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Where Is Sonny Vaccaro Now? The ‘Savior of Nike’ Was Fired After Signing Michael Jordan

If you watched Matt Damon try to vie for Michael Jordan’s sponsorship for Nike in the 2023 biographical sports drama film Air, you might be wondering: where is Sonny Vaccaro right now? 

The plot synopsis obtained by Deadline includes the following: “Air reveals the unbelievable game-changing partnership between then-rookie Michael Jordan and Nike’s fledgling basketball division, which revolutionized the world of sports and contemporary culture with the Air Jordan brand. The story follows the career-defining gamble of an unconventional team with everything on the line, the uncompromising vision of a mother who knows the worth of her son’s immense talent and the basketball phenom who would become the greatest of all time.” As it focuses on the business side of the world of the most iconic shoe to ever exist, Vaccaro’s legacy is now cemented in cinematic history. So where is the legend Sonny Vaccaro now? Read more about what happened to him after he left Nike.

Where is Sonny Vaccaro now?

Sonny Vaccaro

Image: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Where is Sonny Vaccaro now? After Vaccaro got fired from Nike in 1994, he joined rival sports companies Adidas and then Reebok. He left Reebok in 2007 and hasn’t worked for another company. He lives in California with his wife. Vaccaro claimed that the FBI investigated him for corporate espionage when he got fired from Nike, but no charges were filed.

After the iconic signing of Michael Jordan to the Nike brand, Vaccaro established the ABCD Camp in 1984, a basketball camp for the nation’s highest-ranked high schoolers. Players who attended the camp include Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and James Harden.

In 2015, Michael Jordan told USA Today about how the deal all came about and how Vaccaro took credit. “Prior to all of that, Sonny (Vaccaro) likes to take the credit. But it really wasn’t Sonny, it was actually George Raveling. George Raveling was with me on the 1984 Olympics team (as an assistant coach under Bob Knight). He used to always try to talk to me, ‘You gotta go Nike, you gotta go Nike. You’ve got to try.’” The basketball legend continued, “He actually introduced me to Sonny in L.A. And then, I didn’t know who Sonny was at the time,” Jordan said. “I knew of him, but I never really met him. …”

“Sonny didn’t influence me to go to Nike,” Jordan said. “He got a deal proposed. He talked to Strasser. Strasser at the time, from what I understood and perceived, he really didn’t know the type of player and the type of person I was. He was looking at whoever he could find to fit that mold from what he was trying to do from an Air Jordan standpoint. Sonny watched me play in the McDonald’s (All-American) Games and all that stuff. His strong points were he knew all the kids growing up. I never played AAU, so he didn’t have any contact with me then. The only time I think he would’ve seen me play was the McDonald’s All-American game coming out of high school. And he followed me throughout college.”

In response to his former colleagues about who should take credit for the company’s success, Vaccaro said, “Phil Knight’s lying, Michael’s lying more than Phil and Raveling is insane,’’ “All three of them need to destroy me to live happily ever after. Everyone’s trying to rewrite history. It goes beyond Jordan. I am the savior of Nike.’’ He continued about his relationship with the Chicago Bull’s MVP, “Michael’s more important to me than Nike because I always felt that I brought Michael there. We were still warm. Even at the All-Star games, he’d tease me.”

In 2014, Vaccaro became involved in O’Bannon v NCAA, a lawsuit that challenged the association’s rules restricting compensation for college athletes. The court ruled against the NCAA that the NCAA’s long-held practice of barring payments to athletes violated antitrust laws and that athletes should be entitled to the commercial use of their image. “The kids who are going to benefit from this are kids who don’t even know what we did today,” Vaccaro said. “The future generation will be the benefactor of all this. There are now new ground rules in college sports.”

Air Matt Damon

Image: Amazon Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

Though decades after he left Nike, he still praised his former colleague Phil Knight who founded the giant company to Bleacher Report. “He allowed me to use my mind. All the time I was there until the day I got fired, on my personal level, was unbelievable. The guy was and is a genius. There’s no question about that. He knew. He was focused. He was going to make this company, or die trying, the No. 1 brand in the world.” He continued, “There’s no question, the years I spent with him, his drive was…he was an athlete. He was a runner. He hired many people in those early years who were very, very good at what they did. One of the first people he hired was Rob Strasser, who was Phil’s right-hand man. Then signing Jordan and the designer, Peter Moore, and all that. If you’re just talking about Phil, Phil was driven then. He climbed Mount Everest three times in this industry. Everyone is compared to Nike and will always be compared to Nike.”

On working with Matt Damon on the Air movie, he told The Tribune Chronicle,This movie, I had no idea until they were a month away to start shooting, and they brought me in to make me a part of it,” Vaccaro said. “I had nothing to do with writing, I had nothing to do with Matt Damon being cast.”

“Matt took me under his wing. We did an hour-and-a-half, two-hour Zoom, we talked on the phone. The young guy who wrote the script drove up and spent three hours with Pammy and I, so they got to know me. Then they invited Pammy and I on the set. We spent six, eight hours there.”

Driven From Within by Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

Courtesy of ATria

In Driven from Within, Michael makes it clear that the basis for his phenomenal success came from the inside out, thanks in part to those who guided him along the way. His skill, work ethic, philosophy, personal style, competitiveness and presence have flowed from the basketball court into every facet of his life.

Nearly three years removed from his last turn as an athlete, Michael’s twentieth Air Jordan shoe has helped push Nike’s Brand Jordan division to almost $500 million in sales.

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