Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Advertising: bridging the rift between Magic & Bird

The next time you have a fight with someone, you might want to consider starring in a sneakers ad together.

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals - a great documentary now showing on HBO Canada - traces the history of the rivalry between basketball legends Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, which began in 1979 when they led their rival midwest universities to the big championship - just like Hoosiers, sans Hackman!

In the arena of sports fans, I'm not in the ballpark (to bungle not one but two sports cliches) but there's a lot to recommend in this documentary: part character study, part friendship dissection, and part basketball nostalgia.

I lived in Boston in the early 80s, and had nothing to do with sports whatsoever - no, these were the heady days of Empire Strikes Back action figures and Underoos - but I and every kid in Boston knew about Bird and Johnson and talked about them like we knew them personally.

Flipping the Bird to ads

My knowledge of Bird had more to do with his endless appearances on local TV as a product pitchman; I still do a dead-on impression of Bird appearing in a (as far as I know) local ad for McDonald's, which went something like this:
McDonald's patron: "Larry Bird! What are you doing in McDonald's?!"
Bird (barely feigning interest): "Going one-on-one with a McChicken."
When you think about it, "going one-on-one with a McChicken" is a perfect way to describe what you do with a McChicken - or any food - at McDonald's. You don't eat the food: you fight it.

The big turning point in the documentary comes when Bird and Magic go from being rivals to becoming the best of friends in a "We are the World" moment on the shoot for this 1986 Converse ad at Bird's Indiana home (the only way Bird would agree to do the commercial with Johnson):

Bird and Johnson made friends, Converse sold tons of sneakers, the NBA got a new image and a pretty great gimmick, and fans got great team- and talent-based basketball.

Who says advertising is a bad thing?

Now, about those yellow and green sneakers...

1 comment:

  1. Excellent documentary. Watched it last night. Not a big basketball fan, but I recall those epic Celtics-Lakers battles well. And the sneakers.

    Nice character arc for Bird. First we see him as ultra-competitive dick, then we see that he has a compassionate side.

    The Magic and Bird hype seems so mild in retrospect. TV commercials - how quaint. Yet it did lead the way to our current 24-hour sports universe, the renewal of the NBA, mega-sponsorship deals for sports stars, etc.

    Magic's talk show was pretty bad, though.


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