Last weekend, my wife and I went to see ‘Air,’ the film directed by Ben Affleck about Nike’s partnership negotiations with Michael Jordan – which has lasted 38-plus years. I enjoyed it so much that I went to see it again – on my own.

Aside from the fact that Michael Jordan is worth $3 billion, he is the highest-income athlete in history and is seen as the greatest basketball player of all time.

According to Forbes, as of 2021, the Air Jordan brand is valued at over $2.1 billion, generates more than $3 billion in annual revenue, and is one of the world’s most successful and profitable sneaker brands. Air Jordan remains one of the most lucrative in sports apparel.

This movie reinforces the importance of believing in yourself and that feeling in your gut that you cannot shake; standing firm in that belief, having the confidence to put it all on the line and knowing your value.

Here are a few things that I picked up:

1) Believe in what you’re selling – be it a product, service or you:
The Nike sports marketing executive Sonny Vaccaro discovered Jordan in the 1982 college basketball championship. Nike had a $2 million budget to sign several young players, but Vaccaro believed in Jordan’s potential so much that he convinced Phil Knight to only sign Michael. He was prepared to put his neck on the line and was not afraid to upset people in pursuit of achieving his goal.

2) Know the market and your competition
In a key scene, Sonny went to see Michael’s mum Delores Jordan, and she asked him why they should go with Nike and not Adidas or Converse. His had a keen eye and was so knowledgeable about his competitors that he could describe each competitor’s behaviours and their strategies.

It’s important to study your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses but not allow yourself to be in awe of them.

3) Because it’s never been done before does not mean you don’t ask for it!
My favourite scene is when Delores calls Sonny to tell him that Michael will accept Nike’s offer, which was the biggest deal to any player – a five-year deal worth $500,000 per year.

She was shrewd, had an excellent business mind, and had a ground-breaking ask that had never been done before – Delores asked for royalties from every Air Jordan sold globally.

Sonny was resistant and said, that is not how it’s done. The board will never approve and gave a litany of reasons why it was impossible. She was adamant and dared to ask for what she wanted because she knew the value of her son and what he was capable of and did not want another corporation making all of the money.

They settled on 5% of annual sales. Air Jordan was launched in 1984 with the goal of making $3 million in the first three years, but they earned $126 million in one year. Making him the highest-paid athlete of all time.

Michael Jordan created history on the court, but for me, it reinforces the point that you cannot build it all on your own. You need a team. The unsung heroes are the parents who believed in him and were confident to ask for what they wanted – which was very disruptive and changed many sports agreements made in the future. I’m sure many did not have the nerve or would have buckled at the first – it’s not done that way objection – but Delores didn’t.

The other unsung hero was Nike, who, with the board, was prepared to take the risk and bet it all on one player. None of this history would have been created had all these things not come together.

In your business, you may be thinking of a disruptive strategy or ask but discouraged by the thought that it’s never been done before or that your client will not agree. It might be time to change that perspective.

When you really believe in yourself and what you’re offering – be it a product or a service – it’s a hard combination to resist. The question is how much do you believe in what you are selling and your value.