Throwback Thursday: Jim Riswold on Mars Blackmon and Air Jordan

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Today we’re pleased to present an amazing peek into the W+K archives with a look at the origin of the well-known Mars Blackmon and Hare Jordan spots of the 80s and 90s, in the words of the legendary Jim Riswold:

“Spike and Mike stuff was a big turning point for Nike advertising and this agency. I think that before then, all Nike spots were to show the athletes sweat and do their thing, and people drop their jaws and go, ‘Wow,’ which worked a lot, but we kept doing the same thing over and over again.

“[In 1986] Bill Davenport and I were in LA editing one of those spots, and we went to a terrible movie, and there was this trailer that happened before the movie of this man standing on a Brooklyn street corner selling tube socks, three for five dollars, and it was Spike, and he goes, ‘Hi, I’m Spike Lee, I’m a filmmaker, my first movie, She’s Gotta Have It, is coming out, it’s about yadda yadda yadda, hopefully you’ll go see it, and then I won’t have to sell tube socks, three for five dollars, anymore. But until then, tube socks, three for five dollars.’

“So Davenport and I got back to Portland, and we went and saw it. The movie is about three men who pursue the same woman, and there was this Mars Blackmon character played by Spike, who when he has his chance to sleep with the woman of his dreams, he won’t take his Air Jordans off, and it was like, that’s an idea, that’s an advertising campaign.

“We called Spike up on the phone, he answered his own phone in those days, and one thing led to another. On December 7, 1987, I remember, because it was my 30th birthday, we filmed the first two Spike and Mike spots, and I think that they were important in that they’re not any great comedic endeavors, although we’d like to think that they’re funny, but that they were the first time they showed a human side of the athlete, and used humor, and had some fun with popular culture.

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“And I think that opened up the access point for Nike to not just necessarily be for serious athletes, but for anybody, for fans, because there’s no bigger fan than Mars Blackmon. I mean, not only did he love his Air Jordans, the product, he loved the man, so every year we’d usually do two spots, we did about 8 years’ worth of ’em, and one spot was about Mars’ affection for Air Jordan the man, and the second spot was about his affection for Air Jordan the shoe.

“And he’d go on hiatus every once in a while, somebody here or there would say, ‘You know what, we need to take a break,’ but we’d always return to him. You know, he got dumped one year, when they wanted to put Michael on the Super Bowl, so that’s where Bugs came in.

“But every time something happened in Michael’s life, either retiring, or going into baseball, we’d always resurrect Mars to comment on the situation, and then when Michael finally retired, there was nobody that could do a farewell spot to Jordan like Mars, so we brought him back, one more time.”