Monday, June 8, 2009 PTI: Best Basketball Player Commercials

With Nike pushing shoes this playoff season with muppet versions of LeBron and Kobe, we were wondering where those commercials rank with some of the other commercials featuring basketball players in the past 20 years.


1) Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, McDonalds

This commercial was the standard for all commercials for a while, not just commercials featuring athletes. With two world class basketball players in a funny contest to decide who gets the Big Mac, it is still memorable. “Off the scoreboard, through the rafters, nothing but net.” Everyone was reciting those lines back in 1993. I remember playing basketball with my friends for a few years after that and we would always say nothing but net before shooting the ball. Jordan had many memorable (and a few forgettable commercials; like the Ballpark hotdog commercials), but his compilation with Larry Bird was his best, narrowly beating out his Nike commercial with Spike Lee (“It’s gotta be the shoes.”)

2) Gheorghe Muresan, Snickers

Muresan was one of the most entertaining pitchmen during the mid to late 90s while he was with the Washington Bullets. In addition to two hilarious Snickers commercials, he also had a classic SportsCenter commercial that featured him dancing in the office. The Snickers commercial that I think was his best was a “promotion” for a youth basketball camp that focused on Muresan trying to make a half-court shot with one hand and his back to the basket while saying “Score one for the kids” while a bunch of campers sat around watching him. As Muresan misses more and more attempts, the kids start laughing, prompting the gentle giant to yell at them. Of course, the commercial ended with Snickers tag, “Hungry, why wait?” as a cameraman began chewing on a Snickers. This commercial was much better than Snickers’ current ad featuring an overweight Patrick “Chewing” dunking on an eight foot rim, complete with boring dialogue. Twelve years ago with this Muresan commercial and another one where the 7’7” Romanian is pitching his own brand of cologne, Snickers had the marketing people to leave an impression.

3) Grant Hill, Sprite

Back when Grant Hill was a future Hall-of Famer and not an injury-prone role player, Sprite tabbed him to be their main pitchman. This commercial, featuring Hill dunking on a playground court combined humor with the perceived athletic boost that Sprite gave Grant Hill. The anti-“Be Like Mike” commercial, this Sprite ad was more about how the product would not make you better, but just tasted good. After watching Hill drink a Sprite and do a 360 dunk, the youth drains his Sprite can with a long-range jumper but front-rims the dunk and falls on his back. The look on his face was priceless, and the line “Grant Hill drinks Sprite” was another quote heard up and down the elementary school halls. Sprite ended the commercial with “Image is Nothing, Thirst is Everything” and their standard “Obey Your Thirst.” The ad was clever because it poked fun at the other ads of the day trying to get people to buy the product because of how cool the people pitching them were (like Jordan and Bird for McDonald’s or Jordan for Nike). Ironically, in their effort to show consumers that their product was good because it was good and not because some celebrity was using it, they still featured one of the best basketball players at the time in the commercials.

4) Anfernee Hardaway and Lil' Penny (Chris Rock), Nike

Another commercial featuring a superstar whose career was derailed by injuries, the Anfernee Hardaway-Lil' Penny commercials replaced a dunking youth with a miniature marionette of the Magic point guard. This commercial was at the height of Hardaway’s career with the Magic in the NBA Finals and Blue Chips, Nike thrust Hardaway and his precursor to Austin Powers’s Mini-me into the spotlight even more by constantly airing these commercials. Not only was this another oft-quoted advertising campaign, but Lil' Penny became a celebrity of his own, like the Kool-Aid man. Lil' Penny posters and even an action figure (available on eBay for $15 if you buy it now) were available to help Nike sell more shoes. Sadly, Lil' Penny faded with Big Penny’s career, but we still have memories of the trash-talking marionette. Chris Rock was the voice of Lil' Penny, only making the commercial better.

5) Charles Barkley, Old Spice

Before Old Spice began using LL Cool J and Brian Urlacher to show how Old Spice helped them overcome their pained pasts, their main pitchman was Charles Barkley. Casting the boorish power forward as a civilized archaeologist, among other different roles, Sir Charles showed how the deodorant could bring class to anyone, something that Old Spice is still attempting to do (“Behold, the Sword of Urlacher”). The ads not only were memorable and funny, they were enough of a pop-culture reference to be pitched in Major League 2 by Charlie Sheen’s Ricky Vaughn. Just remember, “Old Spice. Anything else would be uncivilized.”


For the most part, I agree with Adam's list. The Nothin' But Net Commercials were the best by far. I wish they would bring those back and have some more crazy shots with MJ and Bird competing for a BigMac. However, I think the Lil' Penny commercials were hilarious and deserve a higher rank. I would put Lil' Penny 2nd and the Muresan Snickers commercial third. Chris Rock is funny no matter what he is doing, but especially when he is the voice of a miniature puppet who awkwardly walks around. I rank the Grant Hill Sprite commercials are 4th and I agree that Barkley pitching Old Spice should round out the list.


The Worst of the Worst: Charles Barkley and Dwayne Wade, T-Mobile

T-Mobile probably figured that combining a legend with a big mouth and a current superstar would be advertising gold, and it was for a little while. But these commercials were never that great to begin with, certainly not enough to warrant the two to three year run they are experiencing. While one or two of the early ones were funny before Chuck let Dwayne into his “5,” they are now tired and monotonous. And doesn’t anyone wonder how the roles switched 180 degrees? Initially, Wade was trying desperately to get into Charles’s “5,” but now Charles has become obsessed with Wade. Initially this was a clever and funny ad (think Barkley calling Wade’s phone as Wade putts) but the campaign has peaked and should be discontinued.


Commercial I want to See: Bob Knight in a Chair Throwing Competition

The marketing potential of Bobby Knight is through the roof. If I were making a commercial, I would use the legend's temper tantrums. The commercial would feature Knight throwing a chair at the beginning of the commercial on the basketball court like he famously did when he coached for the Hoosiers. Then, Knight would be in a bunch of different scenes throwing chairs. For instance, he would be on a boat looking out to sea where his buddy is drowning after falling overboard. Knight could throw a chair out to his pal to save his life. I think a commercial that uses Knight's famous blow-ups would be hilarious.

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