Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The "re-imagined" 2009 version of Dan Vs. Dave

In 1992, Reebok had under contract the two best American decathletes, Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson. It was assumed that one of them was going to win the gold medal in Barcelona, and the other might well get the silver. Reebok started running Dan Vs. Dave ads, trying to pump up some fan interest in their competition.

Unfortunately for Reebok, this ad campaign ran into the harsh reality of sports. At the national Olympic trials, O'Brien ran into a disaster. He failed to make a single pole vault, got zero points in that event and failed to make the team. Johnson made the team and won the bronze medal in Barcelona, but by American sports standards, winning the bronze does not make you the third best competitor in the world, it makes you the second best loser.

O'Brien redeemed himself four years later winning the gold medal in Atlanta, but that was far too late to save the Reebok ad campaign. Jeff Merron of ESPN lists Dan Vs. Dave as one of the biggest busts in sports history, rivaled by fiascoes like the XFL and Disco Demolition Night.

Fast forward 17 years to 2009. There are two separate ad campaigns running right now asking a single question: Who is the better basketball player, Lebron James or Kobe Bryant? Vitamin Water has actors portraying fans giving their opinions, while Nike has decided the controversy is best explained by making muppets out of the two sports stars, as shown here.

Unfortunately for both campaigns, they have run into that famous truism: Prediction is very hard, especially about the future.

LeBron's Cleveland Cavaliers cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs, not losing a single game to the Detroit Pistons or Atlanta Hawks. As the top seed, they were expected to continue dominating their next opponent, the Orlando Magic, who struggled through difficult series against the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics. But instead, it's the Magic that look like the better team so far, leading three games to one in a race to four wins. LeBron can't be faulted; he hit one of the most spectacular shots in basketball history to give the Cavs their only win. His team was down by two points with the clock stopped with one second remaining in the game when LeBron caught the inbounds pass, turned and shot a three-point shot from very far behind the line which went in and the game was over. If he missed that miracle shot, the series would already be decided in Orlando's favor. As it stands, the Cavs have to win three straight games now or they are done.

Kobe's Los Angeles Lakers aren't in quite as tough a spot as the Cavs are, but their series against the Denver Nuggets is now tied 2-2. After making short work of the Utah Jazz in the first round, the Lakers struggled mightily against the Houston Rockets, who were without their best playmaker Tracy McGrady for the entire series and lost their dominant center Yao Ming in the third game, but still managed to extend the Lakers to seven. The Lakers have been completely unpredictable over the past few weeks, except in the predictability of looking sluggish and weak in every game that immediately followed a dominant win.

Like most modern "re-imagined" versions of old cheesy stuff, there's a little more quality in the updated story. Nike and Vitamin Water do not have to invent an interest in the question of which of these two players is currently the best in the league. Some might say Dwayne Wade or Carmelo Anthony should be in the conversation, but neither is as spectacular as Kobe or LeBron at their absolute best. Because Los Angeles and Cleveland were the top seeds in their respective conferences, the odds of a Kobe vs. LeBron NBA Final looked very good, and the advertising hype was pushed into high gear. The big problem is that it's very hard for a single star team to make it all the way, and it's more likely to win the championship with a team with no superstars but a solid team concept than it is to win with one superstar. Right now, it's very likely one of the two best players in the league will be watching the championship from the comfort of his lavish home, and the marketing nightmare of the NBA Finals pitting the Denver Nuggets against the Orlando Magic is a distinct possibility.

Somewhere, Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson are watching these games and thinking, "Boy, this story looks so familiar. Where have I seen it before?"


dguzman said...

Great post, Matty Boy. I well remember the Dan and Dave fiasco, as well as watching Dan self-destruct on camera during the trials. All I could think was that the younger guy (Dan) just couldn't handle the pressure, heightened in no small part by the Reebok ads, while the experienced guy (Dave) was able to overcome whatever nerves he might've had and just perform. I thought it was a fitting metaphor that could've been cited in many ways to show the error of our youth-worshipping culture.

But hey--that would never happen.

I'm chuckling to myself as I watch David Stern's dreams of a Lebron-Kobe matchup going up in flames. I think it's effing hilarious. If I were an NBA fan, I'd watch whatever matchup was in the finals, just as I usually watch the Super Bowl no matter what freak-teams make it. But then, maybe I'm not your everyday fan.

Jeff said...

nike posted a great commercial on its homepage in which a little puppet boy is pestering puppet LeBron about watching Kobe in the finals. it's hilarious!