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Every Line Michael Jordan Speaks in Air

Damian Delano Young as Michael Jordan’s back in Air. Photo: MGM

Much has been made about the fact that the new movie Air, which purports to tell the story of how Michael Jordan signed with Nike, is not really about Jordan at all. (The film is told from the point of view of Nike executives, none of whom ever averaged 37.1 points in a season or defeated the Monstars in a game to determine the fate of the Looney Tunes.) When Air was announced last spring, The Hollywood Reporter revealed that Jordan would be “a mythic figure hovering above the movie,” a fact confirmed by the film’s trailer, which included only fleeting glimpses of actor Damian Delano Young, who plays the 21-year-old MJ. As director Ben Affleck revealed at a recent screening, the thinking was that Jordan remains too titanic a cultural icon to be impersonated by a mere actor. (Sorry, every Laker from Winning Time!) The “one sure way to ruin the movie,” Affleck said, would be “to point the camera at anybody that’s not Michael Jordan and say, ‘Hey, that’s Michael Jordan!’”

Nevertheless, viewers may still be surprised by the extent to which Michael Jordan does not appear in Air. As a character, he’s off-screen for most of the film, as Nike employee Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) attempts to negotiate with Jordan’s mother, Deloris (Viola Davis). Even when Air absolutely has to include Jordan, as in the pivotal marketing meetings that form the film’s climax, Delano Young is shot from behind, or put in the background where he can remain safely out of focus. At one point, I swear the camera actually pans away from him when he’s about to turn toward the lens, only moving back once his head is hidden safely behind someone else’s. You might wonder whether the film’s cinematographer harbors traumatic memories of young Michael Jordan’s face to the point of being totally unable to commit a simulacrum of it to celluloid. Maybe they’re a Cavs fan?

Still, given that the historical Michael Jordan occasionally did vibrate the vocal cords in his larynx to communicate with other humans, Air must occasionally bow to reality and have Jordan speak. Here is a list of everything he says in the movie:

• “Bulls colors.”
• “Hello.”

That’s it!

That’s not to say that Michael Jordan never gets his say in Air. During the closing credits, the film plays footage from Jordan’s speech at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony from 2009. Rather than the public airing of grievances that everyone remembers, it’s a fairly benign clip of him paying tribute to his mother. So ultimately, Air winds up being a movie about how a taciturn man who loved his mom wound up earning millions of dollars a year in passive income. Box-office-wise, that sounds like a slam dunk.

Every Line Michael Jordan Speaks in Air