Revisiting A Classic: Jordan & Barkley’s ’94 Nike Commercial

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Let’s revisit a classic. Say hello to an old friend. Wave “Hey, what’s goin down? You trying to get some Mazzio’s?” to a proud old bro of ours that’s, admittedly, not what he once was, but still has a whole helluva lotta juice still left in the juice box. Tanks scare me.

Nike Basketball has been doing a lot of things right for a really long time. That whole Jordan thing paid off. Penny’s, The Gloves, Forces, Mambas, LeBrons. So on and a whole lot more.

Add this 1994 gem of a commercial to the list.

It should be noted first that a desk falls from the sky like manna from heaven and lands in a pool with Chuck Barkley at the helm. It’s raining desks and Chucks while the freshly retired Jordan lounges poolside IN HIS SHOES and Wayfarers and wonders aloud at the absurdity of it all.

Again. Desks with Charlie Barkley attached are dropping out of the sky like all that candy rained down from genie heaven in Kazaam. Like dead ducks after your cheat of a little brother sticks the Duck Hunt gun right against the television screen to play. Great things, all of them.

These shoes Jordan’s wearing? These are your Space Jam Jordans. The ones that Bugs and Daffy destroyed a golf course and a suburban Chicago yard to get to. They’re the ones he laced up when he went against, among others, Barkley’s Monstar comp. Those things would go on to take down an alien race, but Barkley, forever confident and always with mouth wide open, challenges their loveliness.

The joy of looking at this, for me at least, is brought upon, no doubt, by the fact that I both owned a pair of those Jordans and loved Space Jam so much. It getting iced out of the Academy Awards that year is still such an abhorrent tragedy that I just decided to forgo my rule of never using the word “abhorrent” as long as I’m below the age of 50. Not even a Best Supporting Actor nod for Bill Murray who, upon re-examination, literally batted .1000% when it came to pilfering scenes. Every joke he said, every single one, hit hard.

Larry’s not white. Larry’s clear.

Academy ought to be ashamed.

The film itself messed around and became a defining picture for a generation of kids who loved Jordan and Looney Tunes. So much so that, at Landmark Century Cinema here in Chicago, IL, they had a couple midnight showings of it over the course of a weekend. Mind you, this isn’t some Regal Theater, piping in all the movies that are busting up the blocks. This is the Landmark. The art house. The place the kids in $100 chambray “work” shirts roll up their right jean leg and ride their fixed gear bicycles to if they want to see something a little more independent in nature. Space Jam came there, to the land of exclusion, buoyed by the presence of those shoes that had to be retrieved, lest he be stuck hooping in golf shoes, and that stuff don’t fly. His Airness must have his shoes.

The CB34’s have a different legacy. Barkley’s line of shoes, obviously, did not enjoy the success that MJ’s did. They were blockier, chunkier, somehow louder than their Air Jordan counterparts. This iteration of them, at least. These were some of the quieter J’s, design-wise. Maybe the quietest. About as minimalistic as his design team ever got. Barkley’s though, with the purple and the black and the straps, they were brash. Like a bruise who could only shout and tell you the story of where the bruise came from.

The Charles Barkley Show, though. How I wish that was a real, true thing. Something Shaq couldn’t mess with and interrupt the happiness.

He gets mad at his guest. Says, once more, that he isn’t a role model. Claims he’s out of there. Then cue up the aforementioned torrential downpour of desks and Barkleys. Jordan’s kicked back, black Nike Tank-top on, ready to relax. They go back and forth on the defining characteristics of their shoes. White. Black. Laces. Straps. Full name. Initials. All the while the camera’s making a quick cut to some positively 90’s looking dude in a hat like you’d see Sanka wear in Cool Runnings, little one word comments and “oooo’s” springing forth out of his mouth. He’s not speaking lies, though, it’s hard to keep white clean.

Barkley asks if Jordan can do stuff like this, we see a few dunks from Chuck, in his shoe. Jordan says they can, wee see a few dunks from him now, but they don’t have to because, you know, he’s retired. His hands go behind his head because that’s what you do when you retire. You chill. In the end it’s Jordan talking about how his has Nike Air and Barkley jumping right on top of him to let him know that his has even more. Then it’s the back and forth on who went bald first.

I love this commercial. It was one of the first that, when it came on, I asked for silence in the room. The acting is wonderfully bad, about on par with any and all athletes asked to do any kind of speaking role. It’s as if Barkley was given the note the entire time to act more annoyed and angry in each take and Jordan was told to just vibe out and not let anything bother him. Consider both directions executed.

 

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