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25 Years of Greatness: 14 Awesome Air Jordan Commercials

by: Howard Cosmell On  Friday, December 3, 2010

Air Jordan
It’s been 25 years since the launch of Nike’s Air Jordan line. And there’s is no better example of how to situate a star in a product line than the Air Jordan ad campaign, which has been running since 1985, and now runs without the man himself. With these ads, and the later Bo Jackson and Charles Barkley spots, Nike became the equivalent of the New York Yankees at the Clio awards, which are the highest awards given in advertising, branding, and marketing. The clips are works of art on their own, so take a look at 14 of the best.

14. “Genie”
Let’s start this list with the transcendent, funny, and most importantly, memorable Air Jordan “Mars Blackmon” campaign. While this isn’t the most iconic ad of the bunch, it is pretty awesome. Any time you can incorporate Little Richard as a genie and Spike Lee as, well, whoever the hell Mars Blackmon is supposed to be, you gotta do it. That’s what the chart says. These commercials are more impressive in hindsight, as Spike Lee has carved out a niche as a pretty cranky dude in the past couple decades. It’s kind of like seeing Clint Eastwood playing the “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!” guy.

13. “Failure”
In a departure from the tone set by all the ads celebrating “his Airness,” this spot instead juxtaposes successful Michael strolling around in VIP areas with his narration on how he has failed, perhaps in light of the fact that he was once cut from his high school varsity team. Probably when he was 4 years old, but whatever. He had to overcome adversity, though Nike makes it look like overcoming adversity has its perks.

12. “Banned”
Normally, when a basketball shoe is banned by the NBA, that would be a bad thing. But Nike managed to turn a negative into a positive with this crafty Air Jordan ad. They stressed the fact that the shoe was “revolutionary” and “too hot” for the league, insinuating that it would give players an unfair advantage. They forgot to mention that the real reason it was banned was due to league color restrictions. Oh well.

11. “Retirement”
In honor of Michael Jordan’s second retirement, (these would become an almost annual affair) Nike plays out what almost seems to be an obituary played in reverse, working back to his days as a tot, running around a basketball court, still looking sharper than most grown men. While the halcyon days of Air Jordan had passed by 1999, Jordan and the Bulls were still very much bringing it. For all the ads that celebrate his persona, this one takes a rather epic look at his accomplishments, which could honestly have stretched the video out to a few hours, were it not for aggressive editing.

10. “Hang Time”
Mars Blackmon demonstrates how it’s easy to get hang time when you’ve got the power of Air Jordan’s underneath you.

9. “Frozen Moment”
It has been said that Wayne Gretzky was such a dominant player in the NHL because his neurons fired faster than anyone else’s, allowing him to essentially play the game slower than anyone else and still look blazing fast. Well, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that Jordan could have very well shared this gift, as he seemed to be taking his time as he moved faster than anyone on the court. This ad, called “Frozen Moment,” shows MJ break it down while the rest of the world goes about their business, ending with the most signature of codas to the Air Jordan commercials, the monster jam.

8. “Tell Me”
#23 may be the most gifted basketball player in NBA history (LeBron seems to have stopped stating his case over the past two years), but gifts only get you halfway there. Like Kobe, MJ was the fiercest of competitors, and he didn’t get where he was coasting on talent. So this ad was created for the millions of aspiring ballplayers that keep the Jordan brand afloat. He gets gritty! Black tanktop! Edgy!

7. “Nobody”
“Mars Blackmon” thinks nobody can cover his main man, Michael Jordan. While he’s probably not wrong, he is slightly annoying. Luckily, MJ steps in to rectify the situation.

6. “What If”
Hey gang! Jordan isn’t just the dominant superstar schooling Reggie Miller and winning championships with the flu. Sometimes he’s just a dude in a gym. Nike did a great job of balancing the larger-than-life Jordan ads with these decidedly blue-collar ones in an effort to create the perfect superstar. And it seems to have worked, as Jordan may have gone down in history as the perfect spokesman for a brand. Ever. It wasn’t all on him. The way Nike crafted his persona with spots like these changed basketball, the Jordan brand, and advertising as well.

5. “Let Your Game Speak”
It got to the point that Jordan commercials didn’t even have to have Jordan in them to sell his product. His name having become synonymous with winning and motivation, you could watch little kids playing on a blacktop and still pick up the “Jordan vibe” through osmosis. This ad conveys (albeit heavy-handedly) MJ’s ubiquity at this point. Once he had passed the midway point of his career, MJ was the godfather of basketball. Not the NBA, but basketball. Every player was practicing with him in mind, as the little kid’s cribbed “I don’t know either!” shrug from Jordan’s commanding playoff performance demonstrates.

4. “Rock a Baby”
I have no idea why this clip is called “Rock a Baby,” but it is, and its appearance on this list is to show what could have been. These were for the Air Jordan II’s back in the mid-80’s, before Nike had learned how to harness Mike’s star power. Well, they still had to learn after this fairly unimpressionable commercial. This generic spot shows that it took a lot of crafting to turn Michael into Air Jordan. But, as this commercial shows, the fact that he can dunk like this does a lot of the heavy lifting for his branding.

3. “Not Meant to Fly”
While the previous entry may have been a step back in the Jordan ascent, this commercial, done the year before for the Jordan I’s, was a watershed moment in that it gave us that silhouette that shows Jordan, legs sprawled, jumping higher than anyone has ever jumped before. As such, it was the first time that Nike really embraced the “Air Jordan” moniker that would be their cash cow for the next 30 or so years. (They’re still riding the wave, people.)

2. “It’s Gotta be the Shoes”
Not even close. Spike Lee and Michael Jordan were such an organic duo to extol the virtues and excitement of 23’s NBA dominance that no other Air Jordan commercial comes close. Further down the line, Nike may have gone over board with the celebrity cameos, but Spike’s alter ego was indicative of all the enthusiasm and wide-eyed disbelief that most everyone had for Jordan when he was breaking out of his shell on his way to becoming the best. Also, the tagline “It’s gotta be the shoes” would echo in our heads until Charles Barkley thankfully came around to let everyone know that he wasn’t, in fact, a role model. And I don’t know why, but the way they spell “Blackmon” always makes me chuckle.

1. “Maybe It’s My Fault” – Become Legendary
The Air Jordan XXIII XX3 “Become Legendary” Commercial is probably the greatest Jordan commercial of all time. It still sends shivers down my spine every time I watch it. Jordan made the game, he didn’t destroy it!




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