NBA superstars, signature shoes, and why they’re just as flawed as the rest of us

In the hearts and minds of Lakers Nation, one hero stands heads and shoulders above the rest. The biggest star in a high-profile media center, Kobe Bryant is one of the most marketable athletes in the world. As such, Bryant is part of an exclusive crew that gets something more than 30-second TV spots and NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Awards: their very own signature shoes.

Kobe would tell you that he’s the incarnation of a fierce, competitive nature; an unstoppable will to win; and hours upon hours of dedication to perfecting his craft. Nike, on the other hand, would have you believe that he is the product of, well, their product.

Nike – a mega-merchant in the twenty-some-billion dollar athletic footwear industry – is not just selling uppers, soles, or style. They’re in the business of publicly selling basketball trade secrets and promises of greatness.

While the marketing is highly effective, it’s essentially snake oil. The trade secrets are null. The promises are empty.

Cool guys don't look at explosions

There is one aspect of the game that is more undervalued than selfless playmakers and supporting casts: proper running technique. Without it, injury is a virtual certainty. Running is a skill, an art that has been lost in both professional and amateur athletics alike. The negative consequences of that popular naiveté have been inescapable and debilitating.

The latest ad for Bryant’s better-than-ever signature shoe explicitly states, “These Kobe VIs will make you a beast.” No instructions necessary, no assembly required. Just lace up and transform yourself from the last pick to the go-to scorer. The irony of course is that Nike’s latest and greatest weapon – inspired by one of the world’s biggest and baddest snakes – is actually causing the user to absorb the

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LeBron’s New Commercial: The Power Of A Lay-up

If you have yet to peep this… do it now:

LeBron’s new Nike commercial is destined the be an iconic moment in shoe advertising, player marketing, and probably LeBron’s career. In it he cleverly gives the media, moralistic pundits, Charles Barkley and even Michael Jordan a cheeky one fingered salute– before reminding everyone that he’s about to hit the 2011 season like a twister through a trailer park. While there will be many posts written about the significance of each dig, joke, and statement in the 90 second spot– I thought one of the most clever comes in the last 4 seconds.

Instead of finishing the brilliant montage with his signature, thundering, one-handed odes to power, the commercial ends with a delicate finger roll layup. The statement seems to be that LeBron is not a bull in a PR China store, nor a brute on the court. Yes, he has the physical prowess to do this, but he also has the touch and finesse to pull this (and the commercial) off.

Like Jordan, LeBron is known for his spectacular dunks. But if you watch enough of either, you notice that they are actually both masters of the difficult lay up, of slipping the ball past defenders softly off the backboard and through the net. Because James is so big, strong and fast, the tremendous skill with which he finishes at the rim is often drowned out by the roars that his jackhammer slams evoke. It’s not subtle a re-branding by Nike, but one that skillfully aligns LBJ’s underrated basketball acumen with the commercial’s intelligent, biting humor.

–@BeckleyMason/Beckleym@gmail.com

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