by Brendan Dunne
There is no campaign more memorable in sneaker history than Spike Lee and Michael Jordan's "Spike and Mike" Nike series that began in the late '80s. Lee's Mars Blackmon character, who worshipped Mike's on-court abilities and, of course, his footwear, is one of the most recognizable figures in sneakers. The connection still exists today, with Spike Lee acting as something like an ambassador for Jordan Brand.
But, how did this partnership begin?
Wieden+Kennedy, the ad agency that's been instrumental in the building of Nike's image, first connected the dots. This week, W+K's blog went in-depth on the genesis of Spike Lee's Nike involvement.
Jim Riswold, a Wieden+Kennedy legend behind Spike and Mike and plenty other classic Nike campaigns, says that he first learned of Spike Lee in 1986 when he saw a trailer for She's Gotta Have It—Lee's first film. In the preview for the film, Lee is seen selling tube socks, which caught to attention of Riswold.
Later that year, Riswold ended up seeing the film and becoming acquainted with the Blackmon character, who infamously refused to take his Jordans off while bedding a woman. "He won’t take his Air Jordans off, and it was like, that’s an idea, that’s an advertising campaign," Riswold said.
The W+K team called up Spike, and on Dec. 7., 1987, they filmed the first two Spike and Mike spots. Riswold says that the campaign was the first time that Nike showed a human side of the athlete, with some humor, and had some fun with popular culture.
“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," Riswold said. "I mean, not only did he love his Air Jordans, the product, he loved the man."
W+K's approach to using Mars Blackmon was to give him a break from the audience every once in a while. After the initial Nike spots, the character was only brought back in line with significant events in Jordan's life like his move into baseball or his retirement from the game for good.
"We'd always resurrect Mars to comment on the situation," Riswold said. "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.”
More on Jim Riswold's and the early days of Mike and Spike is available over at Wieden+Kennedy's blog.