Phil Knight And Rob Strasser In Ben Affleck’s ‘Air,’ Explained

Ben Affleck’s freshly released sports film Air expertly depicts the fascinating history of Nike’s legendary sneaker brand, “Air Jordan.” The focus of the movie is Nike talent scout Sonny Vaccaro’s tenacious pursuit of Michael Jordan in order to secure him for their upcoming launch and create a shoe line exclusively for him. Numerous additional Nike employees were actively involved in the pursuit, much like Sonny Vaccaro. Although not all leading employees at Nike initially agreed with the notion, Vaccaro’s ground-breaking approach eventually convinced them, leading them to accept and fall in love with this innovative strategy.


Spoilers Ahead

Rob Strasser

Rob Strasser (played by Jason Bateman), Nike’s Vice President of Marketing, contrasted with Sonny Vaccaro in his approach to risk-taking. Rather than being a bold risk-taker, Rob was known for his calculated nature and ability to validate various opinions while adapting to different perspectives. However, when he first heard Sonny Vaccaro’s idea of launching a shoe brand dedicated solely to Michael Jordan, Rob experienced a mix of excitement and intimidation. His mind immediately conjured worst-case scenarios, fearing that if the strategy failed, it could potentially lead to the downfall of Nike as a company. Rob’s personal life also played a significant role in his anxiety over the situation. He was separated from his wife, and his limited time with his daughter was confined to Sunday evenings. In a bid to connect with her, he would often give her Nike shoes, hoping to capture her attention and affection. For Rob, the prospect of Nike going down and losing his work meant losing the sole driving factor that allowed him to retain a relationship with his daughter. It was his broken family that intensified his fear of taking risks.


Despite his inner doubts, Rob decided to stick with Sonny’s plan and eagerly pursued sealing the deal with Michael Jordan. In reality, Rob Strasser was the one who delivered a speech during Michael Jordan’s visit to Nike. However, the film Air took creative liberties by spotlighting Sonny as the protagonist, while in truth, multiple individuals played crucial roles in the story. It was the collective teamwork at Nike that elevated the brand’s status in the market. When Michael Jordan finally confirmed the deal, it was an ecstatic moment for both Rob and Sonny. Similar to Sonny Vaccaro, Rob possessed a passion for innovation and driving change in the industry. It was Rob who embraced the notion of infusing more colors into the prototype shoe for “Air Jordan,” envisioning it as a catalyst for transforming the rules and regulations of sports. Nike seized this opportunity and decided to pay the fines incurred from each match that Michael Jordan played—a ground-breaking approach that showcased Nike’s ingenuity.

Phil Knight

Phil Knight (played by Ben Affleck), the co-founder and CEO of Nike, played a pivotal role in the company’s decision-making process. In the film Air, he is portrayed as a leader responsible for evaluating various marketing strategies and choosing the ones that would benefit the company. This immense responsibility fell solely on Phil’s shoulders. When Sonny Vaccaro approached him with his strategy for the upcoming shoe line launch, Phil listened to him but initially dismissed the idea, showing his disapproval of taking risks during a challenging period for Nike in the marketplace. Phil was certain that the loyal Adidas endorser, Michael Jordan, would not agree to the proposal. However, over time, he began to consider the potential benefits of prioritizing Michael Jordan as a central figure for Nike. Phil recognized that by demonstrating their focus and commitment to Michael Jordan, they could make a significant impression on the Jordan family.


When the Jordan family visited various endorsing brands, none of the answers and promises they received seemed viable to Deloris, Michael Jordan’s mother. Their perception changed when they reached Nike, where every employee conveyed their genuine care and dedication to the upcoming shoe line. Phil even acted out a little charade during a meeting to emphasize that Nike was not a ship without direction but had an efficient and prudent CEO in Phil Knight. By purposely arriving late to the meeting, Phil conveyed the message that no matter how busy he was, he would always make time for Michael Jordan because he was their top priority. While it is uncertain whether this specific act occurred in reality, the purpose of this act portrayed in the film was genuine, as it was to showcase Nike’s unflinching commitment to Jordan, hoping to persuade him to sign with them. Finally, Michael Jordan agreed to join Nike but requested a share of the revenue generated from the global sales of the Air Jordan shoe line. Sonny imagined this demand would pose a challenge for Nike at the time, but he still presented the proposal to Phil. Phil, no longer afraid to take such risks, firmly believed that this project would not be canceled over a single hurdle. He consented to the demands of the Jordan family, leading to the signing of the deal with Michael Jordan.

Final Words 

Howard White (played by Chris Tucker) and Peter Moore (played by Matthew Maher) were two other key figures involved in the deal. Howard, a steadfast supporter of Sonny, was impressed by his strategic thinking and maintained his faith in him. Meanwhile, Peter Moore’s contribution to the entire deal was remarkable, despite the controversy surrounding who came up with the name “Air Jordan.” He pushed beyond the boundaries of rules and regulations to create a shoe that would ultimately make history. In the film Air, the bond among these characters is portrayed as both conflicting and soothing. They pour their heart and soul into the project, working tirelessly to elevate both the brand status of their company and the career of Michael Jordan to new heights.


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Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda hails from a medical background, yet her journey is to cross the boundaries of medicine and survive in the cinematic world. The surrealistic beauty of cinema and art has attracted her from a very young age. She loves to write poems, songs, and stories, but her dream is to write films someday. She has also worked as a painter, but nothing attracts her more than cinema. Through her writings, she wants to explore the world of cinema more and more and take her readers on the same ride.

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