‘Air’ entertaining movie to watch, but it raises deep questions upon reflection

The movie is about Nike’s signing of NBA rookie Michael Jordan to a shoe contract in 1984, but it’s also about the glorification of pursuing the god of profit at the expense of morality.

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Matt Damon plays shoe hustler Sonny Vaccaro, who persuades Michael Jordan to sign a deal with Nike in 1984, in the movie ‘‘Air.’’

Matt Damon plays shoe hustler Sonny Vaccaro, who persuades Michael Jordan to sign a deal with Nike in 1984, in the movie ‘‘Air.’’

Ana Carballosa/Amazon Prime Video via AP

Sometimes you watch a movie, enjoy it, then — as it percolates in your brain — start to wonder. You wonder about a lot.

Such was my delayed response to the highly entertaining movie ‘‘Air,’’ which I watched in a theater Saturday night.

‘‘Air’’ is about Nike’s signing of NBA rookie Michael Jordan to a shoe contract in 1984, thereby changing the world of marketing and sports celebrity-dom for all time.

But ‘‘Air’’ is also about something it might not even be fully aware of: the glorification of pursuing the god of profit at the expense of morality.

It’s a synchronous tone for our current winner-take-all world, a place where we barely hide the fact we care next to nothing about the losers in any situation. It’s only the winners and how much money they make that matters.

Think about it.

Can you recall many — any? — second-place finishers in the Indy 500, the 100-meter dash in the Olympics, the Boston Marathon, Wimbledon, the Super Bowl?

Why do we think a lot about Padres stars Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts? Not because they’ve had World Series success (although Bogaerts helped the Red Sox win two). No, it’s because they have contracts totaling $970 million among them.

The Masters ended Sunday, and printed right next to the finishing order — maybe even more important than place — is how much money each man got.

Reflecting, I found myself marveling that ‘‘Air’’ director Ben Affleck (co-starring with pal Matt Damon) was so artfully able to turn Nike the corporation into a symbolically struggling and sympathetic main character, the likes of which all dramas need. It made the audience forget that Nike was, in fact, a large company founded in the mid-1960s that went public in 1980 — when it already had a 50% share of the U.S. sports-shoe market — and just was looking to expand its basketball business by the time Jordan came around.

The hustling Luke Skywalker in this near-mythic battle against a purported evil empire (nicely played by rival shoe companies Adidas and Converse) is basketball scout Sonny Vaccaro, played by Damon. When Sonny wins at the end by dramatically signing Jordan, after the requisite movie moment of despair, we all win.

That’s how these little-guy-against-Goliath sports melodramas always go. It’s what we want. It’s what we need. They put a smile on our face, a bounce in our (Air Jordan?) step.

But what about the foreign people who would go on to make Jordan shoes in sweatshops? Or Nike boosting profits with offshore banking dodges? Or the impressionable young purchasers of Jordan products who were nudged into spending and sometimes violence as a result?

What about Vaccaro, Nike and agent David Falk — and the Jordan family, in the way they’re portrayed — caring next to nothing about any social-justice consequences of making MJ an icon only in profit?

That’s America for you. Modern America. Actually, America from the start. But in ‘‘Air,’’ there’s no makeup, no veneer, no pretending that anything matters except money and power. And that’s unusual. It’s haunting.

As I thought of Vaccaro’s character, it occurred to me that he was similar, in certain ways, to late Bulls general manager Jerry Krause.

Despised by Jordan and, therefore, by Jordan’s vast, adoring public — my friend’s enemy is my enemy — Krause was a dour, unsympathetic little man who nevertheless had a genius for spotting great players and who contributed mightily to the Bulls’ six NBA championships, conquests that elevated Jordan to godlike status.

How much more layered, complex and ultimately satisfying it would be to make a movie about a little man such as Krause, to contrast his psychological and physical issues with the tall, lithe, domineering Jordan and his vast charisma, to show some redemption for that type of person, the true David with a slingshot?

After all, Krause came from nowhere and helped engineer the Bulls’ greatest triumphs. Vaccaro had Phil Knight’s money behind him, and what Nike did might not have changed things as much as we think. Even with Adidas or Converse, Jordan likely still would have become something epic.

As Jordan once told me when I mentioned that Krause was very proud of having drafted Earl Monroe No. 2 for the Baltimore Bullets in 1967: ‘‘Yeah, like if he hadn’t taken him at No. 2, Earl wouldn’t have gone at No. 3?’’

Krause’s story wouldn’t be sweet or tidy, but it would be riveting and real. And maybe it would help us understand the real inner workings of sports and heroes.

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