There’s a lot to like here in Jordan Brand’s new “Rise Above” commercial that features two ballers finding their inspiration by watching this summer’s current Olympics. Of course, Carmelo Anthony is the Team USA player featured at the beginning of the commercial, which makes sense for the brand, as he’s the main NBA hooper on both the Jordan and Olympic rosters. However, basketball-wise, it’s questionable. If Melo were a real team player, he would have passed the honor to fellow Jordan Brand and Team USA teammate, Chris Paul. However, we all know how Melo’s hates to pass.
In any case, we see the two kids, one from the US and the other in China, go from watching the Olympics to playing the game, practicing, and getting better. The kid in China begins his path by crumpling up a piece paper and shooting it in a garbage can. The kid in the US does the same thing except on an iPhone. Kidding, but there is an app for that. No, the kid in the States does it up Nerf-style, and like most of us that did it the same way, he misses because one needs to be a physicist to figure out the right angle, speed, and trajectory to make those weightless balls go in the hoop.
Next, both kids are hooping it up at the playground with the Chinese baller even trash-talking. Cocky little mother. Anyway, they both do well against older and taller opponents. Right there it insinuates that if you want to be better, play against better. Afterward, we switch to dribbling drills because we all know that if you got handle, you can do a lot of things. You know, because you can’t just carry the ball like a football and move down the court.
And then the Jordan staple: dunks. I’m talking about the two hoopsters tomahawking the rock! Yeah, that’s more Dominique Wilkins’ stylo than Jordan’s, but it’s all good. Maybe it’s an homage to ‘Nique and Jordan is admitting he stole the slam dunk title in 1988 from The Human Highlight Film. Probably not.
Then we find out the kid from the US is going to Georgetown, while the kid in China goes across the world to attend Jordan’s alma mater, North Carolina. From here, things alternate in regards to who has the upper hand. Watkins (USA) and his Georgetown Hoyas defeat the Tar Heels in what is intimated as the NCAA final. Meng Ling (China) is drafted first overall in the NBA draft by the Dallas Mavericks, and somewhere, Wang Zhizhi is crying in that moment. Then, during one of those thrown-together summer league games, Watkins does the old “throw the ball off my opponent’s back, catch the deflection, lay it up, and think ‘what a dumb motherf$%@er’” off the inbounds at the baseline.
Then it gets interesting, as Ling goes on to win the 2030 NBA Rookie of the Year award with a nice shoutout to SLAM in the commercial. But up next — and this is probably the most realistic part of the commercial — Watkins and the Charlotte Bobcats win the NBA title! Yes, folks, it’s going to take a while and Jordan is admitting it. Lowering expectations really helps when your team is coming off the worst season in NBA history, but it’ll be worth it. Meanwhile, we see Ling going hard on a futuristic exercise bike that looks like it was plucked from a “Tron” movie set. Beware the light cycles.
And then, finally, we come full circle and to the point of the commercial — Watkins on Team USA and Ling on Team China, representing their respective countries at the Cairo Olympics. An alley-oop goes up for China and in slow motion both ballers fly toward the basket with Ling looking to flush the ball through the rim and Watkins looking for the deflection. The commercial ends with a cut-away of both players’ hands near the rim as the ball makes its way toward them, a Shepard Fairey/Twitter hybrid command to “#RiseAbove” appears and then fade to black.
So, who rose above? If we follow the established pattern, brace yourselves my fellow Americans, but Team USA loses to China. However, would that really be such a surprise considering how popular the NBA is over there? At some point, other nations will catch up to America in basketball the way they did with baseball. 20 years ago, who would have thought a foreign player would be, well, anything more than a very good rotation player? Then Steve Nash happened. Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and China’s own Yao Ming — all have been NBA All-Stars with MVPs for Nash and Nowtizki and more than half of them have NBA titles. Multiple titles even.
The aim of the commercial is to reach out to the whole world and let every baller on the planet know to step up their game. Rise above, future Watkinses and Meng Lings. But maybe don’t model your game after Melo’s because nobody likes a ball stopper, especially the future Amar’es.