Friday Fives: Best Sports Commercials

Sports and the media have fed off each other for as long as television has been the powerhouse it is today: TV broadcasts the incredibly popular and lucrative sporting events that the public thirsts for, and pro athletes increase their broad appeal, exposure, and subsequent cash flow with commercial spots. From the inspirational to the hilarious to the bizarre and misguided, here are our favorite sports commercials of all time.

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5. Mean Joe Greene/Coke: Obligatory classic pick right here. I might have been born 20 years after this commercial aired, but I can appreciate its effect today. One of the first and most influential commercials to star a pro athlete, for an already iconic American brand, this spot is something of a legend in TV/advertising circles. The cheesy 70’s music and absurdity of its premise (why was a limping Mean Joe walking down a hall accessible by fans with no medical attention? How did an unsupervised 10-year-old get past security?) are indicative of a bygone era in sports. And it turns out Mean Joe was just a big softie the whole time! 5. Larry Johnson “Grandmama” (Converse): I don’t physically remember watching these commercials when they originally aired but I’ve Youtubed them so much it doesn’t matter. Anytime a grown 6’7” NBA player is going to dress up in a wig with old women’s clothes on and dunk a ball, I’m in. LJ was actually a pretty good baller but this may be his lasting legacy. For what it’s worth he’ll always be a Youtube hall of fame legend. 5. Penny Hardaway “Lil’ Penny” (Nike): I actually stumbled across this particular installment of this miniseries doing research for this Fives, but I had to include it because of the not-so-subtle sexual innuendoes. People forget how dynamic Penny Hardaway was when he was paired with Shaq, but having a nickname like Penny and having Chris Rock lend his all-time great voice to his commercials definitely added to his early legend.
4. Michael Vick & Terrell Owens (CGI)/Nike: I just think this is a really cool commercial. Nothing inspirational, nothing funny, just a badass combination of football moves – digitalized, of course. This was back before Vick and TO were household jokes – Vick was still the NFL’s revolution and TO was one of the most dynamic receivers in league history – so it wasn’t too far out of the realm of possibility to see them pull these kinds of moves at any given time. Plus, it conjures up memories of playing Madden 2005 and making Vick pass for 600 yards and run for 400 yards a game. Also, for some reason a Gatorade cooler comes flying off the opposing sideline at TO at the :48 mark, boosting the XFL feel of the whole commercial. Yeah, I have no idea what was going on there. 4. Peyton Manning “Cut That Meat” (MasterCard): Legendary stats, All Pro, MVP, and one hell of a pitchman. This guy is in more commercials than anyone else in the NFL that I can think of. And he’s GOOD at it! Peyton is oddly comfortable around the camera which contradicts his 5-cent country boy looks. He even killed on SNL and it pains me to admit that he blew Beautiful Tom out of the water. The “Cut That Meat” commercial is the first time I was able to put aside the Pats-Colts rivalry and freely admit that I still hated Peyton, but goddamnit did I respect him. 4. Dikembe Mutombo/Geico: I judge sports commercials on first impressions, and no commercial has ever made me spontaneously cackle my Charlie Maneikis laugh quite like Deke’s. Mutombo is just such a great character and before this commercial even existed, what would become “Bucking Aikman” was very nearly “Mutombo’s Finger.” However, the BA staff was unsure how many sports fans really remembered how iconic the finger wag actually was, and then Geico goes ahead and takes a hilarious dump on our lives. I guess we did not do our market research, but anytime you can make fun of Joe Buck you kind of have to right?
3. “Terry Tate: Office Linebacker”(Reebok): Kind of a clichéd pick here but this commercial was hysterical when it first came out, and actually still holds up over time. Apparently there was a whole series of these but the original that aired during the 2003 Super Bowl is the best (probably – I didn’t bother to watch the rest. Sorry I’m not sorry). I’m a simpleminded man, and a 250-pound black guy steamrolling a 120-pound white lady while screaming poorly censored obscenities is all it takes to make me laugh. I also like to picture Ray Lewis or James Harrison screaming “You know you need a cover on your TPS reports, Richard!!!” after forcing a crucial fumble late in an important game. Like I said, simpleminded man. 3. ESPN “This is Sportscenter”: The Mothership that is ESPN is even on top of the commercial game. They’ve had stars from all over the sports and celebrity world partake, and rarely do they fall flat. The mockumentary-style commercials began in ’94 and haven’t stopped banging out hits ever since. Every major superstar from Peyton to Kobe has graced the Bristol halls for a commercial with the anchors that deliver our daily sporting news. I see a copycat endeavor in BA’s future… 3. Various NBA stars/Nike: Re-watching this commercial made me realize how influential it was in the 2000s. Every kid who was playing basketball around this time attempted at least one of these moves. Who hasn’t tried to spider dribble, or the skipping knee dribble, or the Paul Pierce in-and-out crossov…wait how the hell did Nike put Paul Pierce in a dribbling commercial? Way to be the one person in the entire video who doesn’t do one flashy, And-1esque dribbling move Paul. Stick to your old-man game and nearly empty tank of what was only a half-full tank of athleticism.
2. John Clayton “This is SportsCenter”: I tried to avoid the SportsCenter spots, both because they generally only vaguely relate to sports, and because my real top 5…and maybe top 10…might be made up solely of these. But last year’s John Clayton spot was perfect in so many ways. It’s a long-running joke at ESPN that Clayton has some crazy ponytail that nobody ever saw, thanks to the ever-present segments that consist of him being wired in from some unknown location and filmed strictly from straight on, rigid and unmoving. ESPN took that joke and ran with it, and Clayton turned in an Oscar-worthy performance as a metalhead Chazz Reinhold who happens to know everything about football. And when you think about it, the fact that the seemingly 90-year-old mousey-looking Clayton is ESPN’s top NFL insider is pretty funny in and of itself. 2. Michael Jordan & Larry Bird “Legend vs. Legend” (McDonald’s): One aging superstar vs. the young gun. This commercial is immortalized and has even been duplicated in a slightly less spectacular fashion. This commercial embodies what every fan dreams of: two of the best players in the NBA simply playing a game of horse. We’ve all played it and each time we pretend to be the Bird’s and Jordan’s of the world. Unfortunately I don’t think any of us have a made a shot through the rafters or off the scoreboards. Nothing but net. 2. Michael Jordan “MJ on MJ” (Gatorade): Man, if it isn’t obvious by now, I love basketball. So when you put the GOAT against a younger GOAT in a game of 1-on-1, add Gatorade sweat (one of the most brilliant marketing moves ever), and trash talk, you had a young Greg Maneikis hooked. Hell, after I finish writing this blog I’m going to the gym to work on my old-man moves because I have too many young guns down here in Texas coming for the throne. I think the best thing about this commercial is that Jordan definitely played this game of 1-on-1 every single time he was shooting by himself in the gym. Who else was he really competing against? “You reach, I teach. The lesson just started.”
1. Michael Jordan “Let Your Game Speak”(Nike): This commercial gives me the chills every time. The Asian kid palming the ball, the kid chomping his gum exactly like Jordan used to, his son doing the shrug to top it all off – this spot shows how forcefully MJ left his mark on basketball and the entire sports world. Throw in some inspirational spine-tingling music and you get me, a 5’9” white boy with a two-inch vertical leap, wishing I could dunk from the free throw line. You want a sports record that will never be broken? How about best-marketed athlete of all time? It will be tough to beat 23 for sure. 1. Tiger Woods/Nike: Check it, check it, Tiger Woods y’all! This was Tiger in his prime pitchman and playing mode. He was the wholesome half-black half-Asian guy with swag who appealed to all classes. When Tiger left golf for a year post-gangbang exposure, the sport lost a ton of viewers and appeal. With Tiger’s reemergence and the possibility of a rivalry developing with Rory, the sport is doing all it can to push the two into the spotlight. What happened to Tiger was more intriguing to me than almost anything ever in the sporting world. Yeah the guy committed adultery, look around the sports world, he was by far in the minority when we thought he hadn’t. Never committed a crime and besides liking some pretty kinky sexual foreplay (and who doesn’t every now and again), he seems like a cool guy. The point is, his recent scandal hasn’t affected my view on him, hence the top spot on my list. Also, legend has it, this wasn’t supposed to be the commercial but the director saw him messing around between takes and made this the commercial instead. Boy’s a beast! 1. Pedro Martinez “Me llamo Pedro!”: Shocker! This is not a basketball commercial! However, this very well may have been nothing more than the coolest recurring dream EVER, but I am 99% sure this was real, although the internet has no record of its existence (and if that’s the case, did it ever actually exist? 21st century existentialism at its finest). The commercial centers around an impoverished Hispanic child living in a developing country. He gets teased at school because he keeps insisting that his name is Pedro when it is something different. Let’s assume it is something like Carlos (I can say that, everyone assumes I’m Hispanic, which I think is just as racist), but the young child repeats the commercial’s catchphrase, “Me llamo Pedro!” At the end of the commercial the child is back in his room. He reaches into his drawer and pulls out a Pedro Martinez baseball card and sighs to himself “Ahhh. Pedro.” It was simply adorable, and as a faux-Latino, it meant a lot to me.
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