Today, seeing the familiar swoosh or those three words - Just Do It - symbolizes only one company - Nike. It's one of the most recognizable companies in the world and has been so for the last 30 years thanks to its a rapid ascent in the 80s due in part to a basketball player named Michael Jordan (you might have heard of him) and his signature shoes and landmark commercials.
Before then, commercials had not been a major marketing ploy for shoe companies, but because Nike had a signature athlete, they broke the norm and over the next thirty years would create some of the most influential commercials on American pop culture. Here's our list of the greatest Nike commercials of all time.
Bo Knows – In the 80s and 90s, Bo Jackson was unlike any athlete anyone had ever seen. An outfielder for the Kansas City Royals and a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders, it seemed there wasn’t anything Bo couldn’t do. If he could play two professional sports, simultaneously, then what else could he do? It’s as if he knew everything.
Nike Freestyle – At the turn of the century, the worlds of basketball and hip hop were starting to merge. Ballers were trying to rap and rappers were trying to be ballers, and an underground movement highlighted by little known shoe company And 1 led to the marriage of the two lifestyles. In 2001, Nike released a commercial spotlighting this new wave, starring NBA players & street legends. It perfectly enthralled the hip hop audience of basketball and became one of the most popular Nike commercials ever.
5. Chicks Dig The Long Ball
This 1998 commercial featured former Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Around this time in baseball, home runs were en vogue and everyone was fascinated with the moonshots and high home run numbers that were happening around the league. Drawing in women viewers to a sport is always a plus and in baseball, which is seen as boring, if you can do so, you’re winning. Nike saw this and capitalized.
4. LeBron’s first
There is no athlete that had as much hype and attention starting their professional career as LeBron James. NO ONE. The scrutiny he was under in high school was unlike anything any of us had ever seen before. Even Sports Illustrated put him on the cover saying James would be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft as a high school junior. Leading up to his debut, many wondered would he live up to the hype? Would he be a cautionary tale? LeBron and Nike gave a “what if” glimpse into LeBron’s debut with a hilarious ending.
3. Earl and Tiger
In 2009, Tiger Woods’ fall from grace started. Once one of the most beloved and admired athletes on the planet, Woods became embroiled in a scandal that revealed him being unfaithful to his wife. After the public beating & the apology tour he embarked on, Nike released a 30+ second commercial. Shot in black & white, the commercial shows Woods staring into the camera as a 2004 audio clip from his late father, Earl, is mixed in. Eerily, his father seems to be asking him “if he’s learned anything”. Tiger and his father had an extremely close relationship and if someone gets in any trouble, they’ll look to their parents for solace. Earl passed in 2006 but this commercial brought that fatherly advice, if you will, together. It personally gave me chills.
2. It Must Be The Shoes
In 1988, Michael Jordan and Spike Lee were known but not the names they are now. Once this commercial hit the small screen though, their stock rose immeasurably. Lee, playing the part of overzealous fan Mars Blackmon, just had to know the source of Jordan’s talent on the court. How is he dunking so easily? How is he flying through the air? It’s gotta be the shoes! But Jordan insisted otherwise. A landmark commercial which launched the careers of both men and the company.
1. I Am Not A Role Model
There hasn’t been a commercial that has sparked as much social and political debate as Nike’s 1993 I Am Not A Role Model commercial featuring Charles Barkley. Barkley emphatically stated that “just because I dribble a basketball doesn’t mean I should raise your kids”. The commercial started a series of conversations across the country about whether or not athletes should be role models or not. That’s another article for another day but there’s no denying the impact of the commercial.