My Top 15 Basketball Commercials of All Time…

15) How Happy? (Geico)

“Not in my house…”

Although a relatively new commercial I couldn’t help but put this Geico ad on the list simply because it had me laughing more than I ever expected it to. NBA fans have known Dikembe Mutombo for his shot blocking, patented finger wave, and larger than life smile – that’s why this ad stood out for me. The odd circumstance of watching an overall nice guy being a complete a** to strangers (and loving every second of it) makes for an entertaining time.

14) Global Team (AMEX)

“Hey Nashy, how bout hustling up a bit eh?”

At a tipping point where playing in the NBA was becoming more of a reality for international talent, the Dallas Mavericks were already steps ahead of the rest of the league in hiring players from outside of the United States. However, the trials and tribulations of what international players go through is often hidden from the eyes of fans, from culture shock to language barriers. So it was nice to see the Mavericks take advantage of their unique position while poking fun at themselves in this hilarious ad. Plus, you gotta love Don Nelson’s attempt at breaking the American-Canadian language barrier. 

13) The Showdown (McDonald’s)

“First one to miss watches the winner eat.”

There are a million things about this commercial that are simply outdated. The background music, the camera effects, Michael’s ridiculous shirt. However, there’s one tried and true constant – Jordan and Bird are, above anything else, true competitors in spirit. Even though a staged scene, you could almost believe that this is what a game of HORSE between these 2 NBA icons would look like. Another fact about this commercial is that it certainly made enough of a mark on TV viewers that McDonald’s made a sequel ad for this generation, and that’s why it’s on my list. 

12) School of Truth (TNT)

“We’re gonna pick Davey”

You’ve got to admire people who aren’t afraid to point out their own flaws. That’s exactly what you get at the school of truth – a series of ads that focus on everything our favourite athletes haven’t done well. It’s child-like honesty, and the truth can be brutal.

11) Fun Police (Nike)

“Jimmy do what the man says. Pass the ball!”

I remember the Fun Police better than most basketball ads because it aired around the time when I began watching basketball religiously, and those memories always stuck with me . The idea behind the fun police series is simple enough – basketball can be fun if you play it the right way. The NBA was entering  a new generation and Nike was eager to bring their newly signed talent front and centre, and luckily for Nike, new guys like Gary Payton and Kevin Garnett brought their attitude and sense of humour with them too. 

10) VC Shox II (Nike)

“Going back to the basics, this’ll be fun for me…”

Yes, I’m a Raptors fan. Yes, I’m a Vince Carter fan. Yes, I own these shoes. Does that mean this ad made the list because I’m biased? Absolutely, and I don’t care one bit. This is an awesome ad, from an awesome time. A rare glowing moment in Raptor history. It was a time when we mattered. Being a Raptor fan back then was almost like being caught in a lucid dream. A dream you didn’t want to wake up from. Seems Nike captured our mindset perfectly. 

9) Air Jordan V (Jordan/Nike)

“Money, it’s gotta be the shoes…”

One of the trailblazers of basketball shoe commercials. It would be a crime not to include this ad on this list because of its influence on both the Jordan brand and basketball shoes in general. Long time Jordan brand collaborator Spike Lee was by now a staple in Jordan ads but this time around his reprisal of Mars Blackman gave us one of the most iconic catch phrases ever to spawn from a basketball commercial. 

8) BIG (NBA)

“7 billion people on earth…”

While I’m not a fan of all the ads from the NBA ‘BIG’ campaign, this one still grabs my attention. I’ve always been a fan of Steve McQueen (ever since The Magnificent Seven) and something about this ad screams classic cool. The thumping percussion, the guitar riffs, the slow motion walking. It would make just as much sense for Nowitzki to walk onto the court with a leather jacket on. But equally captivating is the question the ad poses to all of us. Riding on the heels of winning the NBA championship, Nowitzki had finally received the praise and admiration he had fought so long and hard for. He had beaten the heavy favourites in Lebron James and the Miami Heat. He had proven the critics wrong. How many of us could go against those odds? 1 in 7 billion seems about right.

7) Kobe System (Nike)

“Are you a different animal, and the same beast?”

There are a lot of big name personalities featured here from Tony Robbins to Richard Branson to Aziz Ansari, but it’s Kanye West who steals the show in chapter 6 of the Kobe System series entitled Beastion. Conflicted with where his career can go after experiencing overwhelming success, Kanye attends a Kobe seminar to learn how to be more successful when you’re already a success. Their exchange is nothing short of gold. 

6) NBA Destination (ESPN)

“Don’t worry about it…”

ESPN is one of those networks that has a strong heritage in blending humour and sports (a theme recurrent across all of their ads and not just NBA-related ones), so it comes as no surprise that the road trip series is one of my favourites from the lot. The stories and shenanigans that occur when you have NBA players, analysts, and announcers shacked up in an RV touring the country is more faux reality show than TV ad, and every second of it is comedic genius.

5) 23 vs 39 (Gatorade)

“The lesson has just started…”

Can Michael Jordan stop Michael Jordan? That was one of the hottest debates around when Michael was in his prime. It’s a question we’ll never know for sure but that didn’t stop Gatorade from giving us a glimpse of what that argument might look like after Michael decided to return to the NBA for a second time . At age 39 Jordan was a completely different player from his heyday, but that didn’t mean that Jordan couldn’t still dominate. Going against his 23 year old self, it was evident how different Jordan’s game had become. In place of athleticism was knowledge. In place of power was cunningness. Jordan may no longer be a physical specimen, but his years of experience had made him a chess grandmaster, and he still had a few things to teach the entire league. 

4) There Can Only Be One (NBA)

“Some dreams fade over time, but not this one.”

It goes without saying that if you’re ad inspires a Time magazine cover, you’re doing something right. time_onlyone“There can only be one” was an ad series that cemented its place in pop culture through its eye-catching visuals. Everything about this commercial was done right. The dialogue, the fan made profiles, the coordinated blinking of both players. But most importantly, the players in each ad were always paired together based on some shared storyline. It gave us a chance to reflect on the notion that there are no good guys and bad guys. No heroes and villains. Everyone comes from their own experiences with their own stories to tell. They only truly share one thing, their dedication and pursuit of something that can only have one owner. 

3) A6 (Reebok)

“Brought the hood to the game, and they love him for the braids and tats.” 

In 2000, David stern was hard at work sculpting the public image of the NBA. It was also a time when Allen Iverson was public enemy #1. Stern had the image of a clean cut NBA, filled with personable figures who spoke well and dressed in formal attire (formal attire would later become a league rule in 2005). Stern was out to mould players into a family-friendly and marketable image. Allen Iverson was the complete opposite of that vision. His brash attitude and hood mentality didn’t sit well with Stern, but Iverson felt he could be a star without having to conform to Stern’s ideals. Then 2001 rolled by and the world witnessed Iverson not only win the MVP award but also single-handedly carry a 76ers team to the NBA finals. Iverson’s star was shining brighter than ever. So for the release of his latest shoe, the A6, Iverson teamed up with producer Trackmasters and hip-hop artist Jadakiss to create his latest commercial. What would be dubbed ‘the remix’ (because the trio had previously collaborated on the commercial for Iverson’s A5) is an entertaining lyrical collaboration backed by Trackmaster’s complementary use of court sounds. It was the perfect way to put the world on notice – playing with heart is more important than having a clean cut image. Iverson’s game was unstoppable, and his street image wasn’t going anywhere. 

2) XXI (Jordan)

“Let your game speak”

A player so iconic that you recognize him before he even makes an appearance in the ad. That’s what Michael Jordan is to NBA fans. Everything from memorable games to mannerisms are on display in this breathtaking ad. The game winner against Cleveland, the shrug, the hanging tongue, and we recognize them all. The Jordan brand has always been known for its amazing ad campaigns (I could make a top 10 list on Jordan ads alone), but while their earlier commercials were more on the fun side, the more recent inspirational themed ads are some of the brand’s finest. They were a chance to gain pearls of wisdom from the greatest player who ever played the game – Success only comes from failing over and over again; moments of glory and made from hours of unseen repetition. Every ad had a great piece of dialogue recited by Michael that always left you in awe. But even with all of the brilliant lessons that Michael and the Jordan brand had brought us, perhaps their greatest lesson was given to us without Michael having to say a single word.

1) Forever (TNT)

“Play on, children, like it’s Christmas day”

There couldn’t have been a better way to welcome back fans to the NBA.

In 2011, the NBA lockout was a harsh reminder that the league was a business first and not just a source of entertainment. The league had just experienced one of its most watched finals the previous year and younger fans probably don’t remember the lockout of 1998, so the reality of a year without the NBA was particularly devastating. Then came news that the 2011 lockout had finally been resolved and the NBA season was set to resume on Christmas day, and what a present it was.

The TNT promo that welcomed NBA fans back to the league  was unique in many ways. It’s sombre music coupled with the blend of old and new footage was a different take from the usual tone of ads. It was a history lesson for all NBA fans. For those of us who don’t know who “Pistol” Pete Maravich or Nikola Petrovic are. For those of us who don’t realize the heritage that comes when you wear a Celtics jersey. It’s the past and the present. Legends among legends in the making. An exhibition of how greatness can become legendary. It’s a powerful reminder that legends never die, and that the NBA is, and always will be, forever…


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