See how Air hits Blake Snyder’s 15 story beats!
Written by: Alex Convery
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Opening Image: After a montage of footage from the year 1984, setting the time period and the tone of the story, we find Nike talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) sitting on the bleachers, watching basketball players as he analyzes their skills.
Theme Stated: In Vegas, Sonny spends the evening gambling. This hints at the thematic premise for the story: what is the importance of taking risks? As Sonny tries to recruit talent to represent Nike, he will challenge the group to try new methods, gambling his and the company’s future. But will one player be worth it? The institution will soon find out if the choice they make is worth it.
Set-Up: In 1984, Nike’s market share is in last place with only 17%, trailing Converse and Adidas. It’s a case of stasis = death if the company wants to stay relevant in the industry. Back at Nike, Sonny meets with Howard White (Chris Tucker), the V.P. of Nike Basketball Athlete Relations. White says that the problem with Nike is that it’s a jogging company and its shoes are seen as such. White tells Sonny that he needs more players to represent Nike, noting that the best way is to go through their mothers.
In a meeting with Marketing V.P. Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), the marketing team tries to choose from the draft’s players to represent their brand. Sonny challenges their picks, causing problems, and tells Strasser that their best bet is to court Michael Jordan. Jordan, however, would be too expensive, and also favors Adidas.
There are many things that need fixing at Nike, and Sonny is tasked with remedying them. Sonny meets with CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck), who tells him that the board is questioning the basketball division’s purpose. Sonny, however, wants Knight to double the money allotted so that he can recruit good players, but Knight refuses. In the thesis world, Nike is not willing to take risks, but only by doing so will they come out on top.
Catalyst: While out getting groceries at a convenience store, Sonny strikes up a conversation with the cashier, a basketball fan. The two talk about the draft picks, and the cashier notes that the only reason Jordan was picked was because of a shot he made to win the title game in the NCAA championship. At home, Sonny sees a commercial with Arthur Ashe advertising his tennis rackets. This, combined with scrutinizing Jordan’s winning shot at the title game on video, gives Sonny a revelation.
Debate: Sonny meets with Strasser, trying to convince him that Jordan is who they need to sign, and that they should pour all their budget into Jordan alone, building a shoe line around him. In Sonny’s eyes, Jordan is the shoe, and the shoe is him. It’s a risk that Sonny believes they should take despite the fact that the other companies can match it. White doesn’t think Knight will go along with the idea, but Sonny calls Jordan’s agent, David Falk (Chris Messina) and learns that Adidas will be offering a high amount that they might not be able to match.
Break into Two: Knight finally agrees to the idea, and Sonny takes off to meet George Raveling (Marlon Wayans), the coach of the US Olympics basketball team.
B Story: In his discussion with Raveling, Sonny learns that the best way to reach Michael is by talking with Michael’s mother. It is through her that Sonny (and Nike) will learn what risk truly means.
Fun and Games: In the antithesis world, Sonny will risk everything as he actively pursues Michael Jordan. Talking to Raveling, Sonny realizes he must meet with Jordan, even though bypassing Jordan’s agent Falk could risk his own career. Sonny heads to North Carolina to meet with the Jordans in person. He tries to convince Deloris Jordan (Viola Davis) that Nike is the place for Michael, even detailing how the other companies will try to win Michael over. Soon, Falk calls, furious that Sonny went over his head. He reveals, however, that the Jordans are willing to meet with him.
Midpoint: Sonny meets with Knight to tell him the good news, but it’s a false victory. The time clocks appear when he tells Knight that the meeting is on Monday. The stakes are raised, however, when Knight says he might not approve of the offer. Now, Sonny must plan ahead so that the meeting is a success; after all, it’s a massive risk.
Bad Guys Close In: The other companies meet with the Jordans to make their offers. Meanwhile, Sonny and Strasser work with shoe designer Peter Moore (Matthew Maher) to create something unique, but nothing seems to work. They want to add more red to the shoe, but this would violate the NBA’s regulations and cause Michael Jordan to pay a fine if he wears them on the court.
Strasser comes up with an idea: the company will pay the fine for each game. Though costly, it would be easy publicity. Sonny and Strasser pull an all-nighter where Strasser notes that Sonny has been a bit cavalier by risking the division on his idea. Sonny apologizes, adding that it’s just a shoe. But Strasser notes that a shoe is only just a shoe until someone steps into it.
Knight agrees to the full budget to show the Jordans their new shoe line: the Air Jordan. The team strategizes how the meeting will go, but there is a bit of disagreement over some details, such as showing a video during the presentation.
The meeting takes place, with each member of the team doing their part to win over the Jordan family. But when Knight shows the video that the marketing department prepared, Sonny notices that it’s losing Michael’s interest, and he turns it off. He speaks from the heart, telling Michael that his story is the American story, one of ups and downs, and that is what is more important than the money he will make.
He repeats Strasser’s admonition that a shoe is just a shoe until somebody steps into it; then it has meaning. That meaning, he says, will be passed on to the others who wear his shoes.
All Is Lost: Sonny waits to hear back from Jordan’s agent, his anticipation running high. He soon receives a call from White who says that Adidas has matched Nike’s offer, along with buying Michael a car. It’s a false defeat; Nike can’t match that. The whiff of death is present as this gamble threatens to destroy Sonny’s career and Nike’s basketball division.
Dark Night of the Soul: Sonny walks through the office, heartbroken at his loss. He gets a call from Deloris Jordan, who tells him that Michael will accept their offer. However, she notes that there is one “minor provision”: Michael will make a percentage of the revenue of each shoe that is sold with his name on it.
Sonny tries to explain that this isn’t possible, but Deloris says that Michael is the one creating meaning in that shoe that others will buy. She adds, “A shoe is just a shoe… until my son steps into it.”
Break into Three: Sonny goes to visit Phil Knight to tell him the news.
Finale: Sonny tells Phil about Adidas’s match of the offer and how they can’t possibly match it. He apologizes, noting the new terms Mrs. Jordan has issued. After a moment’s thought, Knight decides that it’s a worthwhile risk, making a sacrifice on behalf of the company.
“We should do it,” he says, though Sonny is now the reluctant one. Knight reminds Sonny of the belief he has in Michael, and it’s clear that Sonny’s faith has changed those in this institution. Sonny goes back to his office and makes a phone call, then announces to the bullpen that they signed Michael Jordan. His risk has paid off.
Final Image: At night, Sonny visits a meditating Knight in his office as they discuss the future of Nike. Knight is unsure of how the Board will react to the terms of the Jordan agreement, but figures it won’t be a problem—the most they’ve ever made on a shoe was $3 million.
“He’s one guy,” Knight says to himself. “How much can it be?” As the film ends, we learn about the impact that Sonny’s risk made: the Air Jordan sold $162 million in its first year, and the brand represents $4 billion in sales for Nike annually. More importantly, Knight’s gamble resulted in change throughout the sports industry.