Jordan’s non-Nike commercials were equally legendary

May 6, 2020

WHEN it wasn’t low key paying tribute to Kobe Bryant, Episode 5 of The Last Dance took a little segue from the NBA season to focus on how Jordan built the Jordan Brand (as in the shoe) and the Jordan brand (as in himself).

This off-the-court wheeling and dealing, while not exactly riveting stuff, would transform Jordan into a global superstar — and arguably set the template for all NBA superstars to come.

While Jordan’s wealth and cachet mostly comes from the Swoosh brand, he also endorsed other products. They’re no AJ1s, but these commercials certainly did a lot to burnish his legacy. Plus, they’re fun to watch.

Honorable Mention: Space Jam

What MJ was selling: himself

Okay, this wasn’t exactly an ad. But it had plenty of product placement — and the biggest product on display was none other than Michael Jordan himself. Turns out starring in a movie with Bugs Bunny does wonders for your GOAT status.

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The movie earned a respectable $230 million worldwide when it released in 1996; not bad especially considering that year’s competition: Independence Day, the first Mission: Impossible… and 101 Dalmatians? In any case, a solid movie-sized commercial for the Jordan brand (small ‘b’), and still a beloved movie years later.

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The Showdown

What MJ was selling: McDonald’s

Two legends, fighting over another legend: a Big Mac (plus fries).

Jordan wears the most 90s getup imaginable as he goes head-to-head against Larry Bird, who warns him, “No dunking.” (The director later revealed that he had improvised that line, and yelled at Jordan to change his clothes. His Airness, of course, refused.)

The trick shots between Jordan and Bird become more and more impossible, until by the end, the two greats are standing on top of a skyscraper. “Nothing but net,” Michael says, as the ad’s tagline flashes into view, “What you see is what you get.”

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Awkward Jordan Hanes ads

What MJ was selling: Hanes

Jordan has been shilling Hanes for a long time. And even in the earliest ads, like this one with his parents, his commercials for Hanes were all hilariously awkward.

More recent Hanes ads turned the awkward lens to the other guy and not so much on Mike itself, like when he meets Cuba Gooding Jr. and a dude named Rick.

If you want to see another side of Mike, just don’t ask for Side B.

“I felt, uh… beautiful.”

What MJ was selling: Gentle Treatment

At least the Hanes ads were the good kind of awkward. This very early career MJ one was just… awkward. Period.

Soul music and really bad pick-up lines are the landmark of this commercial where a very bald MJ struts like a sex symbol to shill women’s hair products. The storyline is bottom of the barrel ad agency stuff: Mike is being swarmed by a herd of reporters, but he notices one in particular. She smiles, flattered by his attention, and strokes her shimmering locks. “Can I do a story on you… and your beautiful hair?” he asks.

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Would that line ever work on a Spin.ph reporter in the scrum?

Max Headroom x Mike

What Mike was selling: Coke

This extremely '80s commercial featured an "AI character" called Max Headroom. In reality, Headroom was just a guy in prosthetics in a shiny suit. With his robotic stutter and off-putting appearance, Max represented "the Man" while Michael, of course, represented Michael.

It's a very meta commercial, given that Headroom was simultaneously praising Mike for being as cool as he was while getting dunked on.

“Be like Mike.”

What MJ was selling: Gatorade

The catchphrase endures, decades and decades later.

This famous ad really played up Jordan’s family friendly aspirational image, interspersing actual on-court clips with Jordan laughing and horsing around with kids. It set an almost impossible challenge — “Be like Mike!” — but the overall good vibes of the ad could make you believe, if only for a millisecond, that you could.

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