Released this week, the sports drama "Air'" takes a look inside Nike's creation of the Air Jordan franchise through the likeness of basketball legend Michael Jordan. It's directed by and stars Ben Affleck alongside Matt Damon. GBH's Arts and Culture reporter James Bennett II joined co-hosts Jeremy Siegel and Paris Alston on Morning Edition to talk about the movie, and its larger significance in the world of sports fashion. This transcript has been edited lightly.
Jeremy Siegel: So, "Air" — how good is it? I saw a lot of people tweeting after they first saw it. I've seen quotes and promotional materials saying it's the best movie of the year. It is only April — so not that many months in the year so far. But what's your take?
James Bennett II: So I'm watching this and I can't help but get a vibe about an Adam McKay movie. Like if you've seen "The Big Short" or "Vice," it's one of those, kind of like "business boardroom" kind of movies that is a world that I guess is kind of boring, but you really got to try to make it relatable to an audience. One thing that I think is interesting is thinking of it as a heist film — like this is a company on the edge of bankruptcy, and their savior is Michael Jordan, but he doesn't want to be there. So they come here to steal — they kind of have to like, steal him or poach him from the imminent signing with Adidas. The movie well establishes that that was the company that Michael Jordan was a fan of. So it's very, "are they going to pull it off?" And we know what happens.
Alston: So we mentioned that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are in this movie, you know, dynamic duo, right? They've got a laundry list of movies of their own under their belt. Do we see that dynamism here, James? And who else helps this movie shine, talent wise?
Bennett: Yeah, it's funny. This is the Michael Jordan movie, starring Ben Affleck.
Alston: And Michael Jordan is nowhere to be seen, right? He's like the wizard Kelly, if you ever watch "The Proud Family" and you only see [him] from the neck down.
Bennett: What a reference. I'll get to that in a second. But yeah, this also stars Jason Bateman. Matt Damon plays Sonny Vaccaro, who is kind of the driving engine of pulling off this sneaker deal. And of course, Ben Affleck in addition to being director, stars as Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike. Viola Davis is also a huge [name] — I didn't know she was in it, I was watching it and I was like, wait, that is Viola Davis.
Alston: And she plays Michael Jordan's mother?
Bennett: She plays Dolores Jordan and kind of represents, I guess, what we as sports viewers often either ignore or forget — that these are young people with families with a lot of responsibility on their shoulders to provide. This is a conversation that some of us have a lot. But being rich does not equate to wealth. And that is a very big conversation in the family dynamic.
Siegel: So along those lines, James, what do you make of the decision not to include the big person in this movie — Michael Jordan?
Bennett: Damian Young, I don't even think gets a credit listed on the starring [credits]. Damian as Michael Jordan is not included on that. I think that it was good to not include Michael Jordan because it doesn't make it a movie about Michael Jordan, it makes it a movie about the shoe. And something to think about is if you're wearing J's right now — I can only see your faces and your top halves.
Siegel: I'm wearing Converse today.
Alston: I left my at home.
"I think that it was good to not include Michael Jordan because it doesn't make it a movie about Michael Jordan, it makes it a movie about the shoe."-GBH Arts and Culture Reporter James Bennett II
Bennett: Converse — bought by Nike. Converse was Michael Jordan's backup plan if he didn't get into Adidas. But the thing is, if you ever see [Air Jordans] on the street, if you ever see them in a fashion blog or in an online catalog, it's like you're seeing a part of Michael Jordan. You're seeing his likeness, you're participating in the Michael Jordan-ness of it all. It doesn't matter that he's not there, but you see him every time you see those shoes.
And it's very cool to kind of think about that as you're watching this movie and not really seeing the character of Michael Jordan. It is like when you're looking at shoes, when you're putting shoes on, when you're buying shoes, you're engaging with the legacy of Michael Jordan. That shoe has become so synonymous with him, and he's become so synonymous with excellence, whether in this case it's basketball, in fashion and hooping.
Alston: We should note for folks who don't know, there are 23 Air Jordans. And someone said to me over the weekend, because I have a pair, they were like, do you know your numbers?
Siegel: Do you know your numbers?
Alston: I have the One — I have a Carolina blue pair of ones because I had to lean all the way into that symbolic excellence, not only with them being Jordans, but also with them being Carolina Blue, which is his alma mater, and mine.