Here’s Charles Barkley’s first commercial for Nike, shot on a low budget and tight schedule. It took about two weeks from assignment to delivery — some kind of record in the world of Nike advertising.
After reading a long article about Sir Charles in Sports Illustrated, the script wrote itself in a few minutes. It was approved by Nike and Charles’ agent. To direct the spot, we engaged a director of photography who had shot some of the boxing scenes in one of the Rocky films.
We had two days to get the job done at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia. We used the first day for lighting and run-throughs with a Charles double. The second day we had the real Charles for three hours.
The first thing that impressed us about Charles: He was nothing if not a gentleman. He did everything we asked of him without complaint. No superstar ego at all.
The second thing that impressed us: Charles was sharp. We had been prepared to record the voiceover slowly and carefully, in phrases, and then to cut and paste them together. Charles looked at the script for about 20 seconds, and politely told us, “This isn’t the way I’d say it.” He mentally edited the script without changing the meaning or the timing. He proceeded to the makeshift studio the sound engineer had set up and recited it perfectly, with no notes, in one take.
The campaign consisted of the TV spot and a half-page newspaper ad (featuring an actual-size Barkley shoe) that ran throughout the Philadelphia market. We didn’t have any scientific metrics, but Nike sold out of the “free with purchase” Barkley t-shirts almost instantly. And we heard reports that kids across Philadelphia had memorized Charles’ script.
If only every assignment had been that easy – and a big part of it was Charles himself.