January 14th, 2010 by John Krolik

The other day, WFNY posted something regarding Nike’s first LeBron James-centric advertisement. It was well done, but made me realize how bad that ad was. LeBron’s had some great ads made about him over the years, and so, in tribute to this, it’s time to assemble a subjective list of the five best LeBron ads so far. A lot of sites have been making “best of the decade” lists over the past few months, but I’ve decided to step it up and make a list of the five best LeBron ads in the history of life, human history, and the history of all sentient beings. Without Futher ado:

5. Powerade: LeBron Making Full-Court Shots

They ruined the magic a bit by making this derivative of their Michael Vick ad, but this was still a pretty awesome commercial. Bonus points if you thought this was real, even for a split-second.

4. Nike, “The Chalk”

This is a beautiful ad, plain and simple. The black-and-white photography, the amazing music selection, the way LeBron seems larger than life, the way that he seems accessible through to everyone who loves him through this frankly silly pre-game ritual. This is taking a trademark and making it into something that will truly be remembered. Also, this is why Nike is Nike and your company isn’t.

3. The LeBrons, “Dunk Contest”

This makes the list for one reason and one reason only; Business LeBron saying “Dunk contests are bourgeois” at the end of the ad. Freedarko tried to wrestle with the possible meanings of this statement around the time it happened, but after a few years it still remains deliciously opaque. Was business LeBron stating his love for dunk contests by calling them bourgeois, as he clearly identifies with that class? Was BL simply being clueless, and dismissing dunk contests while inadvertently signaling his own lack of self-awareness?

Is he saying that kid LeBron failed to correctly appreciate his flashier dunk, because dunk contests can only be properly appreciated by the bourgeois? Is BL simply trying to use a word he doesn’t understand? And how does the “real” LeBron identify with this statement, as someone who’s both tried to hang onto his home-town roots and become buddies with Warren Buffet? This statement makes LeBron’s 2010 feelings seem easy to read. I’m convinced Lady Gaga wrote the last line of this ad.

2. Nike, “We Are All Witnesses”

Again, I have failed you. I tried really hard to find the original “Witness” ad campaigns from the 2006 playoff run. Either the first one before the playoffs or the one re-edited to show LeBron’s game-winning layup against the Wizards would have worked. Alas, the best I can do is this one, which has zero predictive power and doesn’t have any shots of Cleveland fans getting into the LeBron hype, painting their faces, and actually being witnesses, which is what made the original set of ads so special. Hopefully you guys remember the real Witness ads from back in the day, and know why it’s become such a perfect campaign for LeBron. And if anyone can find that, please let me know so I can post it and give the original its proper due. It’s

Update: Commenter “jcm” came through big-time and found the original. Man, this ad was even cooler than I remembered. There’s a very good argument this should’ve been number one.

1. Nike, “The Book of Dimes”

Not the most iconic LeBron ad by any stretch of the imagination. But in my opinion, it’s the best one. Why? An A+ performance from the late, great, Bernie Mac. A genuinely fun ad. Cameos from Dr. J and Jerry West. A catchy tune.

But you know the real reason I’m going with this one? Because it was from LeBron’s rookie year. He had those plain, ugly shoes. He was pure potential. He was 18 years old. Nobody was putting him next to the Kobes, Shaqs, or T-Macs of the world yet. He was free to be a phenom. Free to have potential. Free to be fun to dream on. He wasn’t being scrutinized, not having his skills and weaknesses broken down skill-by-skill alongside some of the best players ever to play the game.

Now, every pass LeBron makes is an easy shot he could have made if he’d worked harder. Every deep jumper is him giving up on a drive or post-up. “He’s still 25″ still gets thrown around, but since LeBron’s third year in the league, he hasn’t been allowed to be a cool young player. And really, he was too good to have a cult following by his second year. And now that I think about it, his rookie year was all about Carmel0/LeBron noise.

There wasn’t much time when LeBron was fun, was potential incarnate, could be someone you loved without having to take a significant stake in him. He was brimming with possibility, and one of the fun possibilities was that he’d become a better passer than a scorer, and turn the court into his personal playground in a way nobody since Magic had. Maybe he would use all those athletic gifts and resist what he was supposed to be, what he really always had to be, and just become a team-first passer trying to make the game easier for all of his teammates, would never have to be compared to Jordan or even Kobe, wouldn’t have to worry about being the greatest ever. He’d just mesh with his teammates and make the game sing to him.

Things didn’t work out that way, and I’m not complaining; he was always too talented to be anything other than a great scorer first and a passer secon. But I miss this unburdened side of LeBron, or at least LeBron’s public image. He was 6-8, athletic as all heck, and he wanted to pass and make the game fun, and he didn’t care what that meant. He was someone to dream about, not fight about. His gifts were to be appreciated, not scrutinized. LeBron grew up too fast, but there were a few moments in there where we could imagine him dishing between-the-legs passes to guys on trampolines and not wonder how good he could be if he learned how to make up-and-under moves on a trampoline. This wasn’t “You want to be better than me.” This was “It’s fun to be me.”

Honorable Mention was this ad, which I couldn’t in good faith call a LeBron ad, and had no real message, but was still incredibly cool:

And for one last thing, here’s the best basketball ad of the decade. And there is no second place. If there was any doubt, it got erased when they had a kid with a headband mimic Cliff Robinson during the “shrug.” Until tomorrow.

Okay, I just got goosebumps. That’s how you make an ad.