he would lose everything. 

Alluding to only seeing his daughter at weekends, he emotionally ruminates over what would happen should they both find themselves out of a job and what this could mean for seeing his child. 

Strasser was actually married to a woman named Julie, a brand advertising manager at Nike. According to And Scape, Julie Strasser went on to publish Swoosh: The Unauthorized Story of Nike and the Men Who Played There in 1993. This included a history of Nike, and her version of what happened when Jordan was signed. Portrayed by Jason Bateman with a full head of hair, the real Strasser was actually bald, and reportedly rotund in appearance. 

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Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.