SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - FEBRUARY 17: (L-R) Chris Tucker and Ben Affleck attend the Ruffles Celebrity Game during the 2023 NBA All-Star Weekend at Vivint Arena on February 17, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)

Generating $4.8 billion in 2021, Michael Jordan’s Air Jordan sneakers remain iconic 20 years after the six-time NBA champion retired for the final time. People still want to be like Mike and are intrigued by the man who became the first athlete to sign a lifetime partnership contract with Nike.

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The recruitment of Jordan to sign with Nike in 1984 serves as the muse for “Air,” a new movie directed by Ben Affleck that will be released April 5. The film stars Matt Damon, Jason Bateman, Marlon Wayans, Chris Tucker, Viola Davis and Affleck, and it zeroes in on the vision of basketball luminary Sonny Vaccaro and the motivation for Nike to pursue His Airness.

Bally Sports caught up with Affleck to discuss the making of “Air,” his interest in sneaker culture, his relationship with Tucker and the absence of the movie’s biggest star — Jordan.

You’re currently wearing a pair of Air Jordan 3s. In your process of creation, what have you learned about Air Jordan’s influence on not just hoops but pop culture?

I have definitely got a massive education in the shoe culture since I have gotten involved with this movie, and I started researching the origins of the AJ1s and even looking at the models that weren’t ever made and then what happened after. I got really obsessed with it, and I got to know a bunch of people in that world. And they started giving me stuff and I really got into it. And so now I have way too many sneakers. That’s the truth!

What Air Jordan models stand out to you?

Definitely, obviously, I think that there’s the Travis Scott editions. If you want to talk about who’s doing the coolest stuff on top of the Jordans, I would say that his shoes are really interesting.

I like the 3s. I’m still partial — the ones that I really loved were the Fearless AJ 1s that were done with the blue, you know what I mean? Which were inspired by the quote he gave, they are on the inside. The ones that iterate on the original Jordans are still kind of my favorite because they have the lacquer, so I’m still old-school partial to the original 1s versus the iterations down the road.

But there’s all kind of amazing people that have stepped in and kind of worked with Jordans. Jordans have evolved in ways that they’re still leading the way.

What did you learn about Sonny Vaccaro during the creative process of “Air”?

I really didn’t know lot of detail about exactly what his role was, but once I knew the broad strokes — one of the interesting things about Sonny was his subsequent involvement in the (Ed) O’Bannon case, which I thought was really telling because here’s an event that, to me, suggests a guy that was committed to the well-being of the athlete, right?

Because the world is full of various versions of everything that happened. And I’m not trying to get into a fray about who did what, but I will say that here’s a guy in Sonny, who was part of this deal which was very momentous. … Arguably, there is no Jordan participating in the revenue of that shoe if there is much less revenue flowing later on to athletes who go on and sign with companies who represent apparel with their identity. So that deal created value in a kind of ripple effect for many, many others as well.

So any participation in that has to be meaningful, and I think it reflected well on Sonny that he had an ongoing commitment to that, including representing players who were litigating to participate in revenue generated by their likeness in video games. … Listen, me and my son play NBA2K every day. And those (players) — they look an awful like them now, and now it’s very tight and that’s part of the joy of it. Like, if it didn’t look like Giannis, then it wouldn't be as fun.

So that’s the big deal, and that impressed me after I learned about the original deal at Nike.

How cool was it working with Chris Tucker in the movie?

Chris Tucker is a genius, and I benefit from him so much because of the fact that he works so sparingly. So when we did our first test screening, people didn’t know, and when he shows up (on screen), the audience burst out cheering. So I’m just so grateful to him that he … I don’t know what I did to deserve that.

He came in, and I think a lot of it has to do with his relationship with Howard (White) and wanted to play that part, his respect for Howard and his interest. And he’s the best, man.

“Air” is about Air Jordans, but we don’t really see Michael Jordan directly in the film. Why?

Michael Jordan is so famous that I really felt that if we ever saw an actor playing him, it would be hard to get the audience to suspend their disbelief. Because, in my opinion, there’s no convincing anybody that someone who isn’t Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan.

We felt a more interesting way to tell the story would be for him to exist in the ether of the movie. To be talked about by everyone but not seen is really analogous to the experience of celebrities and sports stars in modern life. Because most people go their whole lives without ever meeting or seeing their favorite sports star or celebrity in person.

So we only see Michael in clips and flashes. We don’t ever see him in person because to see him in person would be to put his feet on the ground in a way that the movie doesn’t want to do.

You’re a Boston Celtics fan. How are you feeling about their chances toward the end of the regular season and going into the NBA playoffs?

They’re great. I’m excited and always optimistic.

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