“Air” is an entertaining dramatization of how Nike signed Michael Jordan in 1984

Air 2023

In 1984, the Chicago Bulls drafted Michael Jordan with the third pick in the draft. Many fans and basketball experts thought he would be special, but few staked so much on their analysis as Nike marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro.

The Nike of 1984 wasn’t the Nike that we know today. The company was built on running shoes, not basketball shoes. The market for basketball shoes was largely dominated by Converse and Adidas. Converse had Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Nike wanted to grow their basketball market share, and they knew they needed to sign some rising NBA stars to help elevate the brand.

“Air,” released earlier this year, tells the story of how Vaccaro (played by Matt Damon) became obsessed with signing Jordan to Nike, despite incredibly long odds. Jordan had zero interest in signing Nike. He was choosing between Converse and Adidas. And his agent, David Falk (Chris Messina), had no interest in helping Nike even get a meeting.

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Brandon Jennings says that all is not rosy in Europe

Remember Brandon Jennings? He’s the #1 basketball recruit of the class of 2008 that decided to forgo college (due to trouble with the admissions tests) to sign with a professional team in Rome.

We brought you some excerpts from his blog just after Christmas that stirred up some controversy but weren’t all that controversial. Now he’s on record (via email to the New York Times), and it seems like his frustration level is rising.

“I’ve gotten paid on time once this year,” Jennings said in an e-mail message. “They treat me like I’m a little kid. They don’t see me as a man. If you get on a good team, you might not play a lot. Some nights you’ll play a lot; some nights you won’t play at all. That’s just how it is.”

“I don’t see too many kids doing it,” his e-mail message said. “It’s tough man, I’ll tell you that. It can break you.”

“My role is to play D and take open shots — that’s it,” he said. “And I’ve accepted that role.”

I can’t imagine that these quotes will endear him to the coaching staff in Rome. My guess is that he’ll be running a few extra sprints after practice. And this is one of the advantages (or disadvantages, depending on how you look at it) of the internet, blogs and email. These athletes are so accessible now, even ones that are living in Italy, that journalists can get a quote without flying around the world or having to track them down via telephone. Maybe the Times caught him at a bad time or maybe this is just how it is playing for Lottomatica Virtus Roma.

But even though his minutes are inconsistent and he’s only averaging eight points a game, it doesn’t look like Jennings’ time in Rome will hurt his draft stock, at least according to one anonymous NBA assistant coach.

An N.B.A. assistant coach who has been to Europe and has watched Jennings play said his potential draft standing had not been harmed. The coach requested anonymity because he was discussing a player currently ineligible for the draft.

“I think it is good for him,” he said. “He was getting a defensive component that he needed. If I was a scout and I needed a point guard, I would be extremely impressed with what he has done over there.”

Sonny Vaccaro, who in many ways brokered the deal for Jennings to go to Europe, also commented.

But Vaccaro said there had been a change from last summer, when he worked on the deals for Jennings. Economic conditions in Europe are just as difficult as they are in the United States, and he said he underestimated the emotional strength a player needed to compete overseas.

“A less-driven kid would have come home,” Vaccaro said. “They practice twice a day, and the Europeans play everybody. It is not like one of these silly college games where the same seven guys play every minute of every game. When it’s over, the fact he was able to handle it is going to be more landmark than him just going over there.”

What is Vaccaro smoking?

“It’s not like one of these silly college games where the same seven guys play every minute of every game.”

I’ve played and watched a lot of basketball in my life and the best teams have a regular rotation of guys. Some coaches use a six- or seven-player rotation, and some can find eight or nine guys that they trust. Rarely do teams regularly play a full 12-player roster. With that many guys going in and out of the game, it is impossible for most of the bench players to find any kind of rhythm. I’m not sure why Vaccaro felt the need to use the term “silly” as it just makes him sound foolish.

At the end of the day, I don’t think Europe will be a viable option for most high school seniors. As long as the NBA age-limit stays at 19, most players will prefer to play at the college level due to its comfort and familiarity. But for players like Jennings, who have difficulty getting into college, Europe will remain an option. It just may not be as attractive of an option as it was a year ago.

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