Ben Affleck fully engulfed dove head first into the worlds of sports and corporate America for his latest cinematic endeavor, Air. The movie takes place in the ‘80s and centers around Nike (which is struggling to get its basketball division going), as it attempts to sign rookie Michael Jordan. While the film seeks to shed light on the fledgling years of the sportswear giant, it also serves as a love letter to basketball in some ways. As such, Affleck filmed some moments that touch upon NBA history, including a scene that disses the team that passed on Jordan in the draft. The scene was ultimately cut but not for the reason that you might think.
During the 1984 NBA Draft, Michael Jordan was drafted No. by the Chicago Bulls. The first pick went to the Houston Rockets, who scooped up future hall of famer Hakeem Olajuwon. Meanwhile, the Portland Trail Blazers picked Sam Bowie – a center from Kentucky who was highly regarded at the time. However, Bowie didn’t prove to be as impactful in the pros as projected. He finished out his career in 1995, at which point he was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Many sports fans still poke fun at the Blazers for passing on His Airness, and Ben Affleck wanted to reference that piece of history himself in his new movie. During an Air screening held in New York ahead of the movie’s theatrical release, the filmmaker opened up about his plans. He tapped comedian and actor Tom Papa to play Stu Inman, who was Portland’s general manager at the time. In the scene, Papa’s Inman was to be confronted by Nike’s Sonny Vaccaro, who would’ve chastised him for not drafting the future Bulls phenom. You might assume that this part of the movie was omitted because it may have come off as disrespectful. But it actually didn’t make the cut because of an apparent error on Affleck’s part:
Per the comments, the Argo director shared (via Insider), he wanted this version of Stu Inman to regret the decision not to draft Michael Jordan. But ultimately, when the former Batman star got into the editing room, he realized that it would’ve played better had the GM stuck to his fateful selection. I personally agree with that assessment. Not only would it have been more entertaining but, in reality, only a handful of people arguably believed Jordan would be a great player – let alone one of the NBA GOATS. What I think I love most about this anecdote, though, is the fact that any potential pushback from fans or the basketball club itself doesn’t even seem to be on the filmmaker’s mind. In fairness, the team couldn’t have known how things would work out but, in hindsight, it still looks like a major misfire.
Though Ben Affleck may have missed that proverbial layup, he mostly scored big time with this movie, and he did a lot of prep to ensure that it all came together effectively. The Oscar winner had a meeting with his fast friend, Michael Jordan, early on, and that gave him a good sense of where the story should go. He even received help from wife Jennifer Lopez, who helped him to better understand the impact of Air Jordans on the fashion scene in the ‘80s. On top of this, Affleck (who also plays Nike co-founder Phil Knight) assembled a top-tier cast for Air, featuring the aforementioned Matt Damon along with Chris Tucker, Jason Bateman and Viola Davis.
Ben Affleck deserves a lot of credit for putting so much effort into this feature, which has also received positive reviews. The movie is fine as is, as it effectively tells the story it sets out to depict. Though I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t have enjoyed seeing a brief moment that comments on the fact that the Portland Trail Blazers passed the man widely considered to be the greatest player to ever step foot on a basketball court.
Air, one of the biggest entries on the schedule of 2023 new movie releases, is now playing in theaters. Those who aren’t able to make it to their local cinema before the film’s run concludes needn’t worry, as it’ll be available to stream with a Prime Video subscription in the near future.