Credit: Gerd Altmann at Pixabay

Three Powerful Lessons Every Business Owner Can Learn from the Movie 'Air'

How did Michael Jordan's belief, rule-breaking, and game-changing partnership with Nike turn a basketball shoe into a global phenomenon, and what uncomfortable risks are you willing to take to create value beyond your imagination?

Angela Faye
Angela Faye

Last night I watched the movie 'Air'.  If you are a business model junkie; or simply love stories of disruption and innovation for good - this is a compelling movie to watch. There are three main takeaways from the movie that we can all be reminded of to be, and feel more fulfilled.  

Air is a 2023 American biographical sports drama film directed by Ben Affleck and written by Alex Convery. The film is based on true events about the origin of Air Jordan, a basketball shoe line, of which a Nike employee seeks to strike a business deal with rookie player Michael Jordan. It stars Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Messina, Chris Tucker and Viola Davis. [Source: Wikipedia]

The focus of “Air” does not argue whether or not Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. Rather it shows how he and his family impacted the business of sports and changed the trajectory of the Nike company, the sports industry and now us.  

Here are my three main takeaways from the movie.

Believe in what's possible, not just what's happening

In 'Air', Sonny was a Nike talent scout that believed the 'Air Jordan' shoe could help make Michael Jordan immortal. Deloris Jordan, Michael's Mom, saw the value and potential Michael had and knew he was destined for greatness.  Deloris proposed a deal to Nike that initially was thought 'cannot be done'. Nike eventually signed the deal despite industry practices and uncertainty about what was to come because it was the right thing to do.

This mutual commitment to believing in what's possible - not just what's happening - became a game-changing partnership that transformed Nike into the world’s largest athletic apparel company and Jordan into a global and cultural phenomenon.

Do things differently, be all in, & break protocol  

In 'Air', Sonny believed in committing 100% of their budget expenditure to one player - and that player should be Michael Jordan. Other athletic shoe companies had a 'diversified portfolio' strategy of investing in multiple players.  While some thought Sonny's idea outlandish, he was working with years of experience, knowledge, and insights and was 100% firm in his belief that Jordan was 'the one'.

Sonny broke protocol and took risks to make a deal happen.

In 'Air', Nike designed differently.  At the time, the NBA had a standard in the amount of color permitted on shoe designs on the court, and I'm confident that there were numerous perspectives that made this guideline legitimate.  But Nike designed the 'Air Jordan' with more color than what the NBA allowed and chose to pay the $5,000/game breach fee.  Nike also designed a shoe around a superstar performer, when the competition was focused on building shoes and getting people to fit the shoe.  

"A shoe is just a shoe until someone steps into it," Nike

Nike designed differently and broke protocol.

In 'Air', Nike negotiated differently. While the competition was offering athlete deals based on a set annual income and competing for athletes mostly on price, the prominent game-changer of the Nike-Jordan deal was Joran received a percentage of the revenue that each shoe with his name on it sold.  With that addition, plus the mutual commitment to showcase human performance the Nike-Jordan partnership was signed.

Nike broke protocol and negotiated differently.  

What's good for 'me', is good for 'we'

The movie 'Air' is just one perspective on how the Nike-Jordan partnership was forged. (There is always more to a story as time progresses and different perspectives are revealed.)  What is clear is that what is good for Michael Jordan is also radically good for Nike, industry, and society as a whole. The Nike-Jordan deal has had an exponential impact!

Clearly, the Nike-Jordan deal was good for the Jordans. You can search the financial returns  - and believe me it is significant.  The deal was clearly good for Nike with shoe sales exceeding anything they ever imagined before Air Jordan.

For industry, the Nike-Jordan symbiotic partnership also heralded a global revolution in the way sport is marketed and athletes are rewarded. Sports marketing shifted from products to the person and the humanity within the performance.  Rewards shifted from payments to partnerships, paving the way for other athletes to be rewarded in deals not previously considered.  

For society, what was good for "me" - in this case Michael Jordan, became good for "we": companies, communities, and the crowd of people that directly or indirectly benefit from shifts in athlete endorsement deals, fashion, popular culture, and the rise of sneaker culture.  

What's in it for me and you?

My goal is to invest up to $1 million per year in community innovation projects, and become a renowned Sprint Director - you know, the person community and business leaders call on speed dial to fast-track personal or company transformation. The investments will come from a Trust Fund partnering on a revenue share with like-minded philanthropists - individuals and companies who can imagine and build places worth living for.  

I see a likeness in my goal to the 'Air' story, and I am grateful to Nike, the Jordans, and everyone that imagined and created 'Air' for paving the way towards shifts in how people and organizations think about partnerships with their people. Your legacy is still unfolding.  

Another of my goals is to inspire you with compelling questions that, in the answer, can create value for yourself you didn't even know possible.

Compelling questions to consider:

What is one idea you believe in so much that you would take uncomfortable risks to make happen?*

How much are you willing to risk?  Can you be all in?

What are you going to do about it today? Tomorrow?

What protocols can you break (or let go of) that are: redundant, outdated, in place because 'that's the way we've always done it'?

What new protocols can you action to create value for yourself, your company and your community?

What do you know has the potential to be an exponential game-changer and what are you going to do about it?

What are you waiting for?** Just do it.


"Belief, breaking protocol, and teamwork can create value you never imagined possible", Angela Faye


*You and I do not have the equivalent of Michael Jordan's sporting talent. But we ALL have individual performance genius' bigger than we are tapping into now.  Individually, we can do more, be more, and create more value for ourselves and others.  What if it is our calling or responsibility to act for both the betterment of ourselves AND our community/crowd?

**The movie portrayed Nike as the underdog in the athletic shoe industry with 17% of the market (way behind Converse and Adidas), with their basketball division on the edge of being eliminated altogether.  Some were not even aware they needed something massively disruptive to save their jobs and the company.  Why do we wait until a situation is underperforming or dismal before we innovate or change our minds, behaviour or spirit?  

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Angela empowers entrepreneurial business leaders by increasing access to purpose, profits, & property in rapidly changing times through business building, destination development, & public engagement.