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Ben Affleck explains how Michael Jordan helped him find the story behind ‘Air’

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The actor playing Michael Jordan doesn’t show his face in Ben Affleck‘s new drama, Air, but as the movie’s star, producer, co-writer and director explains, that’s because the legendary athlete showed him who the movie is really about: MJ’s mom, Deloris.

Set in 1984, the movie has Matt Damon playing Nike executive Sonny Vaccaro, who stakes his reputation and career on the company crafting “the greatest basketball shoe that’s ever been made” for an unknown NBA rookie named Michael Jordan.

Jordan explained to Affleck it was his mom who convinced him to meet with Nike executives — and put in place a licensing fee for Air Jordans that remains one of the most lucrative in sports history.

“It’s sort of like being on Mount Olympus,” Affleck said of meeting with Jordan. “You know, you’re around somebody who is as close to a deity as you’re going to find, you know, and yet there was this moment where I saw an awe, and reverence and respect and adoration, love when he talked about his mother. And it just shocked me. And shame on me for not kind of assuming this was the case. But when I heard it, I realized right away, this is the story.”

Jordan had one small ask as to casting: “‘It has to be Viola Davis,"” Affleck recalls Jordan saying. “So that’s kind of like saying, ‘Can I get a basketball team together?’ ‘Sure, it has to be Michael Jordan,"” Ben says with a laugh.

“But then I thought, you know, this is very typical of who this guy is. Like, it has to be the very best. And so I knew that it was incumbent on us to create a role that was worthy of Viola.”

Air is in theaters now.

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