Michael Jordan gave Ben Affleck a list of things he wanted in the biopic 'Air,' including a prominent role for a Team USA assistant coach and Viola Davis as his mother
Ben Affleck directed "Air," out April 5, to tell the story of how Michael Jordan signed his shoe deal with Nike.
Before starting the project, the two-time Oscar winner asked the GOAT for his blessing over lunch.
Affleck called Jordan "the most cool, intimidating guy in the world," speaking after a screening of the film.
NEW YORK — Ben Affleck may be one of the world's foremost movie stars and the proud owner of two Academy Awards, but he's no Michael Jordan.
Before embarking on his latest project — "Air," which tells the story of a young Jordan signing an industry-altering shoe deal with Nike — the actor and filmmaker sat down for lunch with the NBA legend to get his feedback and permission to make the movie.
"Michael Jordan, who's the most cool, intimidating guy in the world, came and said, 'I'll sit down with you,'" Affleck told audience members after an advanced screening of the film in New York City. "And I went and sat down and had lunch and I said, 'First of all, I won't do this movie if you don't want me to do it, just to start with, because it's just a show of reverence and respect for you.'
"'I have to change some details and stuff, but I think there's more to the story than this,'" he added to Jordan. "'And I don't want to do anything that feels fundamentally wrong to you, obviously.'"
That's when the GOAT chimed in, offering Affleck a short but significant list of "what I care about" making the final cut.
George Raveling was at the top of the list.
The former college basketball player — who was an assistant coach for the Team USA squad Jordan won gold with at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles — was so crucial to his decision that Jordan told Affleck, "I wouldn't be at Nike without him."
—George Raveling (@GeorgeRaveling) May 18, 2020
His Airness felt similarly about Howard White, the NBA draft pick who embarked on a career at Nike after knee injuries derailed his professional career. The former Maryland Terrapins point guard developed a relationship with Jordan as he weighed the deals that various brands — Adidas, Converse, and Nike — laid at his feet, and eventually went on to become the Vice President of Jordan Brand.
"I was like, 'Maybe I can get Chris Tucker [to play White]. I've always wanted to work with Chris Tucker,'" Affleck recalled telling Jordan. "And he was like, 'I know Chris.'"
That settled that.
Then came the matter of casting Jordan's parents, who were central to the story of their son's shoe deal. When the five-time NBA MVP told Affleck his father, James, "had the best personality out of everyone I ever knew," Affleck assured him that he'd already found "the right guy for that matter" — Julius Tennon.
Conveniently, Tennon is married to the legendary Viola Davis — Jordan's only true casting demand for the film. The Chicago Bulls icon wanted the EGOT winner to play his mother, Deloris.
"The best actor in the world?! No problem!" Affleck recalled responding sarcastically.
But in learning from Jordan just "how meaningful and important" his mother was to the start of her son's brand empire, Affleck realized "what the movie is — what it's about." So he set off to work — not just creating a story that would be true to Jordan's memory and sentiment of the historic partnership's founding, but also crafting a role worthy of an actress like Davis.
"We just worked and worked and worked and worked," Affleck said. "And then when I went to Viola, I was like, 'Look, you probably don't want to do this, but Michael Jordan wants you to.'"
She was sold and became the crown jewel of an all-star cast only a legend like Jordan could command. Affleck plays Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight, while Matt Damon stars as Sonny Vaccaro — the basketball guru at the center of Nike's pursuit of Jordan.
Davis and Tennon feature as Jordan's parents, while Tucker took on the role of Howard White. Golden Globe, Emmy, and SAG Award winner Jason Bateman plays then-Nike Director of Marketing Rob Strasser, while actor and comedian Marlon Wayans plays the aforementioned Raveling.
"Air" comes out exclusively in theaters April 5. Check out the trailer below:
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