There was a time in my life when I lusted after obscure sneakers like a dog in heat. A big part of my appetite for sneakers was a result of the brilliant campaigns. Here are a few of my favorites.
I know I'm a dissappointment to a lot of people for not being into playing sports—such as the white kids who foolishly picked me first to join their baseball team in gym class; my dad, who only gives me advice in the form of football and baseball analogies; and my girlfriend, who not-so-secretly has a thing for big guys in jerseys. But the truth is, I'm just not into being told what to do by angry old coaches or being forced to hurt someone over something as arbitrary as playing for a different team. And I'd rather beat off with IcyHot than get tackled by a bunch of oversized Michelin men with roid rage.
There is one thing I do like about sports, however, and that is the clothes—especially the sneakers in basketball. I wouldn't call myself a "sneaker head" per se, because these days I'd much rather make money or get laid than wait in line for a pair of overpriced shoes endorsed by someone I'd hate if I ever met in person. But there was a time in my life when I lusted after obscure sneakers like a dog in heat.
A big part of my appetite for sneakers was a result of the brilliant ad campaigns. I would see a crazy clip in between Ren & Stimpy or The Real World and it would blow my mind and make me hungry for a new pair. I was reminded of that feeling today when I saw Nike's new Be Bold, Be True project (above), which was made to celebrate Black History Month and features my homies from Street Etiquette and the Madbury Club and was shot by Sam and Chad of We Are Not Pilgrims. The video offers the cool kind of call to action that only truly great sneaker campaigns can inspire. After watching it, you just want to do something—it could be hooping on a court, writing some poetry, going to a store and buying a buttload of stuff, or, in my case, creating a blog post.
So, in honor of Nike's new swagged out clip, I've culled together a short, rough list of some of my favorite sneaker video campaigns of the past. This isn't supposed to be comprehensive or anything, so feel free to talk about the campaigns that touched you the most in the comments.
Allen Iverson X Jadakis - Reebok A5
I know you probably thought I would start this off with something from Michael or maybe LeBron, but no. Allen Iverson was my idol growing up because he was a badass and he rapped and he didn't like practice—a sentiment that any kid who has ever been forced to take piano lessons can get behind. I used to wait for this commercial to come on TV, I liked it so much. It was cool because it gave Iverson a persona outside of the archetype set by guys like MJ. Instead of being a nice guy, Allen was a dude who rolled with gangster rappers like Jadakiss. He had street credibility, which was fascinating to me as a kid because that was something I wanted. I felt a little old when I heard that retro versions of some of Allen's sneakers have been recently released. Hey Reebok, if you are reading this, send me a pair so I can show my coworkers my killer crossover with a balled-up piece of paper and a trash can.
Lil' Penny (Chris Rock) X Penny Hardaway - Nike Air Penny III
Even though I was spoiled growing up, I never got a pair of Pennys, which always bummed me out. My favorite Air Penny sneakers were the IIs, because they looked like something one might wear during space travel to an urban hip-hop paradise planet filled with fields of sneakers. Lil' Penny commercials must have aired during Saturday morning cartoons or something, because even though this campaign is crazy old, I totally remember it. I remember thinking it would be so nice to have a friend like that and I even had dreams as a little kid of hanging with Lil' Penny and macking on girls and throwing pool parties. Now that I make my own money, a pair of Air Pennys (but not the fugly Foamposites!) are definitely on the bucket list.
LeBron James X Bernie Mack - Nike Air Zoom Generation LeBron 1
Since I'm from Cleveland, you'd probably think that I'd have a lot of hate for LeBron James. But how can I hate on a guy for leaving Cleveland, when I did the exact same thing as soon as I had the chance? The truth is, he was a big inspiration for me growing up because we were around the same age and frequented a lot of the same places: The store that infamously gave thim free throwback jerseys when he was in high school, making him ineligible to play, was my number-one spot for copping gear—unfortunately, I had to actually pay for it.
There have been a ton of great LeBron commercials over the years. I especially like the one's where LeBron plays several different versions of himself that all live together. It's kind of like that weird John Cusack movie about a serial killer with split personalities, but way less creepy. This one, however, is my favorite because it reminds me of being back home at church. I don't believe in God, but black churches in northern Ohio can be a blast with all the crazy preachers that look like pimps, old ladies catching the Holy Ghost, and the big, powerful choirs. It's an experience and this clip captures it perfectly in a really funny way with the late, great Bernie Mack performing front and center. It also emphasizes the selflessness of LeBron's game, which was a really solid value to impart on young folks after they had been brainwashed (awesomely) by A.I.
Michael Jordan - Nike Air Jordan VII
There are way too many great Michael Jordan campaigns, but the truth is I don't remember many of them because I was pretty young during his heyday. I'd be lying if I said I can recall seeing the banned ad or the famed Mars Blackmon ads as a kid—the first time I watched those commercials was in documentaries on ESPN and on YouTube. I do, however, remember this epic advert, which was spoofed by the Lil' Penny commercial near the top. I feel like the Be Bold, Be True campaign follows in this advertisement's legacy of powerful imagery. After seeing a clip like this, there is no question why Air Jordans represent a sort of ephemeral elitism to people.
The shoes in this video are especially precious to me because I got them in red and black on my birthday when I was a kid. I still have them to this day somewhere in my basement, even though they are way too small for me to wear. When I wore these sneakers, I used to imagine myself stopping time just like in the commercial. This wasn't confined to the basketball court, I tried to stop time during butt whoopings, detention, and algebra tests.
This commercial is great because it begs you to put yourself in the metaphorical shoes of Jordan and reach for greatness. In spite of the troubling consumerism associated with the culture around sneakers, I still think there is nothing wrong with inspiring people to reach for the stars. It only gets weird when people feel like in order to do that, they first need to buy a pair of shoes.
Kobe Bryant - Nike Hyperdunk Supreme
I was never a huge Kobe fan, but I warmed up to him a lot more after this clip blew up the internet in 2008. Even though I realized it was a fake stunt, the video was so audacious and clever that it had me seriously considering purchasing a pair of Hyperdunks. It never happened, however, because in 2008 I had given up on high-tech court shoes and was strcitly wearing Nike Dunks. Today, I think that viral marketing is pretty wack, but this came out at just the right time, before every business jumped on the bandwagon and tried to sell you something corny. It's cool to think about all the arguments that popped off over this video across the nation at barbershops, street corners, locker rooms, and water coolers. I know people get shot over sneakers... I wonder if anyone was ever shot over whether or not Kobe actually jumped over this car?
Kobe Bryant X Lebron James - Nike MVP Puppets
Well, that's it. There are a TON of other great campaigns, like Charles Barkley battling Godzilla or Bo Jackson and Bo Didley rocking out together. I included this last one because the puppet kid's stunned response at the end of the clip is exactly how I was when I first saw some of these amazing commercials. A good sneaker campaign is supposed to blow your mind, inspire you to take action, and—inevitably—make the sneakers look cool. I think all of these do that really well, and it is awesome that Nike is carrying that on with the Be Bold, Be True campaign. Especailly, since Be Bold, Be True is in honor of Black History month.
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