10. Nike: Air Jordan I
This might be less of a campaign and more of an ad, but the original Air Jordan Nike commercial was brilliant. The campaign was simple, direct and to the point — which was that Nike’s new shoe centered around Jordan was going to change the game. And the NBA added to its mystic by banning the footwear roughly one month after it was released.
9. Adidas: Fast Don't Lie
I may be the only one who loves this campaign, but anytime Ken Jeong is on screen, I am paying attention. One of the hilarious stars of "The Hangover" stars in Adidas Fast Don’t Lie campaign adorned in glamourous clothing, jewelry and, of course, shoes. He sings with Dwight Howard and tries to hoop with Derrick Rose. What makes him fast? “He’s freaky. Freaky like my lady pyramid!” Hilarious.
8. Nike: Mars Blackmon
Spike Lee created the character Mars Blackmon in his 1986 film "She’s Gotta Have It" (played by himself). As Michael Jordan rose to prominence in the late '80s and early '90s, Nike made Mars Blackmon a lead pitchman for Air Jordans. “It’s gotta be the shoes, right Money?”
7. Converse: Larry "Grandmama" Johnson
Few things are TV gold. Animals doing people things, bad dancing or singing and old people doing crazy things are a few. Well, Converse capitalized on Larry Johnson’s famous nickname by dressing him up as an old lady and allowing him to dominate on the basketball court.
6. Nike: Most Valuable Puppets
In a spin off of Lil Penny, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant saw their likenesses portrayed by trouble-making and often hilarious puppets. The two M.V. Puppets play a friendly game of one-on-one, LeBron goes nuts with some chalk or Kobe teaches LeBron about his unstoppable-ness. They also babysit the neighbor Lil Dez. “Hey, Lebron, you got over 20 triple-doubles, can I have one?” With more than a dozen hilarious puppets commercials, the MVPs lands on the top ten easily. And if it weren’t for Lil Penny being first, this campaign might be higher.
5. ESPN: NBA Roadtrip RV
Much like College Gameday or This is Sportscenter campaigns, this is more of an internal market device than true ad campaign. But brilliant writing, big names stars and a road trip motif took the creativity of the Sportscenter campaign to specifically promote the NBA coverage on the four-letter network. The most recent of which (shown here) is one of the funniest.
4. Nike: Lil' Penny
“You guys remind me of my closet. I got one Penny and a bunch of loafers.” Chris Rock was brilliant as the voice of Lil’ Penny, a puppet lookalike of NIKE hoops star Penny Hardaway. In the locker room before games, on the couch with his boys, floating in the pool, dreaming about Tyra Banks or hosting his celebrity golf tournament (The Lil’ Penny Classic) with Michael Jordan are just a few situations L.P. finds himself.
3. Gatorade: Be Like Mike
Right after the Bulls and Michael Jordan won the 1991 NBA title, Gatorade launched an ad campaign with one of the most famous taglines in ad history. “Be Like Mike” became household and playground lingo instantly and has lasted well after the specific campaign expired.
2. McDonald's: H.O.R.S.E.
Larry Bird is standing on an empty court in an empty gym dribbling a basketball when Michael Jordan walks in with a bag of McDonald’s. The two super stars then proceed to play horse — in dozens of ads and locations — for the Big Mac. The campaign debuted in 1993 and the original was remade in 2010.
1. Nike: Freestyle Hoops
One the coolest concepts in sports advertising history, the artistic, creative, street-savvy campaign featured upbeat music mixed with trick ball-handling skills and big name hoops stars. This collection of dance-basketball-hip-hop ads is one of the best all-around ideas Nike has ever had. How many kids on the playground tried bouncing a ball into their shirt and around their backs after this video? (I know I did.)