In the ’80s, Nike struck gold when they made a good-but-not-yet-iconic basketball player named Michael Jordan the centerpiece of what would become one of the most influential marketing campaigns in history. Soon everyone wanted to “Be Like Mike,” to the point where we’d be setting up a trampoline under basketball nets and sticking our tongues out and oh my god did Charlie just smash his face into the pole please someone call a doctor. But are Jordan’s commercials the best ever? Below are some of the best non-MJ ad campaigns of all time.
Larry Johnson (“Grandmama”), Converse
Before LeBron and Kyrie Irving were dressing up as old men and grousing about younger players not giving them the respect they deserve, dagnabbit, Larry Johnson was doubling as a hulking geriatric granny with a gold tooth whose Converse “React Juice”-aided dunks would put Jordan to shame. The question remains, though: What exactly was in this miraculous React Juice, and why haven’t we, the people of Earth, harvested it for something more than sick hops?
Derrick Coleman, BK Dymacels
It’s easy to forget what a monster Derrick Coleman was in his early days.Before he inducted himself into the fat-and-useless club alongside co-chair Shawn Kemp, Coleman was an absolute menace both inside and out of the paint (he could shoot for a bigger guy). He should’ve been the next Charles Barkley (he was maybe even better than Sir Charles), but instead he joined the inglorious ranks of No. 1 draft picks who never lived up to the hype. Not even the mysterious power of British Knights’ Dymacel technology could ultimately save him, but these strange BK commercials—one of which extols the gentle art of fouling—were for the ages.
Rajon Rondo, (“You Got Rondo’d”), Reebok
It’s pretty badass when you make a series of commercials that you don’t even have to appear in. This was the enviable situation Celtics guard Rajon Rondo found himself in when Reebok applied Rondo’s real life attributes—quickness, elusiveness, ball larceny—to everyday situations. When Vince Wilfork, the 325-pound nose tackle of the New England Patriots, channels Rondo and steals pizza from a nearby friend, it could be cause for conflict. But really, what kind of suicidal half-wit is going to call that guy out? They just got Rondo’d.
Puppet Kobe & LeBron, Nike
Nike did a whole series of spots giving Kobe and LeBron the Muppet treatment, mostly centering on Kobe’s former supremacy when it came to championships rings. The best of these, however, didn’t feature Black Mamba at all, and saw the puppet version of a Cleveland Cavs-era LeBron running through the house, clapping his hands with baby powder, mimicking LeBron’s real-life pre-game ritual, shouting familiar words like “Chosen One,” “playoffs,” and “Ohio” at random while burying the place in white.
Tracy Morgan and Ben Wallace, ESPN Basketball video game
It’s easy to forget now, but Ben Wallace, he of the large shoulders and larger afro, was a fantasy god back in the early 2000s. He didn’t score a lot, and couldn’t shoot free throws, but the man rebounded with a vengeance, anchoring the defense for Detroit’s championship team, racking up steals and blocks along the way. But Wallace met his match in comedian Tracy Morgan: “I’ve lived the 24/7 mode,” he tells Wallace. “And I’ve achieved the iso-motion … The way I dunk on you is gonna look unorthodoxed.” We’re still not sure what iso-motion is, but it sounds formidable.
Dee Brown, Reebok
The 1991 Slam Dunk Contest wasn’t a commercial, strictly speaking, but when Celtics guard Dee Brown dramatically activated his Reebok Pumps on his way to winning the competition, it was one of the greatest marketing coups in history, a shot from Reebok across Nike’s bow. Unfortunately for Brown, the power of the pumps didn’t translate quite so well to regular games, and he ended up averaging a pedestrian 11 points a game for the rest of his career.
Lil Penny and Tyra Banks, Nike
Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, drafted in 1993 by the Golden State Warriors and traded to the Orlando Magic, was one of the earlier would-be transformational stars of the modern era. Injuries plagued his career and kept him from reaching his potential, but not before he teamed with Chris Rock and Nike to make a series of “Lil Penny” commercials in which a small puppet version of Hardaway, voiced by Rock, made for some comic greatness. In the best spot, Regular Penny is playing a pickup game in the park when Tyra Banks shows up and everything slows down, culminating in the greatest slow-motion child’s ice cream drop since Tommy flashed back to Dae Han killing his brother in Best of the Best.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, ESPN
Before LeBron moved to South Beach and formed Miami’s “Big Three” with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, Boston had formed one of its own with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. But what to call the mighty trio? With a little help from ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and the timeless Amigo Salute, they eventually figured it out.