Greatest NBA Commercials of Last 25 Years

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 25, 2013

Greatest NBA Commercials of Last 25 Years

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    D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images

    Sit back, relax and enjoy the holiday season with the best that the NBA commercial world has to offer from the last 25 years. 

    You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll sit and wonder what some companies were thinking. 

    Well, you probably won't cry. But at the very least, you'll be thoroughly entertained for the next 28 minutes and 34 seconds (the combined length of these 30 commercials), plus whatever extra time you take for the necessary diversions, follow-up videos and mandatory reading below each video. 

    Set aside a big chunk of your day. It's totally worth it for these top spots of the past 2.5 decades. 

    While you're at it, prepare for a lot of appearances from Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and the rest of the sport's biggest stars. 

    Honorable Mentions: 

The Uncle Drew Series

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    The whole "going incognito" thing isn't exactly a novel concept, but that doesn't mean it's a tired one. 

    Kyrie Irving pulls off his role as Uncle Drew perfectly, and the rest of the characters this series has used (Kevin Love, Nate Robinson, Maya Moore and who knows who else will join the squad in the future) only add to the appeal. 

    From the memorable name to the "Don't reach, youngblood" catchphrase, Irving has created something that will resonate for a long time. 

    Reason for Greatness: Jaw-dropping nature of Uncle Drew's game, even though you know it's coming.  


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    Is that Aunt Betsy dribbling down the court? Grandma Ruth, is that you? Wait, could it be Aunt Dorthy? 

    Nope, it's Grandmama!

    Larry Johnson's Converse advertisement is one of the more enduring commercials of the 1990s, coming at a time when the athletic forward was at the peak of his powers with the Charlotte Hornets. That first shot of Grandmama is equally awesome and terrifying, and the sight of Johnson throwing down in his get-up never gets old. 

    One has to wonder whether or not he knew that "Grandmama" would become his primary moniker throughout his career. 

    Reason for Greatness: The inspiration behind one of basketball's greatest nicknames.

LeBron in the Swimming Pool

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    There was a period when it seemed like this commercial would show up during every single break, and it was still entertaining each time it came across your television screen. 

    Everybody has their own favorite version of LeBron—regular, young, old or smooth—but it seemed like the vast majority went with the afro-bearing, white-wearing, smooth version of King James. And how couldn't they after his graceful dive into the water? 

    But the real moment that pushes this commercial over the top is the one that comes at the very end. You were already sold after the perfect entry into the water, but the not-so-subtle underwater smile makes it that much better. 

    Reason for Greatness: What's better than one LeBron? Four LeBrons!

Charles Barkley Is Not a Role Model

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    Charles Barkley wasn't going to worry about what everyone thought. He wasn't going to cave to the pressure of influencing people both on and off the court. 

    He was a basketball player. Not just first and foremost, but first, foremost and everything else under the sun. 

    This commercial certainly wouldn't fly today, not during an era in which players are expected to function as role models in all phases of their lives and are crucified by the media if they don't follow suit. And that's exactly what makes it so great. 

    Reason for Greatness: Vintage Chuck. 

Finger Wagging and Laughing

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    You know you've done it. We all have. 

    At some point in your life, you've knocked something out of the air and then whipped out that pointer finger, wagging it in the air in an imitation of Dikembe Mutombo. It was fun, but it still pales in comparison to watching Mutombo himself do so at random locations. 

    Mutombo may very well have the greatest laugh in the history of the world. If he's not first, he's trailing only Bill Russell

    Reason for Greatness: That laugh. And swatting the Geico sign. 

The Greatest HORSE Game of All Time

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    If there were a Mount Rushmore of NBA commercials, this would certainly be on it. You could make a convincing argument that it's the most recognizable basketball commercial of all time, and not too many people would argue with it. 

    Larry Bird and Michael Jordan going shot for shot? Sign me up. 

    The shots getting increasingly ridiculous difficult? Seriously, where do I sign up? 

    Playing for a Big Mac? Where's the nearest set of golden arches? 

    Reason for Greatness: Everything. Especially Michael's shirt. 

Ripaway Beards Are Awesome

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    Russell Westbrook and James Harden might not play for the same team any longer, but you can still view them working together with a simple trip to YouTube. But when you do so, don't bother watching on-court highlights when you can see their peak performances in commercial form. 

    While they're obviously acting, isn't this exactly how you picture the two guards interacting? Westbrook seems exactly like the kind of person who would take his discovery too far, and Harden would almost be guaranteed to remain silent until he just walks away. 

    You could say that Westbrook is just the younger brother in the relationship. 

    Of course, this commercial begs the question: Is Harden really growing out his beard, or is he just adding layers one at a time? 

    Reason for Greatness: Harden's stare after peeling off a beard layer. 

Be Like Mike

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    Look at those Gatorade bottles. 

    Obviously, this isn't exactly a commercial currently running when you tune into a local broadcast. But it doesn't matter, because this whole thing is just infectiously happy.

    If you don't crack a smile while listening to that music and watching a joyous Michael Jordan running around with a bunch of enthused kids, then you're clearly related to the Grinch. And if you watch it a few more times, your heart may well grow a few sizes.  

    Reason for Greatness: The '90s music. 

The MVPuppets

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    Well, this commercial has become rather anachronistic. 

    Kobe Bryant may still be able to boast about his gaudy ring collection to LeBron James, but he can't lord it over the King's head too much. After all, the NBA's reigning MVP has a few pieces of jewelry to his own name now. 

    Anachronistic or not, this is easily one of the most memorable commercial series of the 2000s. Two of the world's most famous basketball players in puppet form?

    Yes please. 

    Reason for Greatness: LeBron and Kobe are puppets. 

The Fun Police

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    "Your shorts are 2.5 inches above your kneecaps, and your facial expressions when you dunk are very limited." 

    Few lines in commercial history have ever been better, especially when delivered by Kevin Garnett in his athletic/acting prime. Seriously, the police should think about hiring KG now that he's retired*. He'd be the ultimate tool to whip out during an interrogation. 

    As easy as it was to get Cherokee Parks to snap, just imagine the fun Garnett could have with some less-hardened criminals. 

    Reason for Greatness: Remembering the legend that was Cherokee Parks. 

    *Garnett isn't actually retired, but it's tough to guess that based on his play with the Brooklyn Nets. 

Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade Have Nightmares

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    This may only be a commercial, but it sure feels real. 

    Something tells me that Dwyane Wade has actually had a nightmare about Kevin Durant at some point in his life, and the same can probably be said when the names are reversed. Especially since they squared off on basketball's biggest stage during the 2012 NBA Finals. 

    Between the intensity of the training and the real feel of the actual on-court plays, this commercials makes you want to get up and do something. Like dunk on an eight-foot hoop and pretend it's over an NBA superstar on a regulation-sized one. 

    Reason for Greatness: The cyclical nature. 

Mars Blackmon

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    Mars Blackmon got his start during Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, but he really rose to fame as the pitchman for Air Jordan. 

    This is by no means the only commercial Blackmon/Lee starred in. There were plenty of them to choose from, but the hilarity of Jordan leaving an obviously short Lee stranded up at the rim stands out. According to the wonderful tool that is Google, Lee is only 5'6", so it's hard to believe he spends much time with his eyes looking directly at the hoop. 

    Also, where can I get a pair of those shorts? 

    Reason for Greatness: Jordan's dunk at the end. 

Kia Time Travels

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    Everything about this series of commercials was fantastic, but this was easily the best of the bunch for Blake Griffin and Kia. While the current set—the ones that involve him dressing up as a superhero along with Kenneth from 30 Rock (that will always be how he's known to me)—is terrible, you shouldn't let that make you think less of the older ones. 

    Griffin definitely has some acting skills inside the athletic frame, and he displays great comedic timing in this commercial. 

    The brutal honesty is particularly effective, as the dunking machine readily acknowledges his own shortcomings. Self-deprecating humor is rarely a bad idea for superstar athletes. 

    Reason for Greatness: "Practice your free throws...a lot." 

There Are No Words to Describe This

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    I wish I could explain to you why this existed, but I can't. Just be glad that it does, because now you can refer back to it whenever you need to be cheered up with some contagious laughter. 

    Predrag Drobnjak spent two seasons with the Seattle SuperSonics at the start of his four-year NBA career, and he was actually reasonably successful. The big man started 69 games during his sophomore season, averaging 9.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. 

    That said, this is by far his best contribution to the basketball world. 

    Reason for Greatness: Ummm...did you watch the commercial? 

The San Antonio H-E-B Series

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    It's a shame that the San Antonio Spurs' H-E-B commercials haven't gained enough national attention. 

    Tim Duncan may be an emotionless robot when he plays basketball, and Tony Parker doesn't display much of a personality either. But they shine alongside Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich in these commercials. 

    The best part? 

    This isn't the only one. While it's my personal favorite, there are plenty more for your viewing pleasure. Just be warned, you won't be able to stop for a long time once you start seeking them out. 

    Reason for Greatness: The YouTube rabbit hole you'll discover when searching "San Antonio Spurs H-E-B."

Freestyle Handles

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    If you're like me, you spent hours trying to imitate some of these dribbling moves right after you saw this commercial for the first time. 

    The dance moves...not so much. But the dribbling. Definitely the dribbling. 

    There's just something about the combination of the bouncing balls and the rhythm of the beat that works perfectly for Vince Carter, Jason Williams, Baron Davis and everyone else involved. It still holds up after all these years. 

    Reason for Greatness: Vince Carter actually being likable. 

He's a Doctor

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    Just look at the form on that fadeaway. 

    Julius Erving shoots ice cubes better than anyone on the planet (though I have a sneaking suspicion George Gervin could give him a run for his money), and it's all because he's a doctor. That's my assumption, at least...

    From the minute you see Dr. J appear on your screen, you can't help but grudgingly acknowledge that you're excited about hearing him say the "Trust me...I'm a doctor" slogan. And despite waiting the entire time for the expected punchline, it doesn't make it any less awesome when you hear it. 

    After all, Erving isn't just a doctor. He's the doctor. 

    Reason for Greatness: Slow motion.

Breaking the Backboard Ain't Enough

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    If only Shaquille O'Neal stuck to making commercials like this one instead of lowering himself to the less-creative advertisements he's acting in today. 

    The combination of Shaq, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Walton is obviously a recipe for greatness, but it's the Reebok-wearing big man that clearly steals the show. He looks so determined at the beginning of the commercial, so proud of himself after ripping the rim away from the backboard and so crestfallen at the end. 

    Seriously though, why does Kareem have to be the one to hand him the cleaning accouterments while telling Shaq his efforts weren't good enough? Of the four legendary centers represented here, he wasn't exactly the one with the best chance at pulling off his own backboard-breaking dunks.  

    Reason for Greatness: "Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk." 

The NBA on ESPN Series

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    Let's stick with Shaquille O'Neal for one more commercial. 

    In fact, I can sum this one up in three syllables: Shaqtastic. 

    Reason for Greatness: We've all felt this way when playing Scrabble. For me, it happens whenever I play my mom. 

Let Your Game Speak

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    Michael Jordan is obviously an iconic basketball player, and this epic—note: I'm not using that word lightly—commercial takes full advantage of that. 

    It's amazing that certain basketball plays are so easily recognizable, even when it's a different person carrying out all the necessary movements. But the poses, the dunks, the shots and the celebrations are so distinctly Jordan that it's only necessary for him to show up at the very end of the commercial. 

    And of course he gives his approval. How could he not?

    Reason for Greatness: The last shot (literally and, well, literally).

The Lil' Penny Series

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    Though this commercial isn't as famous as one of its counterparts (the one featuring Tyra Banks), it may be even better. 

    We actually get to see Lil' Penny walking down the street, which is really more like him gliding along with herky-jerky movements. We get to see the awesome camera shot at the beginning that gives perspective via a fire hydrant in the foreground. Best of all, we get to see that newspaper. 

    I can only imagine Michael Jordan's reaction when hearing a little action figure tell the world that he got the best of the notorious competitor on the greens. 

    Reason for Greatness: Chris Rock. 

Good and Bad D-Wade

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    Please tell me this goes through Dwyane Wade's head every time he drives the lane and rises up for a slam dunk. 

    If you know otherwise, keep your mouth shut. Let me remain mired in my peaceful and blissful state of ignorance. 

    There's a new twist on the classic "devil on one shoulder, angel on the other" approach to this commercial: The angel is actually converted to the dark side by the end of the spot, and that doesn't come as a surprise to anyone. 

    Reason for Greatness: "He's a large man, Dwyane!"

Mike vs. Mike

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    If you ever wondered what it's like to be Michael Jordan, here you go. 

    It's all about challenges. Even if said challenge just involves beating a younger version of yourself in a battle of youth vs. experience. And when that's done, there's another one waiting to take its place, this time in the form of an even younger MJ. 

    And by challenge, I clearly mean all-out war. 

    Jordan doesn't take it easy on Jordan, and Jordan doesn't let up against Jordan either. From the first play until the last. 

    Reason for Greatness"You shoulda dunked."

T-Mac Can't Be Stopped

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    It's hard to remember now, but there was a time when Tracy McGrady was completely unstoppable. 

    He and Kobe Bryant owned the league during a small portion of the 2000s before injuries took their toll, and T-Mac couldn't be corralled by any individual defender or group of individuals set on preventing him from putting the ball in the basket. A scoring stud, he could thrive in isolation sets or put on dazzling displays of shooting. 

    Apparently, T-Mac couldn't be stopped by tanks, helicopters and all other sorts of military equipment either. 

    If he wanted to dunk, he was going to dunk. 

    Reason for Greatness: The dunk itself. 

Where Amazing Happens

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    The NBA has run quite a few of these "Where Amazing Happens" commercials, and it's truly an accurate slogan for the league. Every night, the Association produces a ton of amazing plays and memorable moments, whether they're LeBron James dunks, Anthony Davis blocks, Stephen Curry three-pointers, Kobe Bryant jumpers or something else entirely. 

    But of all the commercials that use that appropriate slogan, this one stands out. 

    When Kevin Durant was in high school, the Oklahoma City Thunder didn't exist. He had no idea who Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka were. 

    Now he does. 

    Reason for Greatness: The way it looks completely and totally 100 percent real. 

Ali G Doesn't Speak Canadian

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    Remember when Sacha Baron Cohen was still relevant? 

    His Ali G character ran a series of promos for the NBA, and they all featured the same basic premise: In character, Cohen would interview a prominent basketball player and make people laugh. He did so with Steve Nash, calling him the "MP3" before revealing that he couldn't understand the point guard who was "speaking in Canada."

    But he also worked with Ben Wallace, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and many others. All of them were entertaining, even if none of them could match the closing line of the segment you can see up above. 

    Reason for Greatness: Steve Nash's hair. 

The Faces

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    The faces are famous, and for good reason. 

    Between the instantaneous recognition that goes on in most basketball fans' minds and the brilliant dichotomy between pairing two faces at a time while using a "There can only be one" slogan, the NBA struck gold with this advertising campaign. 

    Sacrilegious as it may be to have a member of the Boston Celtics and one of the Los Angeles Lakers combining to form a single image, it worked perfectly. 

    Reason for Greatness: That closing shot. 


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    Who hasn't heard this quote? 

    Thanks to this commercial, we know how many game-winners Michael Jordan missed. We know that he's driven not by his success, but by his failure. 

    And if that's inspired him to such greatness, perhaps it can do the same for us. We can only hope. 

    Reason for Greatness: It doesn't get much more famous.


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    Everything about this commercial is brilliant, down to the for-some-inexplicable-reason-it's-hilarious use of the last names. This spot would lose some luster if Ansari and Bryant were dropped from the script. 

    Kobe deadpanning in front of celebrities is great, and I'd highly recommend getting on YouTube and checking out the remaining seven levels of the Kobe System. You'll get to hear the Mamba baffle a Chinese superduperstar, confuse Serena Williams and so much more. 

    Nothing tops Kanye West looking right back at Kobe and saying, "What the #$*! does that mean, Kobe Bryant?" 

    Reason for Greatness: You're welcome. 

NBA Forever

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    As you may have noticed, there hasn't been much of an order to these commercials. They were intentionally thrown together randomly so you'd have a pleasant mix of serious/funny and new/old. No effort was made to rank them (how could you?) or put them in chronological order. 

    That changes now. 

    This—in my personal opinion—is the best of the bunch.

    The production value is off the charts, the music is absolute perfection and there's just something goosebump-inducing about seeing the current greats and all-time legends competing against one another. It's like the real version of what we've all imagined, even if it's still fake. 

    Reason for Greatness: Everything. Literally everything.