Video: Nike’s new LeBron James Slam Dunk Contest ad rings hollow
February will mark the 10-year anniversary of the 2004 Slam Dunk Contest, an event which saw Fred Jones take home the title under circumstances so dubious that TNT’s Craig Sager practically begged LeBron James, then a 19-year-old rookie, to join the 2005 field.
James, now 28, has flirted incessantly with the Dunk Contest over the years but ultimately continued to sit on the sidelines while fellow superstars like Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin have participated (and won). In a new Nike ad dubbed “Just Do It — Possibilities,” James gives the people a flash of what they want, and it’s a bit maddening.
The spot bears Nike’s well-honed enthusiasm towards amateur athletes, encouraging them to build on their current achievements and push towards new boundaries: a runner who completes a race should try a marathon, a talented ping pong player should dream of challenging Serena Williams, and so on. The ad closes with a basketball player, whose goal is raised from beating his friend, to beating a streetball legend, to beating James in a Dunk Contest.
“Hold on, we’ve been waiting for this,” the ad’s narrator pauses, as James scoops the ball through his legs, under-hand flips it off the backboard, and throws down a two-handed dunk.
The back-to-back MVP then smiles as he draws votes of “10″ from a panel of Dunk Contest judges and flips the ball to the young player. “That was nice,” the narrator concludes. “Good luck with that.”
Now, imagine how much better this spot would be if James was cast as one of the athletes striving to push the boundaries, rather than as a monolithic obstacle who can’t be overcome.
Imagine if, rather than “preliminarily” pledgingto participate in the 2010 contest, only to later back out, James just bit the bullet and participated, pushing himself into the deeper waters of scrutiny, as the ad’s characters are instructed to do. Imagine if, rather than dancing around the subject by saying that he was “very close” to participating in the 2013 Dunk Contest, he announced at Heat media day this fall that he was going to win the 2014 contest, no excuses. Imagine if, after ESPN commentator Magic Johnson offered to put up $1 million if James would participate next year, James issued a press release that read: “I’m taking your money.”
Ten years later, and we’re left hoping, like 2004 Sager, that something — maybe even the theme of his own commercial — will inspire James to get serious about this challenge.