EXCLUSIVE: Ben Affleck’s untitled Nike drama for Amazon Studios, Skydance Sports and Mandalay Pictures has assembled a stellar cast, with Jason Bateman (Ozark), Viola Davis (The Woman King), Chris Tucker (Rush Hour franchise), Marlon Wayans (Respect) and Chris Messina (Sharp Objects) signing on for roles, along with Matthew Maher (Our Flag Means Death), Tom Papa (Behind the Candelabra) and Julius Tennon (The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar). In addition to directing, Affleck is starring in the pic which entered production in Los Angeles on Monday, alongside his fellow Good Will Hunting Oscar winner, Matt Damon.
The as-yet-untitled sports marketing film will tell the incredible story of how maverick sneaker salesman Sonny Vaccaro (Damon) led a fledgling running shoe company called Nike in its pursuit of the most transformative athlete in the history of sports: Michael Jordan. Affleck will portray Nike co-founder Phil Knight in the story surrounding Nike’s longshot effort to sign Jordan to its shoe company in the mid-’80s, an endorsement that seemed impossible at the time but which would become the most significant relationship between an athletic brand and an athlete and launched the global, multibillion-dollar contemporary sneaker industry. Sonny’s relentless quest to sign Jordan to what was then the third-place shoe company takes him to Jordan’s parents, and in particular his powerful, dynamic mother, as well as to former coaches, advisors, friends and those close to Michael. Jordan himself is a giant mythic figure hovering above the movie and never seen, while Sonny tries to reach him by gaining access to those close to him and around him.
Bateman will play Vaccaro’s boss, Rob Strasser, the longtime Nike executive and attorney-turned-branding-guru who oversaw the company’s marketing and messaging across all sports. Strasser was an instrumental figure in Nike’s efforts to sign (and later promote) Jordan.
Davis will play Jordan’s mother, Deloris Jordan, who was an enormous influence on Michael’s Nike deal, with Tucker as Howard White, a former college basketball player at the University of Maryland. White was a junior executive at Nike’s fledgling basketball department in the early ’80s, regularly serving as the company’s day-to-day connection with its roster of NBA players, which included such notable names as Moses Malone, George Gervin and Artis Gilmore.
Wayans has been cast as college basketball trailblazer George Raveling, who was the first Black coach in two iconic conferences—the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Pacific-10. Additionally, in 1984, he was the head coach at the University of Iowa and an assistant of the gold medal-winning U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team, where he met and befriended Michael Jordan. Raveling was a dear friend of Vaccaro’s, and with Sonny’s prodding, he first introduced the idea of signing with Nike to Michael.
Messina has been tapped to play Jordan’s original agent, David Falk, who had represented several prominent NBA players prior to signing Michael, including a pair of No. 1 overall NBA draft picks—James Worthy (Michael’s former teammate at University of North Carolina) and Mark Aguirre. Falk is often credited with coming up with the name “Air Jordan.” Maher will play Peter Moore, the legendary designer for Nike (and later Adidas) who created the designs for the first Air Jordan sneakers, in addition to the iconic “Wings” and “Jumpman” logos for the Air Jordan brand.
Papa is playing Stu Inman, the former Portland Trail Blazers executive, who famously selected oft-injured center Sam Bowie ahead of Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft, with Tennon as Jordan’s father James, who also influenced his decision to sign with Nike.
Alex Convery penned the original script, titled Air Jordan, which was named to the 2021 Black List of the best unproduced screenplays. Mandalay brought it to Skydance Sports President Jon Weinbach, who then secured Vaccarro’s life rights. Affleck and Damon did a subsequent pass on the script and are producing alongside Peter Guber, Jason Michael Berman, Jeff Robinov, Madison Ainley, and David Ellison. Executive producers include Jon Weinbach, Jesse Sisgold, Dana Goldberg, and Don Granger, Kevin Halloran, Michael Joe, John Graham, Drew Vinton, Jordan Moldo and Peter E. Strauss. The film will ultimately premiere on Prime Video in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide.
Bateman is an Emmy winner who directed, exec produced and starred in Netflix’s acclaimed drama series Ozark, which recently came to the end of its fourth and final season. He’s otherwise perhaps best known for his turn as Michael Bluth on the Netflix comedy series Arrested Development from Imagine Television, The Hurwitz Company and 20th Television. Other recent credits on the acting side include HBO’s smash miniseries The Outsider and the action-comedy Game Night from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.
Davis is an Oscar and Emmy winner best known for turns in films including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences and Doubt, and for her portrayal of Annalise Keating on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. She can currently be seen playing former First Lady Michelle Obama on Showtime’s The First Lady, and will also soon be seen in films including TriStar’s historical epic The Woman King. Other recent credits include The Unforgivable, The Suicide Squid and Troop Zero.
Tucker is an actor and comedian best known for his role as Carter in New Line’s Rush Hour franchise and has also been seen in such films as Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk, Silver Linings Playbook, Jackie Brown, The Fifth Element and Friday, among others.
Wayans is an actor, writer, producer and comedian whose credits include In Living Color, Requiem for a Dream, multiple Scary Movie films, The Ladykillers, White Chicks, Little Man, Norbit, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, The Heat and the NBC sitcom Marlon. He’s recently been seen in the films On the Rocks and Respect, as well as Peacock’s Fresh Prince reimagining, Bel-Air, and will next appear in Jeff Wadlow’s horror-comedy, Boo!.
Messina appeared in Affleck’s past films Argo and Live By Night, and has also been seen in such recent features as I Care a Lot, She Dies Tomorrow and Birds of Prey. The actor can currently be seen on Starz’s Watergate drama series Gaslit, and will next be seen in Phyllis Nagy’s Sundance timely 2022 drama Call Jane, as well as mystery-thriller The Boogeyman, the sci-fi thriller I.S.S from director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Bill Pohlad’s musical drama Dreamin’ Wild and David Rabe’s We’re Just Married.
Maher can currently be seen on Prime Video’s Outer Range and HBO Max’s Our Flag Means Death. He’ll next appear in Owen Kline’s Funny Pages, the Apple TV+ series Hello Tomorrow! and Yale Entertainment’s thriller The Kill Room with Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson and more.
Papa is a comedian and actor who has previously appeared on such series as Red Oaks, The Jim Gaffigan Show, The Knick and Inside Amy Schumer, as well as films including Top Five, Behind the Candelabra and The Informant!.
Tennon runs JuVee Productions with his wife, Davis. His recent credits on the acting side include the Lifetime TV movie The Simone Biles Story: Courage to Soar, How to Get Away with Murder and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Bateman is represented by CAA and Hansen, Jacobson, Teller; Davis by CAA, Lasher Group and Lichter, Grossman, Nichols; Tucker by ICM Partners and attorney Susan C. Adamson; Wayans by WME, 3 Arts Entertainment and Yorn, Levine, Barnes; Messina by CAA, Entertainment 360 and Gendler & Kelly; Maher by CESD and Viking Entertainment; Papa by UTA; and Tennon by Lasher Group.