The Spurs' great H-E-B commercial legacy

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
10:26
AM ET
Serrano By Shea Serrano
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
San Antonio SpursAP Photo/Bahram Mark SobhaniSalsa. Shaving cream. Laundry detergent. Steaks. This is what the Spurs are all about.
The coolest San Antonio Spurs commercial of all time ran as part of the NBA's BIG playoff campaign in 2012. It very simply showed an offensive play being run in slow motion by Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan while only Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones" played in the background. It was perfect. All of it. Every single part. It was exactly who the Spurs are. I think I cried for, like, 45 minutes after I watched it.

The runner-up to the 2012 spot was the one that ran in 2005, when Nike was doing those bits where NBA players turned into animals. You can’t find the clip on the Internet anywhere, but the ad strung together separate clips of Manu, Tony and Bruce Bowen before they all morphed into piranhas. Other NBA players got similar treatments in the series. LeBron had one where he turned into a lion, and Dirk had one where he turned into an eagle or something, though if I were in charge I'd have had him turn into an ostrich. The most charming one of that group of commercials was Earl Boykins' -- he turned into a tiny poison dart frog, and that's just adorable.

The least-coolest Spurs commercial of all time was the one where Michael Finley was telling kids not to do drugs.

And somewhere in between all three of those fall the H-E-B commercials, 20 or so segments filmed over the past 10 or so years where various recent Spurs players (mostly Tim, Manu and Tony, but also sometimes Brent Barry and Bruce Bowen or Matt Bonner and Kawhi Leonard, and even occasionally coach Gregg Popovich) talk about brisket or laundry detergent or chip salsa.

H-E-B is a San Antonio-based supermarket chain that’s been around for nearly 110 years. They are, to be clear, beloved, woven all the way into the fabric of the city. My friends and I used to ride our bikes to the H-E-B by my house and then go inside and steal the pan de dulce they had on display in the bakery area. It's one of the first things I remember when I think about being a kid in San Antonio. H-E-B is basically the only grocery store my mom has ever shopped at. When my parents come to visit my family and me in Houston, they drive clean past three separate grocery stores to get to an out-of-the-way H-E-B whenever they need to buy something. That's just how it is. There is an actual symbiotic relationship there. Which is probably, at least in part, how/why the Spurs/H-E-B commercials have engendered the cult-like appreciation and fanfare they have in San Antonio.

I'm aware that all NBA cities have these sorts of locally run commercials where NBA players pitch car dealerships and mattress stores and so on -- I've watched them in Houston for years now -- but I feel confident in assuming that none are better than Spurs/H-E-B ones. The most recent batch, which went live in October, had a reverb that, for the first time in my memory, extended all the way into my Internet purview, landing at Yahoo! and Sports Illustrated and SLAM and more.

The seven most important H-E-B/Spurs commercials from their run together:

"One For Each"


This was one of the four most recent ones from the aforementioned October batch. People were excited about this one because it was the first time that Kawhi Leonard ever spoke in his whole entire life. (Kawhi will grow to be as loved a Spur as there ever has been, I'm sure of it. He's perfect. I love him.) You'll notice how easy Parker is in it, which is something he only recently figured out how to do. Duncan is an admirable straight man, a role he has held for the entirety of the series. And Manu is Manu, which is to say that he is God's Hand.

"M1 Effect"


Important because it is the only commercial that's ever been played in San Antonio that implied that a threesome was about to occur. Respect history, son.

"Laundry Sorting"


Kawhi again. Every time I watch this my heart melts to liquid from being so in love and then leaks out of my everything. Kawhi is an angel on Earth.

Note: During Game 6 of last year's NBA Finals, when Kawhi missed one of the two free throws he shot at the end of the game, giving the Spurs a three-point lead over the Heat (which Ray Allen eventually gobbled up) instead of four, that was very much the saddest point of my whole entire life. Not because the Spurs lost. I mean, it's whatever. I've seen the Spurs lose before. I'll watch them lose again. That's not a thing. It was so sad because it happened to Kawhi -- TO MY KAWHI. It was worse than when I watched my own son steal a ball from his teammate during his YMCA basketball game and then dribble to wrong side of the court and shoot a layup.

"Tough Talk"


Kawhi again, OMG.

"Night Club"


Important because Pop shows up. My one dream is to play for Coach Popovich. My other dream is that they remake “Bloodsport” and I get to play the lead. I'll take either one of those dreams.

"Poetry"


I met Brent Barry once. He was thoughtful and engaging. I liked him as a human. And I definitely liked him as a player for the Spurs, particularly during Game 1 of the West finals against the Phoenix Suns in 2005 (he went 5-for-8 on 3-pointers and tied for the highest plus/minus of any player on the court). And I enjoy him as a commentator and analyst, too. The best Brent Barry TV moment was when he was on NBA TV's "Open Court" and was ornery when discussing the dunk contest that he won. But I just didn't care for him much in these spots. It always seemed like he should've been funnier. I don't know. The Spurs won two titles with him, though, so he's good by San Antonio forever.

"Jerseys Smell Good"


Important because it was the only time in these commercials that Bruce Bowen was funny (the "How are they gonna respect us ..." line).

Note: Bowen is one of my all-time favorite Spurs players. Whenever I played rec league basketball in college or even today I always claim No. 12 for my stuff. I always appreciated his tenacity. I also appreciated his willingness to trip other players. That's basically my best defensive move, just tripping people while they're running around. #Bowen4lyfe

Bonus: "David Robinson and Dennis Rodman for Pizza Hut"


There have of course been other fun commercials in Spurs history. The American Express one with Tim Duncan is a personal favorite, if only because the herculean Kevin Willis has a very sneaky cameo in it. And there's also the Mister Robinson's Neighborhood one David Robinson did with Charles Barkley. And the Sprite one with Tim Duncan and Grant Hill where they're doing odd jobs during the 1998 NBA lockout. And the shaving one with Tim and Robinson together shortly after the Spurs drafted Tim. But maybe the best is the above Pizza Hut one, where David Robinson is talking to Dennis Rodman about how Rodman needs to open up and allow himself to be more weird.

I miss David Robinson so much.

I assume that these commercials will go on forever. There is no chance that the Spurs will ever leave San Antonio and there is an even smaller chance that H-E-B will ever not be around. And I’m grateful for that and happy. I just pray that Kawhi is around for just as long.
Shea Serrano is a writer based in Houston. He's written for Grantland, Rolling Stone, GQ, MTV, ESPN and more. His first book, Bun B's Rap Coloring and Activity Book, is in bookstores now.

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