In the 80s and 90s, Spike Lee and Michael Jordan were at the top of pop culture. They collaborated on an iconic Nike commercial
In his signature film, Do the Right Thing, one of the main characters, Buggin’ Out, gets into a fight with a neighbor because his bike wheel scuffed his Jordans.
In the opening scene of the same film, Mookie, played by Lee himself, wakes up wearing a Bulls/Jordan jersey.
In He Got Game, a fresh colorway of the Air Jordan XIII were worn by Denzel Washington and is now one of the most sought after shoes when re-released by Nike.
In his first feature film, She’s Gotta Have It, Mars Blackmon — said to be modeled after Lee himself — exuded the target audience for the Jordan brand. A spunky, small guy with swagger, you get the sense that Lee wished he had the physical gifts of Jordan and enjoyed the ability to wear his shoes and feel like he could be Like Mike.
Lee didn’t exactly market the character or license it as much as he could have — he denied even a Janet Jackson request to make a song based on one of his signature lines from the film — but when he had the opportunity to play Mars in real-life situations, he jumped on it. He appeared on Saturday Night Live as Mars and would also star in a Jordan ad alongside Jordan, too.
Phil Knight, founder of Nike said that Lee was introduced to the powers that be at Nike by Jordan himself, quoting Mars’s signature line from the film:
“We were first introduced to Spike Lee by Michael Jordan. He’d just seen She’s Gotta Have It and he kept going around saying, ‘Please baby, please, baby, baby, baby, please,’ I said, ‘What the hell is that from?’ And he talked about this movie and told the Weiden Kennedy people about Spike,” Knight said in Spike Lee’s biography written by Kaleem Aftab.
The ad leaned into the sometimes annoying repetitive nature of Mars Blackmon, with him repeatedly asking Jordan what makes him so special.
“Is it the shoes?” he asks over and over.
Cool as ever, Jordan just tells him, “No, Mars.”
Lee’s uncanny ability to speak opportunities into existence proved true again with the Jordan ad. According to Aftab’s biography, in Spike, Mike, Slackers and Dykes, John Pierson said that, “Spike expressed two wishes while they drove together to the She’s Gotta Have It premiere: To have a Stevie Wonder soundtrack in one of his movies, and to appear in a Nike commercial as Mars alongside Jordan.
Mission accomplished, and no, Mars, it’s not the shoes.