The history of Nike’s LeBron James sneaker commercials.
Fit for a king.
There is no better in the game than Nike at promoting its athletes and hyping up the next sneaker drop. With the most recent tribute by Nike, I wanted to look back on the ads they have created over the history of LeBrons sneaker line.
Before we get into it:
Here is some context for you of how this relationship started 20 years ago when LeBron was 18 and one of the most hyped basketballers of all time.
With offers from the big three, 18-year-old King James decided to turn down the $115 million offered by Reebok and laughed at the $60 million from adidas to sign a 7-year, $90+ million deal with Nike.
"I don't wear Adidas, I'm a Nike guy, I'm a Nike guy. I'm so excited about being a Nike guy, I just felt that was the best fit for me. Somewhat had to do about the money, of course, but I just think that they showed me that it was going to be a long-term thing. I'm just trying to do the best I can."
At the time, it was the highest-paying shoe deal for a rookie in the history of the NBA.
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Nike Zoom Generation.
From there the Swoosh came out with arguably the best LeBron sneaker of all time and my personal favourite, The Zoom Generation. These were unbelievable to play in and happened to work well with my team’s uniform. Nike wanted to make the most of their next
meal ticket superstar, so they ran two ads for his debut sneaker.
The first ad, “Pressure,” poked fun at the lofty expectations set on the Chosen One(the tattoo that covers his back).
The second, we actually see some close-ups of the shoes. It features Bernie Mac(is he in the iconic Jordan dunk comp tracksuit?!) and a church filled with NBA legends focussing on his one-of-a-kind passing ability.
Nike Zoom LeBron 2.
Taking inspiration from the classic Kung Fu flicks with The Chamber of Fear. A set of commercials that were also accompanied by an interactive game run by Nike for the chance to win a promotional poster.
Zoom LeBron III.
Nike uses comedy to show a dysfunctional family featuring four LeBrons - Wise LeBron, Kid LeBron, Athlete LeBron, and All Business LeBron. With a nod to the Nutty Professor, we are shown how this is a lifestyle brand that is relevant to pop culture. Again, Nike proving they don’t focus on the product, they focus on storytelling.
Zoom LeBron IV.
We go back to the LeBrons. This time featuring some flopping :), a Kareem impersonator and what I actually thought was Kevin Hart(it’s not). Had Lebron known he would be breaking Kareem’s scoring record, I’d say the big fella is left out of this one.
Zoom LeBron V.
5 years in, Nike knew they had a serious player on their hands and it was time to mature the brand. They decided to paint a picture of the legacy that King James was starting to build - pulling on the motivational emotions here.
Nike Zoom Lebron VI.
The chalk ad. One of the more iconic LeBron ads. This video is incredibly creative and adds to the personal branding element he created with his pregame ritual of throwing chalk in the air. My favourite thing about this video is the cameos of people who were billed to take over the league - Greg Oden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Daniel Gibson, Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hicks and of course, Lil Weezy F Baby, Don’t Forget The F Around Me, Lil Wayne.
Nike Air Max Lebron 7.
Why the hell is this called the Nike Air Max Lebron?!
This also features two ads. This ad here features a script that not all of it has aged that well :) and then the MVpuppets campaign - which Nike bet on a finals match-up between LeBron and Kobe and ran a year long campaign featuring these puppets.
Nike Lebron 8.
Now we are back to normal naming but unfortunately, Nike ignore what I said they do so well before and just focus on the product here. My least favourite ad for the sneaker line.
Nike Lebron 9.
This isn’t far ahead of the 8 but here we are. Bring back the star cameos, please.
Nike Lebron X.
Another one that has been very hard to find and I guess for good reason. Rather than a traditional ad for the 10th anniversary, they decided to focus on the design and construction. Does hearing why it’s a blue diamond emotionally connect us to the shoe or make us want to buy it?
To celebrate the first decade together, I think Nike should have tapped into the roots of Lebron and how far they have come together but I’m sure they had their reasons.
Nike LeBron 11.
Now we get good again. For the 11s they tapped into what was happening on the court. In his quest to become a tri-champion, they show LeBron and his beloved fans training as a triathlete. This concept works well because they are painting the picture of LeBron as a community-driven man who cares about the people - this was needed as people were still salty about The Decision and The Heatles, which weren’t for everyone.
Nike LeBron 12.
Whilst I enjoy the Ivan Drago-type built-in a lab concept they are going for it, I don’t think it ages that well - even if it was amazing at the time. Sure it’s great to see how much technology goes into these shoes and how they are perfect for you if you are a 6’9 250 pound athlete but again I struggle to connect here.
Nike LeBron 13.
Built for explosiveness. Here we see the forgotten shoe from a member of the Autobots(not really) - I would have loved to see them take this concept even further with LeBron somehow being Optimus Prime.
Nike LeBron 14.
Come out of nowhere.
This is what we love to see. Nike pulling on the heartstrings. With their strongest campaign in some time for the sneakers, it’s a great campaign tributing the journey of King James. This a great example of a relatable but aspirational script.
Nike LeBron 15.
Here we welcome back a little help from Hollywood with Idris Elba narrating. I love when Nike flexes their relevant pop-culture muscle.
Nike LeBron 16.
Not sure how I feel about this one. I prefer ads with a little more storytelling like the old MJ ads but then I also love seeing LA and the very courts I was shooting around on yesterday.
Nike LeBron 17.
Another ad that doesn’t feature the man himself which again I think misses the mark. Cool but just not for me. People often buy shoes because of their love of the player.
Nike LeBron 18.
Why am I having a much harder time finding the more recent ads?!
I can’t find anything but a still image for the 18s. Here is a video of the design process of the shoe. It’s worth noting that this channel seems to have every other ad so perhaps it never happened?
Nike LeBron 19.
What the hell?! I also can’t find this. I have a few Nike employees on this email.. so if they have made it this far, please explain why these vids aren’t on youtube? Is it because these shoes were linked to Space Jam so there was no TVC’s for it?
Nike LeBron 20.
Perhaps Nike took a few years off and they wanted to come back with a bang? Whatever the reason, we are back with two different creatives.
The first reminds me a lot of the Kobe Bryant video for Nike where he jumps over a car. It’s great seeing a company get creative with their billion-dollar athlete and doing something that anybody could create in a very lo-fi way.
What I do love about the 20s and a lot of the latest LeBron ads across all brands is how he is incorporating Bronny into them. The James Gang are preparing to pass the torch and they are doing the lead-up very well.
Then the big-budget boy is great. Playing into the Father Time conversation that happens across sports. Tapping back into Hollywood with Jason Momoa, this series of commercials is Nike playing the season-long storytelling game again, which by now you’ve probably realised I love.
Which is your favourite ad from the above? Leave a comment and let me know.
Thanks for making it this far and coming on the journey with me to see how the messaging and concepts have changed throughout the course of LeBrons career.
I appreciate you and I hope this is unlike any other email you received this week.
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