Back in 1996, Nike flew Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Michael Finley, Jason Kidd and Damon Stoudamire out to Japan for a series of promotional events. One of those events was a 3-on-3 exhibition referred by Jordan that featured Barkley, Finley and Kidd going up against 3 Sumo Wrestlers. Yes, this was as bizarre to watch as it sounds:
Walter LaFeber’s book Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism gives a little more background on this Nike ‘Hoop Heroes’ event:
A 1996 AdAge article provides more details as this event was one of Nike’s earliest global events:
Instead of taking the usual step of hiring an agency to create events, or buying into an event someone else has created, we want to do it ourselves,” said Mr. Campbell, a Nike veteran who returned this summer after four years at NBA Properties International Group.
Nike is exploring possibilities in extreme sports, soccer and track and field.
Events are being created with key Nike athletes in mind.
A template for what Nike has in mind was established with “Hoop Heroes,” an event in Tokyo earlier this month.
Held on two consecutive nights, each event was a slickly produced, 2-hour show headlined by Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and other Nike basketball endorsers.
High on entertainment values like music and lighting, and heavy on athlete-spectator interaction, the show even had some NBA stars challenging a group of Japan’s best sumo wrestlers to a game of basketball.
Tokyo Broadcasting System televised the events; Nike is now shopping for an international distributor.
Nike also set up a retail space for its athletic footwear and apparel, and reported brisk sales and hefty profits.
“We will look at new opportunities as they arise, from the sublime to the ridiculous, but we’re not going to produce second-rate events and, in terms of our competitive events, nothing less than world-class contests,” Mr. Campbell said.
Global events for Nike are now a lot more polished and more sport specific but let’s hope in the future we will one day see Nike endorsed athletes like Kobe Bryant referee a 3-on-3 game featuring LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Paul George.