Out of all of the major sports in North America, NBA players have been a part of some of the greatest commercials in advertising history. Whether it's a shoe line that they endorse or a product promotion, the creativity behind many of these spots has been some of the finest when it comes to pitching anything from deodorants, boxers, beverages and even house insurance.
Trying to break down a list to only fifteen spots was a challenge, as players like Steph Curry's Under Armour Accomplishments is a fine commercial that did not make the final cut, nor did LA Clippers teammates Chris Paula and DeAndre Jordan's State Farm series. Should "The Lebrons" have made the cut considering that he's the most popular player of this generation?
As the NBA game has grown since the early 80's, thanks in large part to a select number of players and yes as much as you may have hated him, David Stern, the globalization of the sport has helped to line players wallets and pockets with endorsement opportunities. Shaquille O'Neal has often stated he has hardly if ever touched his NBA earnings and instead he spent lavishly from his endorsement accounts.
Let us now begin with the 15 best commercials that NBA players have been a part of, maybe you agree, maybe you don't, but what we all can agree on is that our hard-court heroes have become some of the best pitchmen in advertising history.
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15 Welcome To Sunny California
Before he was the Black Mamba, Kobe Bean Bryant was just a fresh faced 17 year old rookie straight out of high school ready to suit up for one of the most storied franchises in the NBA. As one of the three stripes biggest contracts, especially for a student who hadn't even hit the league, Adidas didn't hand Bryant a signature shoe straight out of the gate.
During his rookie season in 1996, Bryant received his first shoes from Adidas, the EQT Elevation. While waiting out the rain on a California beach court with his crew, Kobe foreshadowed his soon to be dominance both on the concrete and the hard-court, against friend or foe. With all the stories of being standoffish with his teammates, this piece made Bryant look almost human.
14 Dr. Funk
Before he took over New York's famed Rucker Park (at least for 60 seconds), Vince Carter owned Canada. After missing the playoffs in their first four years of existence, VC and the Raptors managed to put together a three year streak of post season appearances. As for Carter himself, Mr. Half Man-Half Amazing still had the world, and not just Canada buzzing on a nightly basis as a result of his athletic feats.
Nike, in an effort to pump out their Nike Shox shoes, created an alter ego for Carter in the form of Dr. Funk. Blended with grainy, old school clips from the classic New York outdoor game, Dr. Funk made his way through the Harlem spectators to wow onlookers and please MC Bobbito Garcia with a crowd pleasing comeback effort to seal the victory for his squad.
According to Larry Johnson, Grandmama was not really supposed to have been born, but thankfully for him, it was. Originally slated to be a commercial piece along with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the initial plan fell through but the commitment was made and the money was already spent so Johnson had to hold true to his promise.
Luckily for him, he did, as his alter ego became a classic during the early 90s and it may have made LJ more famous during his time in Charlotte than what he did on the court. Promoting the Converse Aero Jam, Johnson, clad in a dress, wig and bonnet created an over the top humorous character that helped the Converse brand remain relevant during Nike's takeover of the shoe game.
12 I'm Not A Role Model
The year was 1993 and The Round Mound Of Rebound had just made his presence known with the Phoenix Suns, carrying them to the NBA Finals after spending eight years in Philadelphia. While the commercial was somewhat controversial, Sir Charles made a good point in stating that parents should be the role models and just because he has the ability to dunk a basketball, doesn't mean that he should be raising kids.
While this may in fact may be true, it certainly doesn't mean that he should look passed all the kids who do looked up to how Barkley was able to become one of the most successful power forwards of all-time. Although Charles was pitching Nike shoes in the commercial, he wouldn't receive his own signature shoe until the following season when the Air Force Max CB would hit the shelves.
11 GEICO, Not In My House
Six of the best blocks in Mt. Mutombo's career came off the court, including an innocent kid having his cereal box rejected. Sure the 3, 289 blocks that he recorded over his 18 year career had more value, but the untapped humor that Dikembe displayed in his national television appearance brought out the lighter side of the man from Congo.
GEICO Insurance released this gem of an advertising during the 2013 Super Bowl and left fans laughing in enjoyment of a player who displayed a more stoic and serious tone during his career than he did a humorous side. With his ever present finger wag and a very gruff "no no no not in my house", Mutombo has left a legacy for current NBA players from Congo to follow, as Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo have used the same gesture as a sign of respect to one of the greatest shot blockers of all-time.
10 Footlocker Week Of Greatness
Unlike what Phil Jackson is trying to do in New York, we aren't here to bash Carmelo Anthony's impact on the game or his team, but the current Knick forward may have felt the weight of the Big Apple on his shoulders when he appeared in the recent advertisement for the Footlocker special.
After walking by a pair of fellow ballers in what appeared to be a local rec center, Melo subtly reminded fans of his accomplishments, all of which were quickly (and legitimately, except for the NCAA championship, which as a freshman Anthony carried his Syracuse team through the Madness) shot down by the witty duo. While Anthony's only justifiable retort was asking if the pair spend a lot of time on the internet, the reality is out of the top five selections from the legendary 2003 Draft Class, he's the only one without a championship ring on his finger (and yes, that includes Darko Milicic!)
9 The Barbershop
During the early 1990s, Nike brought together what originally appeared to be an odd mix of legendary and current hardwood stars. George Gervin, Tim Hardaway, David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, Alonzo Mourning, Latrell Sprewell and Chris Webber appeared in a selection of the six advertising spots. While each had their own special twist, the most memorable one featured then Golden State Warriors teammates CWebb and Spree.
Rehashing one of, if not the most memorable moments from the former Michigan Wolverine's rookie season, Spree broke down Webber's vicious around the back one hand cram on Sir Charles. While reliving the moment was great, the best part was Webber announcing that he may have been Barkley's role model (see "I'm Not A Role Model"). Quick shout out to a young Elise Neal who managed to find her way into each of the six pieces as the shop's resident hair dresser, who never once snipped a lock of hair.
8 Nike Freestyle
Vince Carter, Lamar Odom, Darius Miles, Jason "White Chocolate" Williams, Rasheed Wallace, Baron Davis, Paul Pierce and Dawn Staley. For the most part, these players were household names either in the NBA or the WNBA. But as much fun as it was to see some of the league's most well known characters improvise with the ball (and in the case of Wallace, without), it was a young street-baller named Luis "Trikz" Da Silva that would steal the spotlight and become the first street-ball athlete to sign an endorsement contract with the Swoosh.
For those that thought the first sixty second spot was entertaining, the popularity of the commercial spawned an extended to a two and a half minute piece that continued to hype up the street-ball generation.
7 A5 & A6
People often say that Jordan changed the style of the game on and off the court, but Allen Iverson had an equal impact by targeting the young hip-hop generation of players and fans. In 2001, Reebok who may not have had a bigger success story that the Answer apparel line and probably never will, brought in rapper Jadakiss to narrate a story about Iverson and, at the time, his newest piece of footwear, the A5.
With Jada spitting lyrics to a fresh beat and Iverson displaying his skills in his trademark braids and baggy shorts, the A5 commercial was so popular it spawned a sequel. With a soundtrack of the dribble, squeak and swish that is music to any hoopsters ears, the only downside to the pair of commercials may have been too much face time for Jada and not enough Iverson.
6 Most Valuable Puppets
In 2009, Kobe Bryant was still in search of proving himself to be capable of carrying a franchise to a championship, while LeBron James was still trying to bring his hometown of Cleveland a championship. Fans were in constant debate as to which alpha male leader of his respective franchise was actually better and had their fingers crossed that the Lakers and Cavaliers would meet in the NBA Finals to put the issue to rest.
With a six pack of commercials centered around the two legendary players, Nike's Most Valuable Puppets (MVP) gave fans a little bit of everything, including digs at each other, with Kobe coming out ahead thanks to his three chocolaty chip cookies. Odds are in favor of Lil Penny kicking Lil Dez all over the court.
5 Lil Penny
It may be a toss up as to who was actually more popular during the mid 90s, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway or his alter ego sidekick, Lil Penny. Making his national TV debut in the winter of 1995, it's also arguable as to who had more game, the Orlando Magic's 6'7" point guard or the 14" trash talking, suave puppet that was hooked up with everyone from Kevin Garnett to Tyra Banks (fool!) to the queen of afternoon talk shows, Oprah.
Thanks to the voice of Chris Rock, who filled the role perfectly, even though he was listed behind Eddie Murphy, Damon Wayans and Martin Lawrence. Lil Penny took over the Nike marketing and promotions scene for at least three straight years. While cameos and nods where given to fellow NBA stars, you know you hit it big when Nike splurged on a sixty second spot during Super Bowl XXXI and brought in the most popular stars of the decade including Tiger Woods, Ken Griffey Jr. Spike Lee, Stevie Wonder, Barry Sanders, Michael Johnson and Jaleel "Urkel" White. Maybe if there was a Lil Shaq, Mr. O'Neal may have stayed in Orlando a little longer.
4 Nike Fun Police
When you ask kids these days if they heard of the Fun Police, many just return a quizzical look. With a number of different spots featuring Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Tim Hardaway, Terry Porter and Tom Gugliotta to name but a few, the Fun Police did their best to bring out the fun and enjoyment of the game to those who were in desperate need of some hoops resuscitation.
With the first piece hitting the small screens during the 1998 NBA Finals, over half a dozen ads would follow our heroes bringing life back onto the hardwood. This may have been the only time in his professional career that Cherokee Parks was a featured member of any team (even if it was one that was being integrated by fellow Minnesota Timberwolves teammate KG, which probably hit a little too close to home).
3 Be Like Mike
For years fans have wanted to be like Mike. However it was shortly after Mr. Jordan and his Chicago Bulls teammates captured their first championship in their first three-peat that Gatorade would release one of the most iconic commercials of all-time.
With a catchy musical beat, along with simple lyrics that spoke the words that were floating among many basketball fans heads (whether you were a Bulls fan or not), add in an eclectic mix of Jordan highlights on and off the court and fans trying to mimic each and every move and Gatorade would create a classic commercial. Knowing how competitive Jordan was at nearly everything that he took part in, you would have to believe that he was not only talking trash to each of the actors involved in the film, but also made sure that he won each of the battles he was portrayed in.
2 The Showdown
In 1993, prior to the kickoff of the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys meeting at Super Bowl XXVII, McDonald's released one of it's most iconic advertisements ever. Running just over a minute and a half, fans were treated to a game of horse between two of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of kicks and two of the most legendary trash talkers the game has ever seen.
While it's unsure as to why Jordan would accept the challenge, considering it was his Big Mac, one could only chalk it up to him being the ultimate competitor. While to this day it remains to be known who actually won the shootout, the commercial spawned a secondary version between LeBron James and Dwight Howard. Whereas the original featured only jump shots (if Larry was still able to get off the ground), the updated spot was the exact opposite, with a series of impossible dunks. Could a guest appearance at the end of the second commercial lead fans to believe who the winner of the iconic shootout really was?
1 Hang Time
PB&J. Saturday morning cartoons and cereal. Mary J and Method Man. There are just some things in life that fit together perfectly and when Nike brought Michael Jordan and Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee) together, it was a match made in hoops-sneakers heaven.
Throughout the numerous spots that the two worked together, Mars found himself asking viewers various open ended questions that became more of a tag line than looking for an answer. In 1988, the duo showcased the Jordan III's in a simple yet effective commercial that hardly portrayed MJ's on court talents but rather Mars ability to be his hype man and pitch the product. Whether Blackmon was repeatedly asking fans "Do you know, Do you know, Do you know?" or "Is it the shoes?" Nike created a number of catchphrases that left fans wondering if Jordan's talents were self made or bred from a pair of kicks.
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