Let Your Game Speak: Russell Westbrook’s New Challenge

By: 10.16.12
Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook (photo. Rob Hammer)

Along with the Nike swoosh, the Jumpman may be basketball’s most enduring symbol since the basketball and the hoop. The most iconic player of all time’s signature silhouette is a remarkable image. It makes us imagine the incredible, and yet it’s still vague. Anyone can make that pose, anyone can dream of flight.

Russell Westbrook is the latest athlete to step into that hallowed spot with the Jordan Brand. Dwyane Wade left to sign with Li-Ning in a move that could point the direction of player advertisement east to the Chinese company and help grow the game internationally. The move marks a new evolution in the basketball product industry, either by establishing the legitimacy of international marketing, or simply re-cementing the States as the undisputed ruler.

But what about the impact of Westbrook signing with the Jordan Brand, and trying to fill Wade’s shoes? What may have started as a ground-saving move may turn out to be one of their greatest leaps forward. Westbrook is one of the league’s brightest young stars, sitting just below the superstar status of players like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose. He’s also one of those players with the greatest chance to make the leap into that echelon. His game makes that obvious, though his conservative off-court life could call into question what his impact will be with JB. We don’t hear much about Westbrook off of the court. Coaches love it and fans love his game, but the relation between player and consumer is what makes the sneakers sell. Does he have the intangibles necessary to make sneakerheads line up outside Foot Locker to wait for his shoes, and for kids to ask for them on their Christmas lists?

Basically: is Russell Westbrook marketable? The easy answer is yes. Everyone is. With enough money and a good corporate model, I could sell some shoes and make you laugh at my commercial. But will I elevate your brand? Of course not. To look at whether or not Russell Westbrook can mirror his growth on the court with the growth of both his and the Jordan Brand, we have to look at how players similar to him have been used in ad campaigns over the years. We’ll start with Derrick Rose, a player very similar to Westbrook in both game and demeanor, to go about finding an answer.

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This Rose spot, put on by his parent sneaker company at adidas, provides us with a great idea of how the Jordan Brand could choose to promote Westbrook. Like Russ, Rose is a quieter guy off the court. He keeps his head down, works, and prefers to let his game talk for itself. As the people handling his campaign at adidas wisely recognized (and as is easy to see for the fans), Rose’s game speaks for itself. The explosive athleticism he displays carries the action of the spot and sets up a sharp contrast for the staccato lines Rose provides. A person wearing Rose’s shoe doesn’t necessarily have to be loud, funny, or over-the-top to play like Rose. Quick cuts between Chicago scenery, highlights of Rose playing above the rim and Rose-as-actor ambling through lines about how the adiZero Crazy Light is the lightest shoe ever all help to create that. Speed is also pushed as a signature feature of the sneaker, which Rose holds up at the end before the slogan adidas Is All In flashes on the screen.

[RELATED: The 10 Best Basketball Marketing Campaigns Since 2000]

This backdrop provides us with a good foundation to see how Westbrook can be marketed. This approach is perhaps the most obvious way to use a more stoic player like Rose and still make a bold statement. Because Westbrook, who plays a lot like Rose and acts similarly to him in most other situations, is the new guy at Jordan, this would be a safe and proven approach to take with him at first.

But as this commercial for the adiZero Rose shows, the quiet guys can be funny, as well. With the “Slim Chin” character providing the dialogue and the over-the-top production carrying the rest of the laughs, the most audible thing D-Rose has to do during the whole spot is wink into the camera. His game, again, provides the acting. It becomes comedic when he crosses out The Hangover star and breaks his ankles. Put Westbrook into the spot and it remains as funny as it was with Rose.

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