One-on-One with sports marketing legend Sonny Vaccaro

Talialaina Letoi

The movie ‘Air’ shined a bright light on the man behind the scenes of the landmark deal between Nike and Michael Jordan, Sonny Vaccaro. He’s widely known for sealing the deal between the two and changing the game for Nike in the 1980’s. But Sonny says, the movie’s release comes at a pivotal time and calls it an honor to be part of something that will live on for years.

“You know, the full circle thing is for this to happen — this movie at this point in time in my life… What I will say is it’s surreal. It’s surreal because one thing about the movie it’ll last out there forever.”

Vaccaro now calls the Coachella Valley home and has for the last ten years with his wife, Pam.

And now with his story on the big screen, Vaccaro says he just hopes it inspires the next person to chase their dreams and never stop.

“Well, forget Sonny Vaccaro. Turn me into an individual because there were people that inspired me when I was young. If you’re young, whatever age you’re in, no matter what point in life, I would say to them if you believe in something, don’t quit on it.

He made sure to emphasize everything that happened didn’t happen overnight.

“Well since 1984, it took 40 years to get to this point. And finally, the real Michael Jordan story, you’re talking about a shoe and a man — this stuck in my mind all those years. I was fired from Nike I had other jobs. I had a different sort of life after I left obviously. But my my my idea was, I totally believed in [myself]. You’re gonna lie to yourself if you don’t follow through with what your dreams are.”

From Kobe Bryant to Lebron James. Nike to Adidas. Sonny had seen and done it all. But when asked about what the secret to being the mastermind of known as, ‘Sonny Vaccaro’ — he simply said, “I don’t know if you can look for something. I think every day something presents itself in front of one’s life. That’s what happened to me. I always believed that maybe there was something there that I could do. And the thing is you can’t quit.”

And Sonny never quit because it wasn’t just what he did in the shoe industry.

He was always focused on the next generation and did so through projects like the ABCD Camp launched in 1984, that saw some of the best come through.

“Well, the camp was an after birth of Michael. There was an opportunity to get involved with a camp for the talented young people. And it gave an opportunity to them as years went by for thousands of kids to show their talent. That camp was an evolution of the all star game I started when I was 24 years old, which got me to Nike, which got me to Michael Jordan which got me to the camp which got me to Ed O’Bannon later all the things got me somewhere else.”

So what does he want the next generation to take from him?

“Keep going, keep going. When I’m looking at somebody watching this or the parents or the grandparents who advise our young people, don’t let them quit. Give them reason for wanting to live give them reason to be strong.”

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