The Daily Hits 20: Tiger, LeBron, Griffey Among Many Star Athletes In Memorable Nike Ads
Nike is known for its memorable and culturally influential creative. We look back at 20 spots that grabbed our attention over the last 20 years.
“Anti-NBA lockout” (1998)
Nike used this campaign, which featured people shooting baskets in a driveway and on a pop-a-shot machine, to promote a quick resolution to the 1998-99 NBA lockout. Each spot featured an actor ending the action with the NBA’s “It’s Fantastic” line, followed by the Nike tag, “Start the season. Hurry.”
Set to AC/DC’s “Rock & Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution,” this 60-second spot for the Air Max 360 shoe began with shots of sleeping athletes (pros and actors) who then wake up before the crack of dawn to begin training. Among athletes featured are Patriots QB Tom Brady (now with Under Armour), Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez, then Suns F Amar’e Stoudemire and tennis player Maria Sharapova.
The now-infamous spot had Lance Armstrong responding to speculation about PED use, juxtaposing images of his intense workouts with him taking a blood test. Armstrong in a voice-over uttered the now-damning line, “What am I on? I’m on my bike six hours a day, busting my ass.” It would be another dozen years before Armstrong would finally admit he was on something else.
“Chicks Dig the Long Ball” (1999)
Perhaps one of Nike’s most talked about efforts, the brand took normally reserved Braves Ps Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux and showed their comedic side. The aces attempted an intense training regimen in order to become sluggers, competing with Mark McGwire for the attention of actress Heather Locklear, all while creating a new sports vernacular.
“Hello, World” (1996)
Nike used this creative to introduce Tiger Woods to the world immediately after his decision to turn pro in 1996. The spot was controversial for the claims it made about Woods being banned from courses because of his ethnicity and had the ending kicker, “I’ve heard I’m not ready for you. Are you ready for me?”
“Tiger Woods Shows Off” (1999)
Woods started a trend after this ad, which showed him bouncing a golf ball off his club face for 30 seconds before hitting it out of the air. The script did not originally call for any juggling, but the director saw Woods practicing the move and began filming. Woods claimed he only needed four takes to finish the ad.
“Earl & Tiger” (2010)
A dramatic, unsettling spot, this was Nike’s first effort with Woods after his highly publicized sexual escapades. In it, he stared motionless into a camera while a voice recording of his late father, Earl, played in the background. Earl said, “I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are.” The spot ran for just 24 hours on TV.
“Winning Takes Care Of Everything” (2013)
Nike posted an image on Facebook and Twitter featuring Tiger Woods and the caption, “Winning takes care of everything,” after the golfer retook the No. 1 worldwide ranking. The ad drew criticism for seeming to dismiss Woods’ controversial personal issues, with CBS Sports Network’s Jim Rome saying, “That spot is supposed to be some kind of ‘how do you like our boy now?’ viral fist pump. But to many it’s a viral insult that makes it seem like all you have to do is scrape together a few wins and your filthy, extramarital transgressions are wiped clean.”
“Find Your Greatness” (2012)
This fantastic ad ran throughout the London Games and featured Nathan from London, Ohio, an overweight 12-year-old boy running alone on a desolate road. The spot’s British-accented narrator discusses greatness as something available to everyone: “We’re all capable of it. All of us.”
With the success of this critically acclaimed campaign featuring basketballs bouncing rhythmically, one columnist wrote, “Not since Spike Lee uttered the line ‘It’s got to be the shoes!’ … has a Nike commercial received so much attention.”
“I Feel Pretty” (2006)
Nike’s first ad for Maria Sharapova came out in time for the 2006 U.S. Open, which was won by Sharapova. The spot shows her traveling from her the Waldorf hotel in Manhattan to Arthur Ashe Stadium, passing by maids, bellhops, taxi drivers and tennis officials singing lyrics from the song, “I Feel Pretty,” (“such a pretty face, such a pretty dress, such a pretty smile”) to a stone-faced Sharapova. The ad ends with the crowd singing, “And I pity any girl who isn’t me tonight,” before she quiets them by ripping a shot accompanied by her trademark grunt. John McEnroe in the announcers booth then says, “Wow, this is pretty good stuff already.”
“Ken Griffey Jr. for President” (1996)
Nike entered Ken Griffey Jr. as a third-party candidate in the 1996 presidential campaign, with the Mariner Moose as his running mate and musician George Clinton as his campaign manager. The ad showed Griffey as the champion for keeping the game of pepper allowed on baseball fields. Cameos included Steve Forbes and James Carville.
“Leave Nothing” (2007)
This football-based campaign included a 60-second spot featuring bruising hits and action from linebacker Shawne Merriman and running back Steven Jackson, and was directed by Michael Mann, set to music from his film “The Last of the Mohicans.” Director David Fincher followed up with his 2008 “Fate” commercial in the same campaign, showcasing RB LaDainian Tomlinson and S Troy Polamalu.
“The LeBrons” (2006)
One of the funniest spots in memory, LeBron James hit his stride as an endorser with this campaign, playing all the members of his fictional, somewhat dysfunctional family. James was praised for his versatility, with the spot spawning a string of ads and a Web-based TV series debuting in 2011.
LeBron James answered criticism and explored his public image in the wake of his controversial departure from the Cavaliers. The 90-second spot debuted on YouTube the night before the NBA opener with James’ Heat taking on the Celtics. The ad opens with James on the set of “The Decision,” the heavily criticized ESPN special during which he announced his decision to sign with the Heat, with James asking, “What should I do?”
“Li’l Penny” (1997)
Who can forget this campaign around Penny Hardaway’s signature shoe that featured Hardaway’s 3-foot-tall, Chris Rock-voiced alter ego, serving as the over-the-top and fun counter to the more reserved Hardaway?
“The Michael Vick Experience” (2004)
Nike’s ad featuring then Falcons QB Michael Vick, before his imprisonment for charges related to dogfighting, took fans on a simulated amusement park ride reproducing Vick’s improvisational on-field moves. It ended with a line from Vick: “That’s not in the playbook, but it should be.”
“My Better Is Better” (2008)
Steve Nash, LaDainian Tomlinson and other Nike athletes starred in this debut campaign for the company’s Sparq line, set to the upbeat song “List Of Demands” by Saul Williams. The ad seemed to offer a trash-talk-type response to Under Armour encroaching on Nike territory.
For the 25th anniversary of the “Just Do It” Campaign, Bradley Cooper narrated this spot featuring normal people taking on famous athletes in sports, including a table tennis player battling Venus Williams at the U.S. Open.
“Stanley Craver” (1995)
The late Dennis Hopper was featured in this ad that ran during the 1995 Super Bowl, which portrayed a referee who saw “Bad things, man, bad things!” The ad received mixed reviews, and Hopper later said, “I really shouldn’t do any more of those commercials. It was a career move -- backwards.”
“Write The Future” (2010)
This video, which Nike rolled out for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, was a spectacular, elaborate tapestry featuring moves from major stars of soccer including England’s Wayne Rooney, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba and Brazil’s Ronaldinho.