Men Moving Units

Basketball, the NBA, and its stars have always occupied a high branch in the world of advertising. It’s got rock solid roots and tradition in America’s heartland and at the same time it’s tied inextricably to the rise of our ubiquitous hip hop culture, and the urban scenes that came before it. Basketball gets to be everything to everyone—a protestant work-ethic fable and a tattooed superstar swagger parade rolled into one.

While the NBA lacks the heavyweight of the gargantuan NFL, it’s looser, cooler, and because it’s only five on five, it lets all kinds of personalities shine through, and without helmets too. All this amounts to an advertisers dream, as well as a direct line to consumers on the happy backs of athletes all too happy to oblige. And oblige they have, the results of which have become as interesting and as culturally relevant as the game itself, the bar for basketball commercials keeps getting raised, and we’ve put together a list of our favorites and how they’ve boosted both the products and the players. Enjoy…

LeBron James and Samsung.

You have to hand it to the guys who pulled off this masterpiece. LeBron is in his element, a post coital championship “day in the life of” that comes off way more like a smooth music video without music. The fact is, King James is at the top of the heap, and showing him using his Galaxy (but using it more subtly than we’re used to seeing) in everyday ways while he floats down the lazy river of victory was about as on point as it could ever be. The fact that it was believable, down to Earth, and impossibly cool puts it on the list as much for its uniqueness as for its effectiveness.

Shaquille O’Neil and Pepsi


The Mongolian shepherds never saw it coming, and throughout the land Shaq was stealing Pepsi with some kind of dunk-powered black magic like a mischievous, syrupy force of nature.

This is maybe the best example of the pop culture kids stuff that nobody did better than Shaq in the 90’s (unless you were guarding against him in the paint I mean). Shaq did his share of endorsements, but none of them captured the ridiculous energy of his arrival in the NBA and on the cultural radar quite so well. It doesn’t have to make sense, and it doesn’t have to be particularly high brow, because it was a sensation. If you’re anywhere near 30 now, at some point you remember not being able to go two hours without somebody shouting “Shaq Attack”.

Kobe Bryant and Turkish Airlines

Kobe’s had his rough patches, that’s for sure, and he’s got an attitude on the courts that might not get him invited to tea with the Queen, but as a world traveller, bi-lingual superstar famous the world over, nobody moves units classier than Kobe.

Who better than to represent the NBA’s sophistication in the friendly Turkish skies than Kobe Bryant? This commercial represents maturity, wealth and the internationalism that basketball enjoys but the NBA has yet to completely embrace. It’s goofy, yes, and it’s simple too, but it’s just, so… grown up. Until Kobe guest stars on MadMen, this is about as good as it gets.

Reggie Miller (Feat. Spike Lee) and Nike

The image of the NBA took a long time to catch up to the culture within the game itself, but the first real look into the genuine, sometimes nasty nature of the back and forth of rivalries, heckling and psychological warfare came up after Reggie Miller started his systematic and career-long dismantling of the New York Knicks. Mr. Lee, “the” die hard Knicks fan started mouthing off in a serious way, and Nike got an idea. This was the NBA you weren’t supposed to see, the trash talking and the vitriol, even if it was watered down, everybody knew nerves were still raw, and this ad became an inside joke everybody got to be in on.

Uncle Drew (Kyrie Irving) and Pepsi Max

Spike Jonze and the Jackass gang may have started the entire “stuntmen dressed as seniors” movement, but Uncle Drew represents the sentiment perfected. The show is just as impressive as the makeup, and watching Kyrie Irving slowly built up his game from hapless old-timer throwing airballs to hustling Grandpa undressing all comers and throwing down dunks was timed perfectly enough so that the crowd bought it hook line and sinker. The sequels are just as good, and the entire Uncle Drew series is fresh, fun and a good opportunity for the professions to show off just how much better they are than you, even in full makeup.

Steve Nash and Vitamin Water

If this commercial was any more “meta” it would actually explode. Steve Nash has literally built an entire Hall of Fame career out of not being selfish, so the whole ego trip vibe is already tongue in cheek. Add that to the fact that Nash is notoriously the only two time MVP advertisers weren’t lining up to solicit and you’ve got something both hilarious and just slightly unsettling. Now add all that to the fact that there’s a Lakers cheap shot, and you’ve got yourself something straight out of Dr. Who.

Michael Jordan and Gatorade

It might seem totally impossible to pick which MJ commercial was the most crucial, but it’s not. Clearly the best commercial of his wild advertising career and maybe the best minute of film ever presented.

Mike from the Bulls plays Mike from the Wizards. It’s the only commercial out there that touches on the complicated and ridiculous changes that happened to the game of Basketball over the course of a dozen years through the style and eyes of the man that was and to some extent is the face of both eras. It’s so slick you just want to watch more. I mean it, in heaven, we get to watch this one-on-one game actually take place. God bless you Gatorade.



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