Basketball players make the best commercials. A combination of it being the most star-driven and personality-driven league, the fact that the best players tend to stay the best players for a long time and get to develop long-lasting associations with certain brands, maybe that basketball players make the best (or at least the most willing) actors, I dunno. But in my 100 percent objective and thoroughly researched stance on the matter, basketball just spawns more cool commercials than other pro sports, and the 2012-13 season of star-driven ads was no exception.
Of course, you’re sick of them all by now, and so am I. Patience gets thin for these spots as the season wears on, and the fact that channels like TNT and ABC make the practical but irritating choice to continue airing them even after many of the players who starred in them have long since gone fishing doesn’t help. However, with just single digits’ worth of games remaining in the NBA postseason, we’ll be saying goodbye to a lot of these commercials pretty soon (if we haven’t already), so as a basketball pop culture enthusiast, I wanted to make sure the best of the bunch got their due before an off-season of nothing but commercials of LeBron being feted by sponsors, fans and children not old enough to form their own religious beliefs was upon us. Here’s the top 10.
10. NBA TICKETS.COM, “NBA TICKET PICK” (RICKY RUBIO/AL HORFORD)
Not a perfect commercial, certainly. Some of the players digitally edited to appear like they’re lining up for the most star-studded pickup game draft in hoops history are a little choppy, and then of course there’s the practical concern that not even Hawks or Wolves fans really wanted to see a Hawks-Wolves matchup in 2012-13, much less someone with his pick of the NBA litter. But the details are there with the direction. I particularly love the respectful “sup, boss” Jrue Holiday gets, the way Rubio flips the ball behind his back after getting picked, and Horford’s parting “Don’t be mad! Somebody’s gotta get next!” Yeah, right, like any second game could possibly live up to Hawks-Wolves.
9. FOOT LOCKER X NIKE, “WHO IS KD?” (KEVIN DURANT)
Nice guys finish last in the NBA — or, in the case of Kevin Durant, they finish second-to-first (which is basically last). Regardless, KD’s year-long campaign to Get Mean resulted in 12 technical fouls and one pretty good Foot Locker commercial, in which his “nicest guy in the NBA” rep gets him off the hook in the investigation over a “vicious dunking.” Durant doesn’t have to do all that much in the ad — just sit back and try to look inconspicuous while the ridiculous costumes and dialogue do all the work — but it did a good job furthering the idea that he was growing out of his aw-shucks period and becoming more the cold-blooded killer type, throat-slashing gestures and all. KD was a busy spokesperson this season. He has two other ads to come on this list.
8. STATE FARM, “BORN TO ASSIST” (CHRIS PAUL)
“Assist” should maybe be higher on this list, given how popular this entire campaign was, with Cliff Paul even making an appearance at All-Star Weekend. I sure did get sick of these commercials by the second round of the playoffs, though. They’re not quite as clever as they think they are, Chris Paul’s acting can still be a little stiff despite basically being a likeable guy, and after the 159th time hearing it, that jaunty flute-and-clarinet theme music probably turned me against the Clippers altogether. They’re cute and all, but at the end of the day, I still prefer “Can I Get a Hot Tub? (Remix).”
7. NBA, “NBA IS BIG: BRANDON & MONTA” (BRANDON JENNINGS/MONTA ELLIS)
I deliberated over whether or not to include this one, since I really only wanted to include commercials that players willingly starred in, rather than appearing via footage or whatever. But I do love this commercial, by far the most creative of NBA’s relatively lackluster “NBA is BIG” campaign this year. As well-played as the “Laverne & Shirley” local tie-in is, my favorite thing about the ad is probably the illusion it creates that Jennings and Ellis were actually complimentary players that had good chemistry and like each other, none of which we really got much evidence to actually confirm during the regular season or playoffs. And holy crap, still one of the best theme songs ever. Cyndi Grecco, stand up.
6. SAMSUNG, “LEBRON’S DAY WITH THE SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE II” (LEBRON JAMES)
My personal feelings about the man and his commercials aside, I have to admit that this was a pretty well-done ad. Has a nice day-in-the-life feel (assuming your life is filled with nothing but praise and worship from friends, family and countless anonymous fans), has that Curtis Mayfield song, has more cute kids than you could shake a stick at without getting in serious trouble from the stick-shaking police. LeBron’s “Oh s— that was a good dunk” face at the barbershop is pretty convincing, even. Still, I maintain that the commercial with all the stupid kid drawings was inarguably awful.
5. ADIDAS, “QUICK AIN’T FAIR” (JRUE HOLIDAY/DAMIAN LILLARD/JOHN WALL)
The tagline is still a mite too close to a “Fast Don’t Lie” recycle, and the nursery rhyme qualities of the ad don’t really translate so well, but there’s just too much cool to go around in this commercial, between the three up-and-coming point guards and rapper/narrator A$AP Rocky, reciting over the strains of the super-cold beat to his own single “Goldie.” Just athletic prowess and NBA mythologizing, it’s almost a throwback in its simplicity. Plus, you gotta start growing the next crop of commercial stars at some point, otherwise you’re screwed when KD needs a year off to film “Thunderstruck 2: Ah-Wa-Ah-Wa, Ah-Ah-Wa-Ahhh.”
4. GATORADE, “FIXATION” (KEVIN DURANT/DWYANE WADE)
A clever, well-executed concept, and two pretty solid performances from Durant and Wade. (Not having to talk helps, Wade especially.) Think this one works so well, because as fans we all want to believe that megastars on the level of these two guys still only have nightmares about coming up short in very specific game situations, and not about things like mortgages and personal security and mothers-in-law and other stresses that rich adult males tend to have in their lives. It’s much nicer to believe that getting dunked on by KD is the only potential problem in his life that could wake D-Wade up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night.
3. SPRINT, “PAJAMAS” (KEVIN DURANT)
I wanted there to be 25 different versions of this commercial, each ending with Kevin Durant performing a different tall-person task. KD rescuing the family cat from a tree. KD changing the batteries in the smoke alarm. KD smoothing out that last strip of wallpaper that just won’t stay like so. If you want tall-person crap done around the house, you could marry a giant, you could buy a step ladder, or you could just get your husband a Sprint phone to watch NBA TV on in the hopes that one night he watches too much and grows a couple feet. If I was an easily-turned-on housewife with an annoyingly precocious son, I know which one I’d choose.
2. FOOT LOCKER X REEBOK, “ENTOURAGE” (JAMES HARDEN/KRIS HUMPHRIES)
James Harden is the ostensible star here, and I do like the passionless way he informs his entourage member of the penalty for wearing the same shoes two days in a row, but obviously Kris Humphries steals the show with his shockingly self-aware performance as his douchiest form of self. We had no evidence Humphries was capable of having a sense of humor about himself until we saw him excitedly eying his entourage’s makeshift time-machine — and whoever was on props that day at Foot Locker, kudos for that thing — and accurately concluding, “Dope.”
This series should really be a running image-rehabilitation series for NBA athletes in need of taking themselves down a peg, with the Kris Humphries slot constantly rotating. It would have been great penance for Brandon Jennings after his inexcusable “Bucks in 6″ prediction, certainly.
1. KIA OPTIMA, “TIME TRAVELS” (BLAKE GRIFFIN)
Obviously. Blake and his time-traveling Optima changed the NBA commercial game for the better in 2012-13, with all subsequent star-driven ads getting just a little more absurd to keep up with Blake’s unique dry charisma and apparent penchant for decade-old one-hit wonders. The sense of humor and comedic timing was always there with Blake, he just needed to grow into stardom a little bit and find a campaign that wrote to his skills, and it all came together — along with some well-cast younger actors and inspired visual effects — in this KIA series.
Of course, they rang a little hollow after his 2013 season ended with injury, underwhelming playoff numbers and ultimately a first-round exit. But hey, maybe they can work that into the set next year, where he goes back in time to this year to advise himself to spike Zach Randolph’s pregame oatmeal with Ex-Lax or something. I hope they can get the rights to play “Blurred Lines” if so.