The other day I was doing some research for a personal project and came across an old Nike commercial on YouTube. Shortly thereafter I found another, and another, and another. Long story short, I spent half a day searching, finding, and watching some of these clips buried in the past but very present in my mind. Growing up, this was really all I had when it came to influences outside of living in Northern California – watching commercials, whether on ESPN or MTV, my two choice networks back then.
During the summers when my folks were usually gone all day for work, I would either be outdoors riding bikes or inside watching music videos. There were no chat rooms yet. No AIM. No internet, as a matter of fact. Stuff traveled through word of mouth or in magazines I used to read. One source of inspiration was always television though, and funny enough, it wasn’t the programming, but rather the commercials that came in between.
Nike has produced some of the most inspiring, creative, and groundbreaking commercials ever, thanks in large part to the geniuses at Wieden + Kennedy. I found a ton, but the ones below are really what I remember being the most impactful as a youth and even as recently as a few years back. After watching these over and over, what really stands out the most is the originality within all of them. How they each have a unique element of surprise, intrigue, and fascination. Most of all, it reminded me of a time when things were made because they were cool and different, not because everyone else was doing them, or because they were popular or what people thought they wanted to see. It reminded me of a recent quote by Madonna in the latest issue of L’Uomo Vogue, where she touches upon this subject a wee bit:
“By allowing ourselves to be consumed by corporate branding, worrying about having the approval of others and promoting only what is acceptable and popular, we destroy our art and everything about it that’s unique.”
With all that being said, below are 10 of my favorite Nike commercials, ever.
Jason Williams and Randy Moss “Good Ol’ Boys” (1999)
I loved this commercial back then and even more so now. It’s remarkable how both Randy Moss and Jason Williams went from being high school teammates in West Virginia to both attending Marshall University (before Williams’ transfer to Florida) and eventually landing in the NFL and NBA, respectively. Nike played off their story beautifully, with a tiny bit of movie magic, of course. Backed by vocals from the iconic Waylon Jennings tune “Good Ol’ Boys” the whole Dukes of Hazzard theme was present in more ways than one.
Michael Jordan “Failure” (1997)
Although not as visually stimulating as other MJ commercials, the message behind this one was more important than anything else. I remember my sixth grade PE teacher reading this quote to us during a day when people were complaining about their time in the mile run. Back then I didn’t really understand it nor did I care to listen, but it somehow stuck with me. It’s my favorite quote from Michael Jordan, because it’s true. You have to fail to succeed. I’ve experienced plenty of both, believe me.
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Gary Payton “Elves” (1998)
Nike went all out weird in 1998, tapping Michael Bay to direct a series of commercials for the launch of Alpha Project. This crazy ass commercial above featured the great Gary Payton and his newly minted signature, the Air Zoom GP. These shoes were so awesome back then, I wore mine until they had holes in the toe and was/am such a big fan that I still have a pair sitting in my office, brand new in the box. A full trailer of all the material can be seen HERE. You’ll definitely want to watch it.
This one was one those defining moments for Nike Basketball. At the time street ball was making a surge with AND1 and Nike had to make a splash. I feel really old considering all of the hoopers in this are either retired, out of the league or almost on their way out, but this one had it all. Rhythm, youth, and swagger. Arguably one of the best for the brand, period.
Scottie Pippen “Silent Assassin” (1998)
This one still puzzles people. While Nike makes commercials that are literal and to the point, like this one, the Silent Assassin spot with Scottie Pippen left me head-scratching back then. Looking back on it now, I think it get it a bit more. Pip’s defense, his fearlessness, his ability to steal (the ball), his smooth yet swift agility and jazz-like approach to the game. It all makes sense, at least I’d like to think. Author Robert Goldman breaks it down even further HERE, where a passage from his book Nike Culture examines the deeper meaning behind these visuals. I just wish I found a better quality version of this to share!
Marshall Faulk (1995)
I love how Nike always showed split-second snippets of the shoes they were advertising for in these commercials. Back then there was no internet, so the only way to really know about these was through word of mouth, finding them at the local sporting goods store or recording the commercial on a VCR tape and pausing it. I don’t remember too many football commercials being this awesome. Most of the TV stars were basketball players, but turf shoes and trainers were huge in the ’90s too, especially the Air Barrage Marshall Faulk is wearing in this clip. I really miss those days.
Ken Griffey Jr. “Goodbye Baseball, Hello Cooperstown” (2010)
Junior was the reason I loved baseball growing up. He was why I played in little league and through high school. He was why I got into sneakers and really why I grew to love sports. I blame him for my backwards hat and for making me foolishly try to replicate the sweetest swing baseball has ever seen. Unfortunately, his career didn’t pan out how we all wish it could have, but above all he remains the purest superstar out of the whole steroids era, which is awesome. Griffey will forever remain youthful in my mind.
Ronaldinho “Joga Bonito” (2006)
For the 2006 World Cup, Nike was at it again, producing a series of classic Joga Bonito (play beautifully) spots featuring Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho. While there were a bunch of entertaining ones, including this one HERE, the one up top was my favorite. I’m a sucker for videos highlighting the evolution of the athlete. Can’t wait for the second week of June.
When you were a kid, it was easy. You were not afraid to try… to dare. You did it, just because you liked it.
Vince Carter “Dancing in the Street” (2003)
Nike was banking on Vince Carter to be the man (and so were the Raptors) back in the early 2000s, especially after the nasty dunk contest he put on in Golden State. VC was the face of the Shox campaign and in 2003 celebrated the launch of his second signature model, featured in this spot. They even got Joe Budden to write an original score for it.
Charles Barkley “I Am Not a Role Model” (1993)
I love Chuck. I loved his game, his personality, and most definitely his commentary. I like people that keep it real and he might be the realest of them all. This was another one of those ground breaking commercials for Nike and it still resonates today.