Lights, camera ... sell!
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Which is better, an NFL commercial shoot or the NBA Draft?

Is it all about the Product, or all about the Sell?

Well, there are two ways to see it. And luckily for you readers of Page 2, there's two of us in here; me, R-Dub, and him, Road Dog.

We are gathered here today to talk NFL commercial (Dub) and NBA draft (Dog) and the relative merits of each league's day.

So let's get it on.

Bank-walking with Jerry Jones
(NFL commercial shoot at Disney/MGM -- Orlando, Fla.)
The all-day shoot is a big-breasted production, if you don't mind me saying so -- and, hey, what the hell, even if you do -- a cast of dozens, a hundred extras, a production crew big enough for a remake of "The Bridge on the River Kwai," Hal the Director cracking whip, all for a few 30-second spots, to promote ESPN's Sunday morning NFL lead-in pregame irresistible force known as "NFL Countdown." Also being towed along in the wake of the campaign -- "NFL PrimeTime," "NFL Match-Up," "Monday Night Football," etc. These commercials star upward of 20 NFL players, coaches, an owner and several cheerleading squads, speaking of big whatevers.

"Actually, I was hoping to do this in a thong."

The speaker, surprisingly, was Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Which made the line incredibly funny, to me.

Jones is just another player today, along with the rookies like Teyo and Larry Johnson, of Stanford and Penn State, respectively, to the vets, like Terrell Owens, Torry Holt and Takeo Spikes, to a most illustrious retiree who still has gas in the tank, Barry Sanders, to several sets of buxom cheerleaders, including the Dallas Cowboys' squad. They all were limo-ed into the dark side of Orlando, also known as The Tourist Triangle, into the Disney MGM theme park, past a replica of a "Star Wars" Imperial Walker, with F/X sound of firing light-weapons, actually shooting a mist of water that is very welcome on a hot central Florida day.

Terrell Owens
Terrell Owens has never been known to shy away from cameras.
All-day shoot, six-camera setup. I've seen feature films shot without ever once employing a six-camera setup. Big-time.

So it's all about the Sell for the Perfect Spectacle, the 16 regular-season games, the playoffs, then the Super Bowl. The League. The commercial was taken from a concept brief by the ESPN advertising and marketing department. Director Laura Gentile calls the positioning statement "First and foremost, it's football," or, more informally, "It's all about football." One might question the commitment to this concept when a hotzie-totzie like Lisa Guerrero gets the sideline reporter gig for "Monday Night Football." But that would be to assume Lisa doesn't know football, just because she happens to be as fine as May wine. Mistake. Just because every hard-legged man-jack thinks he knows ball better than any little woman, it doesn't mean you can't get Suzy Kolber sicced on you, and be embarrassed. You don't have to be able to drive a golf ball 310 yards in order to see a blitz coming.

If there's anything more attractive than a fine woman, it's a fine woman who knows ball. These TV execs, they ain't all dumb.

Concept taken to ad agency, Weiden & Kennedy; their people massage it; they come up with Floats on Parade, featuring not so much the in-house talent of Boomer & the Guys, but the players, coaches and owners of the Greatest Show On Turf. Idea is, the Parade has theme floats, like at the Rose or Orange Bowl parades, or Mardi Gras even. "Tampa Bay's Super Bowl Booty" float is shot first, in the morning. The still-fresh extras are easily whipped into a background-action frenzy by Director Hal, except there are no Bucs actually on the float, because Gru-Dog has them too busy, according to the script, read by Chris Mortensen.

I go back to the old days on the NFL beat with Mort, and later chat him up between takes. Being Atlanta-based, Mort's gotta love the new-wave (Arthur) Blanking Falcons, the Mike Vick I-Am-Becomes-Peerless Falcons, giving Mort a reason to go home every now and then.

Oh, here comes the "Young Guns" float, with QBs like Aaron Brooks, David Carr, Daunte Culpepper, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich, dressed like extras from the movie of the same name, hurling footballs into the crowd. Amusement factor: 5.

After a lunch spread that would shame anything at the Harrow Club, along comes the third "float," which is called "Tuna in Dallas," with Jerry Jones sitting high atop the float in a lawn chair, with a line cast into the mouth of a huge blue-green papier mache Tuna, while sea-creature mascots dance alongside. I half expect one of the people inside the stifling mascot outfits, maybe the starfish or the lobster, to pass out in the 96-degree heat. But they do not pass out, damn them.

Jones had seemed to look forward to this, though he was unhappy with the stiff pair of cowboy boots wardrobe submitted for his approval. Like a true star, he declined to wear them. Hal said sure, they could do that; he just wouldn't shoot Jerry's feet. Denzel Washington couldn't have refused to wear something any better. Jerry wound up spritzing like a lawn sprinkler in the heat, atop the float, sitting in the lawn chair, waving his big cowboy hat to the crowd in a suit and tie.

Just before that, he had joked about wanting to do this in a thong, but maybe now it wasn't so much of a joke. "Except I'm no bank-walker," Jerry said, explaining that in the days of yore in Arkansas, before he made all that oil-and-gas money, then bought the Dallas Cowboys and became a celebrity, surgically-enhanced owner (oh please, we're all surgically enhanced, in one way or another; from the day they cut the umbilical and, for some, snip some foreskin), when he and the good young boys had gone to the ol' swimming hole nekkid, some guys proudly walked up on the bank, displaying their, uh, endowments, while Jerry and the more demure Future Razorbacks of America stayed in the waist-deep water, chillin'.

The "Welcome to the Jungle" float featured rookies cowed by the presence of the "Lion King," none other than (whatever happened to) Barry Sanders, in Orlando, straight outta the Legends Room.

Barry looked good. He looked good enough to play; although he didn't know his weight, because he says he never checks, which I know is semi-aggravating news for all Lions fans, from taxicab drivers to emissaries sent by Steve Mariucci to feel out Barry.

Barry didn't look to be itching to come back. Barry didn't look to be itching at all. Cool as a poker chip. He rocked the Pumas and looked like 50 mil. This is a man who is still going back and forth with the Lions about who owes whom what. He already has given them back millions from a long-ago signing bonus. But he ain't hurting, and is a partner in a new banking venture in Oklahoma.

Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders is still one of the most modest of NFL football greats.
We laugh a while about his father, how tough-minded the old man was, and is, how he always busted Barry's chops by saying Jim Brown was better, and always would be better. But Barry went out on top, like nobody since Jim Brown, which made an unspoken statement to dear ol' dad. As it should be. Jim visited Barry's dad when the latter was hospitalized in L.A. a while back for a medical procedure. And Barry now has a 9-year-old and a 2-year old.

"Me, a good dad?" he said. "I'll be officially a good dad when my kids grow up, and have children, and they are good dads."

That Barry, what a card. Always taking the long view. Damn him. Damn him all to hell, and where's the g$%#@! cookie-cutter?

Either way, he's a Legend. You can tell by the looks on the faces of the rookies like Larry and Teyo Johnson, and even Torry Holt, the Rams' receiver who gave up a chair next to Barry so an old dude (moi) could reminisce with the Lion King. Rod Woodson was on the set earlier. I wonder if he and Barry made eye contact. I can never forget the game when Woodson, an all-time All-Pro, had the entire plateau of his knee click-shattered at old Three Rivers, just by trying to shadow Barry's moves. Barry left him there in a heap, without touching him, or being touched; did his thing, moved on. It might be the single most devastating move I ever saw an RB make.

The last and funniest float was called "Trash Talk," a garbage truck/scow outfitted as a float, with spinning trash cans on top, the better for T.O. and Takeo Spikes to talk smack from. Later, T.O was strangely subdued as he entertained his table. Takeo, for his part, he was glad to be out of 'Nati-No, and by way of celebration of being in Buffalo, said he couldn't wait to hit somebody.

It was good and funny. Or maybe I'm susceptible to laughing exhiliration whenever I'm around anything to do with the NFL ...

Great leaping lounge lizards with LeBron
(The NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden -- NYC)
Yeah, well. Dog here. Later for all that other.

I feel the NFL, too, but I don't lay down and roll over for it.

LeBron? That's a different story. LeBron be moving a brother.

How? Like this. First, no matter what you think, Dog ain't stupid. Dog just ain't what you call reticulate. But I can see what goes on. People who don't even watch my league -- the real league -- be talking about how the Finals were such crap because D was being played, and how they couldn't watch. That's because either one of two things: (1) you don't know ball, or (2) you still hate me.

I'm only gonna say this once. All them 40-point scorers, T-Macs, Bonzis, Dirks, Van Exels, Shaqs, Kobes, Paul Pierces? Check this out. They all got sent ... home. Can you dig it?

Understand? They all got D'ed-up. They got stopped.

Deal with it.

What happened in the Finals was the zone D. The zone D undid Jersey's game, slowed the game, kept J-Kidd and the scoring down. The Nets' motion offense was a thing of beauty against man D. Bee-yoo-tiful. If the Spurs had tried to guard those mobile forwards through high screens and backcuts, weaving through picks with the Admiral and Kevin Willis and even T-Dunk, what do you think would've happened? Lob City. But here's the deal. NBA allows zone defense now, and when the Spurs can put three 7-footers along the back line and just leave them there -- Sayonara, baby.

The Nets couldn't solve it, weren't good or wise enough to adjust to it, and get their shooters any long, clean, open looks, so they paid and did not deserve to be the world champions. You should be able to adjust to any defense, if you are the best basketball team on earth. But the Spurs were the real team. Man. It's real. Manu, Kerr, Stephen "Croc" Jackson, Willis, Speedy, Parker, Bowen, all helped the Spurs win. Without a zone, maybe the Spurs aren't great, but Duncan sure is, and if the Admiral gets 13 and 17, lights out.

Live with it. I do. At least for now.

And that's where LeBron bops in.

Know what I hate? I hate when they ask stupid, selfish-assed questions of LeBron, or 'Melo, or any young 18-year-old, and when they answer in the way it seems like you want them to, you say they are the stupid, selfish ones who aren't worth the time. Even my main man Stu was asking LeBron and 'Melo, "So who wins in a one-on-one match-up, make it take it, to 11?"

LeBron, deep beyond his time, said, "Melo."

Now me and you know, if LeBron had said, "Me," everybody, including Stu, would have been thinking, "Selfish, egotisical be-atch," and what-not, when it could have been that a kid was just trying to give you what you wanted. Who asked the question?

And yet, if anything, that's what's wrong with my League, the whole "Get out!" thing, where they clear out for a guy to go one-on-one and everybody else watches, like that Pierce-Jermaine O'Neal commercial illustrates. They don't realize they're cutting their own throats. They can't win, not with youse guys. Well, maybe Pierce and Jermaine can't win. But LeBron can.

Now me and you also know, Michael Jordan would have never, ever said, "Melo" -- or nobody else -- would beat him one-on-one.

LeBron James
LeBron James' maturity along with his basketball skills allotted him this Hummer. Even with the flash, James does not play arrogant for the cameras.
Me and you also know, deep down inside, that LeBron doesn't think Melo or nobody else would beat him one-on-one. Difference is in approach, and in the end, LeBron's approach to the game might be better than Jordan's, because Jordan's arrogance, an edge and therefore blessing on the court, was a curse to him off of it.

At least it was in D.C. Maybe some other places, too.

Plus, myself, personally, I loved LeBron's ice-cream suit.

I also know that Cary Mitchell guy must have made that suit.

So there LeBron Pain was, a full hour before the draft, sitting there, waiting, with the rest of us. To kill time, he stayed awful chill. Meanwhile, the Garden Knick party was going crazy.

I was in amongst 'em. Let the fungus be amongus.

It wasn't like there was any suspense to it. But there ended up being plenty of celebration. LeBron gives me and us all a little something to be cheery about, and a little clue, every time I see him. He brought good luck to damn near everybody in the draft, including the complainers, the whiners, and the guys and honeys asking the dumb or leading or trick questions. LeBron ain't trying to hear all this NBA-bashfest. LeBron is up to the mark, money.

Wrap him in cotton, David Stern.

Check it out. The Cavs also got UCLA deadeye shooter and leadfoot defender Jason Kapono. Now Jase, he had been whining about the Eastern Europeans getting drafted, how he should'a left UCLA after his freshman year and played in Europe and changed his name to Kaponovich and he would'a been drafted in the first round. Everybody chuckled; it was kinda funny, in a sour grapesy kind of way, I guess, to somebody out there in the Inland Empire, but to me, quit your bitchin', moanin', whinin'. See, these Eastern European guys, they ain't trying to wish up on some game while sitting on top of a three-car garage playing Grand Theft Auto Vice City and waiting for the Ecstasy man to show. They are out there ballin', and they don't go for that strange American bullcrap, where if you're a white boy on a basketball court and a black guy fakes at you, you flinch, and shrink, and buy the hype. Just like if you're a black boy in a board room or concept meeting and a white guy fakes at you, you flinch, and shrink, and buy the hype. The Eastern Europeans don't know from that fantasy. They just ball.

Gotta like 'em for it. Maybe they are the real white guys.

When Dickie V. gets to talking about "backlash" against these dudes, just because they can play and have their own dreams, it makes the m-----f---ing hair on the back of my neck stand up.

I been there before.

We don't care about no stinkin' badges up here in Knickland.

LeBron brought everybody luck. Jason Kapono should be down on his knees thanking God that he got drafted in the second round by Cleveland to play with LeBron, instead of the bottom of the first round by the Spurs, where he would've got his feelings hurt.

Pat Riley got Dwayne Wade. At least he got somebody who might be able to give LeBron a half-decent check.

The Knicks? We ain't been this happy, and possible deluded, since the days of the Ewing Lottery. Has it been 20 years already?

Damn. I gots to get going here.

Anyway, Mike Sweetney is Mike Sweet Cakes to us Knick diehards. Dickie V., I love ya, bay-bee, but stick to the college intramurals. Good line you got off on Greg Anthony, saying he couldn't shoot, but my grandmother knew that. To say the Knicks will wish they'd drafted Nick Collison over Sweet Cakes? In-sane, like Crazy Eddie.

Cakes can block shots, score on the low block and board; we don't even know what that is. We're so perimeter it's disgusting. And if Othella Harrington can play in the League 10 years, Mike Sweet Cakes is going to be hell on wheels.

Then the Knicks got the Polish Lampost, Lampe, at 30. Not that Lampe will turn out. Who knows? But we were happy for a night, and so was Lampe, who had been sitting there looking like, like ("like the wreck of the Hesperus!") ... yeah, whatever, like what Dub just said, and worse, with each passing tick, and then getting picked as the Knick fans were chanting his name at the top of the second round, then turning and pointing to the Knicks fans, who were still chanting his name, mostly because it is such a chantable name, "Lam-pay, Lam-pay, Lam-pay!" Enjoy it while you can, Stifforama, because it can quickly turn to "Lum-pee, Lum-pee, Lum-pee ..." although I ain't arguing with 7 foot.

First thing we do, though, is get Sweet Cakes a dietician/chef.

If the Denver Nuggets are smart, they'll do the same for 'Melo. The only thing that can stop 'Melo is his jib. He needs to close it around food. He has a tendency toward fat, and you have to watch his stamina, build it up slow. Yeah, I caught that little part when he said that back when he played against LeBron in high school, he turned to the once and future King James in the fourth quarter and grabbed two fistfuls of long shorts and said, "Man, I am tired!" LeBron said he could go another game. Yeah. I caught that.

Now let's see who can catch LeBron. If anybody.

Yeah. The NFL's got the Juice. But the NBA's got the Oranges. LeBron's on the set. Happy days, get all up in here again. Quick.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."



Ralph Wiley Archive

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