This movie is like a love letter to Michael’s Mother, Mrs. Jordan…
Whereas watching all ten episodes of Jason Hehir’s Emmy-winning 2020 docuseries, “The Last Dance,” preserved my sanity during the pandemic, Ben Affleck‘s latest narrative feature, “Air,” (produced by Mandalay Pictures, Amazon Studios, Skydance Sports) made me lose it all over again. I absolutely loved this movie for many reasons, but primarily because it is a love letter to Mrs. Deloris Jordan, Michael’s mother. It is not often you see such a paean to a woman, much less the mother of a superstar (Mary and Jesus excepted). And for today, Mother’s Day, I want to highlight that tribute.
“The Last Dance” chronicled the six championships won by larger-than-life basketball legend Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, while Alex Convery’s debut script for “Air” portrays the methods utilized by shoe salesman Sonny Vaccarro (played so convincingly by Matt Damon) in leading the Nike brand to pursue Jordan. The A-list ensemble includes the always reliable Jason Bateman (as Rob Strasser), Chris Tucker (as Howard White who went from player to executive), Chris Messina (as the scene stealing agent David Falk), Marlon Wayans (as George Raveling), and Affleck himself as Phil Knight, the zen co-founder and CEO of Nike. And while they all give entertaining performances, for me, the person who emerges as the film’s heart is Michael’s mother who is channeled in another Oscar-caliber performance by Viola Davis.
Nike and the Jordan Brand have been popular for so long that it is hard to remember that they were once eclipsed by both Converse and Adidas. And although we know the outcome, that there will be an Air Jordan shoe, film critic Christy Lemire cites the “deceptive brilliance of Ben Affleck’s directing” that allows us to enjoy the story despite knowing how it ends.
However, even when we think we know, we get the eye-opening details of the pivotal role Mrs. Jordan played in allowing Damon’s character to court Michael Jordan on Nike’s behalf even after his agent told them no-go. Strasser discovered that family was primary to the Jordans. And if you were going to approach Deloris, no–make that “Mrs. Jordan!,” you had to do it with respect. She knew not only her own value, but that of her son (who Affleck wisely never really shows us in the movie). What is phenomenal is that Mrs. Jordan had the cool presence to negotiate a deal on her son’s behalf that forever changed his future and the sports industry. You can say that this Mother’s love was truly worth its weight in gold. And that Michael’s brand amplified the House of Nike.
You can view one of her pivotal scenes with Matt Damon in the clip embedded below, where she reveals that the Nike deal with Michael will go through on the condition that her son earns a percentage of every Air Jordan that is sold…in perpetuity!
In the fall of 2014, I was honored to receive the Deloris Jordan Award for Excellence in Community Leadership at the 20th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival. Mrs. Jordan presented me with the award, which also posthumously honored my late husband, Roger, for among other things, the work we did in supporting emerging students in education and the arts. But I also knew Mrs. Jordan because as Chicagoans, both Roger and I were massive fans of the Bulls. During that period the whole city, no, the whole nation, and I think I can even safely say, the whole world was obsessed with them.
But Mrs. Jordan didn’t sit on her laurels and live an empty life of luxury. On Christy Lemire’s Breakfast All Day podcast in 2020, I reflected on how Mrs. Jordan, along with Michael’s former wife, Juanita, and his sister Roslyn quietly took care of helping him contribute to many charities and causes. She never took her role for granted, preferring to give back.
I admire Mrs Jordan for the philanthropic work that she has done for years, starting with the Michael Jordan Foundation. Her focus is and has been on helping children, especially those in lesser served communities. Roger and I served on the advisory board of the James R. Jordan Boys and Girls Club and Family Life Center that Michael and Mrs. Jordan dedicated to engage with the community on the Westside of Chicago. It was named in honor of her late husband who was tragically murdered in 1993 during a robbery. (In an inspired bit of casting, Viola Davis’ real-life husband, Julius Tennon, plays Mr. James Jordan in “Air”). Mr. Jordan was always at Michael’s games and I remember him as a sweet man who was proud of his son.
Her philanthropy continues today. Mrs. Jordan serves as the president and founder of the James R. Jordan Foundation, which aims to “empower youth and strengthen families through education and partnerships” (you can visit its official site here). Through her good works she has spawned A-Team Scholars; Time Out Summer Camp; Vision for Families Programs; the Kenya Women and Children’s Wellness Center in Nairobi, and so many other initiatives.
Photo property of Chaz Ebert
Rarely has a film so beautifully and entertainingly chronicled the behind-the-scenes saga by which the parent of an icon guided the formation of their child’s celebrity with the utmost integrity. It was great to see Ben Affleck and Matt Damon back together again on the screen. And Michael Jordan himself was absolutely right in insisting that Davis play his mother. Mrs Jordan responded modestly when I communicated with her about the film. She said she was glad that Viola Davis would get the glory. The only other request Michael made was that Howard White, the current Vice President of the Jordan Brand, be among the characters in the film. He is well portrayed by Chris Tucker, one of White’s own friends. (And a personal thank you to Chris Tucker for his support during the Memorial Service for Roger at the Chicago Theater in April 2013.) This film was clearly a labor of love, a fact that shines through in every frame.
“Air” began streaming globally on Prime Video Friday, May 12th.