DimeMag

The 10 Best Basketball Marketing Campaigns Since 2000

In the new issue of Dime Magazine, we took a look at the best – and worst – the game has offered since the turn of the century. From the players to jerseys to sneakers to teams to even trends, you can relive the past 12 years by scooping up the new issue currently on newsstands nationwide. In those pages, you’ll find the following feature…

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The ’90s was an unparalleled watershed era in sneaker advertising campaigns. Between Lil’ Penny, Barkley declining to accept role model status, Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood and a seemingly endless trove of incredible Air Jordan ads, anybody who digs this sort of thing – and who doesn’t? – was in heaven.

But that isn’t to say the following decade didn’t hold its own. As always, Michael Jordan provided fertile ground with his final return to the court, as did the rise, fall and rise again of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, two of the most intriguing and marketable personalities in sports history.

To narrow it down to the 10 best campaigns since 2000, a few fantastic ads had to miss the cut, namely Kobe’s Robert Rodriguez-directed Black Mamba movie, LeBron’s Bruce Lee-esque Chamber of Fear living cartoon, and the outstanding MVPuppets series. We’re also partial to the old Kobe adidas ad, when he spoke perfect Italian on the court.

But the ads on the following list contain the best combination of creativity, effectiveness and, most importantly, cool factor. If you haven’t seen any of these – or even if you have – none of them are hard to find on YouTube. Here’s what we think, but by all means, take a trip down memory lane and draw your own conclusions.

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The Top 10 Dunkers Since 2000
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The Top 10 Basketball Sneakers Since 2000
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The 10 Worst Basketball Trends Since 2000
The Next 10 Who Will Shape The Future Generation Of Basketball

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10. ANSWER IX
The best Allen Iverson ad was when he did The Move. You know the one – the one-handed behind-the-back spin move that you tried to duplicate for hours and could never quite pull off.

That ad, however, came long before 2000. For our purposes, AI’s best post-Y2K ad was for the Answer 9, and it got to the essence of why everyone respected him: He was a tough son of a bitch. The ad was simple enough, featuring Iverson sitting on a trainer’s table while his myriad of injuries, from a dislocated shoulder to a fractured hand to a spinal contusion, were diagrammed on his body. At the end of the ad, he said, “Time to go to work,” and headed for the court.

[RELATED: Reebok Is Re-Releasing The Most Iconic Allen Iverson Sneaker Ever]

There were ads that better encapsulated the hip-hop sensibilities that made Iverson a counterculture NBA icon; the one with Jadakiss comes to mind. But no commercial better captured the obstacles Iverson had to overcome to become the marvel he was. Iverson was so much smaller than everyone else, and he took so much punishment.

Iverson was a flawed player for sure – he was hardly efficient – but nobody can take away the five 30-point seasons, the MVP Award, the 11 All-Star Games, that magnificent Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals. And nobody should forget how tough he had to be to accomplish all of it. Seeing all of Iverson’s injuries spread out across his body as a pain map made sure that didn’t happen.

9. AIR JORDAN XVII
Michael Jordan‘s 17th signature sneaker’s smooth lines were inspired by the jazz music he favored before games, and represented a step up in class – and price, to $200. For the extra cash, you got a silver briefcase and a CD with a song by saxophonist Michael Phillips, who had been recently added to Team Jordan. The theme was “go to work” by bringing your J’s to the court in a briefcase. We never personally saw anyone do that, though we’d imagine there were people who tried it.

Despite the Air Jordan XVII corresponding with his final return to the court – the soles were designed like a golf course to represent his recent “retirement” – MJ himself wasn’t featured in the ad campaign. Instead, it gave shine to three of the prominent younger players he had signed to endorsement contracts: Ray Allen, Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson.

[RELATED: Air Jordan 2012 Lite Team]

The commercials themselves were tremendous just based off the music from the legendary Gang Starr. The visuals, of course, were splendid as well; set in the low light of a smoky jazz club, Allen sank baskets over anonymous defenders to “Manifest,” while Richardson and Miles tossed alley-oops to each other in tune to “Now You’re Mine” (Miles got his own ad as well, demonstrating what people thought of his potential ceiling.).

The player choices were hit and miss. Allen was a rising star coming off his first All-Star Game, and was en route to a Hall of Fame career. Miles and Richardson were part of a relatively cool Clippers team at the time, though neither that team nor these two lived up to the hype. No matter: The commercials went as their soundtrack did, so it was no surprise they were impossibly cool.

8. ROSWELL RAYGUNS
A decade back, Nike wasn’t always as quick as they could have been to cash in on their marketing brainstorms. After these ads dropped in 2002, we looked far and wide, eBay and Eastbay, for Roswell Rayguns jerseys. We’re still looking.

The Rayguns ads were centered around Vince Carter‘s moon-boot looking Nike Shox VC1, his first signature shoe, the silver version of which would have looked right at home underneath a pair of bell bottoms in a disco. Nike shrewdly marketed shiny red, white and blue ABA-style balls at the time, and anyone who’s ever played in the VC1 knows how good they were on court.

[RELATED: The Top 10 Dunkers Since 2000]

Building on the similarly great “Dr. Funk” ads where Vince Carter tore up Rucker Park in 1975, the spots featured the Rayguns, a fictional ABA team, who reloaded after a 5-79 season by somehow acquiring the 2002 versions of Carter, Baron Davis, Jermaine O’Neal, Jerry Stackhouse and Paul Pierce. In a great touch, Bootsy Collins provided the soundtrack – “Glory be, the funk’s on me!” – while Carter and company schooled chumps and wore mink coats.

The ads were awesome for a number of reasons, but first and foremost was Wieden+Kennedy’s ability to faithfully recreate the mad mid-1970s ABA – you can’t fake the funk – and drop some modern-day All-Stars right in the middle of it. Lord knows how commercially viable such an endeavor was, but anyone who actually remembers this ad surely remembers it as fondly as the era it was based on.

7. ADIDAS ADIZERO ROSE 2: THE BULL
Derrick Rose can do a lot of things, but what helped him carve out such an intriguing niche as an NBA superstar is what he hasn’t done very much: Talk.

Rose admits he’s not totally comfortable being vocal, which sets him apart from a generation of NBA stars who have no trouble speaking their minds. Rose’s recent GQ interview and Dime cover story painted him as something of a recluse, living high above his hometown of Chicago, a bit intimidated by the people below who all want a piece of his time and energy.

[RELATED: Derrick Rose Is The Realness]

That’s why “The Bull” worked. He didn’t have to say a damn thing. Rose merely put his wondrous ballhandling skills on display while weaving his way past a series of matadors waving red blankets. The camera slowed down and sped up Matrix-style until he spun his way to a basket and dunked, earning a shower of roses petals from the crowd in the arena. At that point, Rose allowed just the hint of a smile.

Sidenote: The song in the ad was AraabMuzik‘s “Epic Return,” which will hopefully prove a predictor of Rose’s eventual re-entry into the superstar ranks after a catastrophic knee injury. Here’s to hoping that when Rose does come back, he again resembles the phenom whose incredible abilities on the court – or in the bullfighting ring – did his talking for him.

6. LEAP OF FAITH
The most well-executed hoax viral ads show us something that you know has to be impossible, but is still plausible enough to make you wonder. Honestly, can Michael Vick throw a football clear out of a stadium? Can LeBron James hit a string of full-court shots like they’re free throws? They can’t, but they’re such transcendent athletes that it didn’t stop people from speculating whether they could.

In a similar vein to those Powerade spots came Nike’s viral ad in which Kobe Bryant, wearing the brand new Hyperdunks, leaped over a speeding car, clearing it completely. That the car was an Aston Martin only added to the cool factor. Like the Powerade ads, the camerawork felt like it was done with a handheld camera, Blair Witch style.

[RELATED: The Top 10 Facial Dunks Of Kobe Bryant’s Career]

Everyone knows Bryant has some ups, regardless of footwear. But still, to anyone with any sense of logic, it was obvious Bryant didn’t actually leap a speeding car. The Lakers would never actually let it happen, much less Kobe. Besides, it’s most likely impossible. But just because the White House didn’t actually blow up in Independence Day doesn’t make the visual any less cool. The same goes here: It was great to watch this happen, even if it didn’t really happen.

As Kobe succinctly said, “If ‘Rambo Part XX’ can be a one-man militia — I can jump over an Aston Martin.” Who can argue with that logic?

5. FALL SEVEN TIMES, STAND UP EIGHT
Converse‘s ad for Dwyane Wade‘s first signature sneaker confounded anyone with a sense of math. If you fall seven times, don’t you get up… seven times?

As it turns out, the slogan is a Japanese proverb (It’s probably for the best they picked that one instead of “Never rely on the glory of the morning, nor the smiles of your mother-in-law.”). The best interpretation we can offer is that as many times as you fail, all that matters in the end is showing resilience – the superfluous eighth time might refer to finally reaching success. It’s reminiscent of Jordan telling you nearly a decade earlier in his own iconic ad that he’s failed over and over again in his life, and that’s why he succeeds.

[RELATED: Dwyane Wade’s Legacy Needs Another Championship]

Of course, the ad also had a literal meaning for Wade: Due to his breakneck style, it’s rare to find someone who hits the hardwood as often as he does. The commercial shows footage of Wade getting fouled hard and diving for loose balls while playing for the Heat, Marquette and Harold L. Richards High School. After a rapid succession of crash landings, Wade is shown unleashing a set of thunderous dunks.

The timing and theme of this campaign was impeccable. A few months later, Wade would fight through injuries to win his first NBA championship, shooting 97 free throws in six games. Regardless of the validity of all those foul calls, there’s no questioning his ability to stand up no matter how many times he hits the deck.

4. CHALK
Can it be that it was all so simple? Nike’s Thanksgiving 2008 ad for the Zoom LeBron VI perfectly crystallized what was then America’s torrid love affair with the Witness-era LeBron James.

Celebrating his pregame ritual of tossing a cloud of chalk in the air – which was technically pioneered by Michael Jordan, but who’s counting? – LeBron sprinkled pixie dust everywhere, and the world followed suit. Set to Cornershop’s “Candyman,” high school kids, barbers, doughnut makers and our man of the hour tossed up clouds of dust. The song was catchy, the vibe was carefree, Lil Wayne brushed chalk off his kicks, and life was good.

[RELATED: Nike Zoom LeBron VI – “MVP” Edition]

We have a pair of the “Chalk” edition of the LeBron VI, and they’re terrific sneakers, but the more we wore them the more their slight squeak became noticeable. Similarly, the cracks in the veneer of LeBron’s utopian chalk world grew bigger. The Cavs won 66 games and LeBron was magnificent in the playoffs, but the Magic beat them in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games. LeBron was roundly criticized for leaving the court after the deciding game without shaking his opponents’ hands.

A little over a year later, LeBron was gone from Cleveland in unceremonious fashion. But the “Chalk” ad still resonates for being incredibly well done, and for representing perhaps the apex of LeBron James as a marketable commodity. Unfortunately, when it came down to it, the championship confetti we all anticipated was nothing more than dust in the wind.

3. JORDAN: LET YOUR GAME SPEAK
Michael Jordan had so many indelible moments and images, and his ad for the Air Jordan XXI featured some of his greatest but with a twist: It wasn’t Jordan doing them. In slow motion, a montage of street and high school ballers re-enacted his greatest hits in high school games and on playgrounds.

Whatever your favorite iconic Jordan moment was, it was portrayed: The Shot over Craig Ehlo, the scoop shot against the Lakers, the Last Shot against Utah. You don’t actually even see Jordan until the end of the ad, as he nods approvingly while a pre-teen kid emulates The Shrug from the ’92 Finals against Portland.

[RELATED: The 25 Best Basketball Commercials Of All Time]

Though watching some mimicking teenager float endlessly was a little iffy, the ad works conceptually, and it’s a trip to see Jordan’s masterpieces acted out by a younger generation that probably didn’t even see them live. The idea is his legacy – as a player, at least – will endure. Lord knows his retro sneakers have.

But the real reason the spot hit home is that we’ve all been there. We remember attempting to emulate Jordan back in eighth grade on the playground with our friends, shooting awkward fadeaways and sticking our tongue out as we drove. And though we could only dream of being as good at anything as Jordan was at basketball, once in a great while, that game-winning shot in a pickup game went in, and if only for a brief moment, we felt a little Jordan-esque. Gatorade’s “Like Mike” was whimsical; “Let Your Game Speak” is earnest. We reached, he taught.

2. FREESTYLE
The beginning years of the last decade was a halcyon era for Nike basketball. There were so many classic sneakers back then, including incredible signature lines for KG, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton. There was the advent of Shox, Vince Carter jumping over Fred Weis, and the revolutionary Flightposite.

At the center of it all was one of the coolest ads of all time. Freestyle had NBA stars like Vince Carter and Baron Davis, street legends like Future and Trickz, and the incomparable Jason Williams bridging the gap. To a break beat, everyone involved – including the legendary Bobbito – did their most creative moves, dribbling/dancing while wearing some of the best kicks of their era.

[RELATED: We Reminisce – The Nike Freestyle Commercials]

At the time, the And1 streetball movement was in full swing, and Nike proved they could hold their own on the blacktop just as well as on parquet. The ads were meaningful to anyone who loved ball. Though we couldn’t possibly pull off the moves in the ad – one of them was to throw the ball high and somehow catch it with the back of your neck – we found ourselves embracing our own creativity a little more.

The premise of the ads was so simple, but that’s why it worked. Strip away the big salaries and big arenas, and all you really need is a ball, a court and a beat in your head. And as “Freestyle” showed, the court just might be optional.

1. RISE
The question hovered all summer after The Decision: How can you market someone who went from one of the most popular athletes in America to hands-down the most disliked? The night before LeBron James’ first game with the Heat, Nike and Wieden+Kennedy emphatically gave us their answer with a marvelous achievement in advertising.

“Rise” picks up where The Decision left off – same chair, same checkered shirt – and proceeds on a tour de force of the various criticisms levied during the Summer of LeBron. The imagery is incredible: We see LeBron getting his Chosen 1 tattoo removed (not really), eating a donut to mock chief critic Charles Barkley, bulldozing a court and delivering his Hall of Fame speech to an empty room. A high school version of LeBron offers a history lesson, a reminder that he’s “done this before” – and it’s true. He picked St. Vincent-St. Mary’s for many of the same reasons why he picked his NBA free-agent destination.

Perhaps most poignantly, we see LeBron watching from a car window as his Witness billboard was razed in Cleveland. One might get the idea he regrets being unable to look back on the good times.

Or maybe, that’s us. Were LeBron’s decisions actually mistakes, or were they treated as such because they weren’t what we wanted for him? At the very end of the ad, he ponders, “Should I be who you want me to be?” The unspoken answer: Or should I be myself?

[RELATED: LeBron James Apologizes For The Decision]

The stakes couldn’t have been higher for LeBron’s return to Madison Avenue, and W+K knocked it out of the park. “Rise” was visually arresting and conceptually fascinating, and given its context in the saga of the pre-eminent athlete of our generation, it’s the finest all-around ad of the past dozen years.

For dealing with America’s slings and arrows since The Decision, LeBron ended up playing with his friends, living in a condo on the beach and winning his first NBA title. We’re vicariously watching everything he’s accomplished both before and since, and we also got “Rise.” How about we call it even?

What do you think was the best ad campaign since the turn of the century?

Follow Bryan on Twitter at @SportsAngle.

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