10 most iconic athlete cameos in TV commercials

Sports and TV commercials are like peanut butter and jelly; they just go together. What else would fill the space between downtime and halftime breaks if it weren’t for carefully crafted personalized ads to entice fans to spend more money? While events like the Super Bowl are famous for their commercial segments, sometimes the ads are even better when the athletes are on TV, not on the field.

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Appearing in commercials as a cameo is a great way for athletes to not only make money on the side but also boost their celebrity status. Fortunately, many of these commercials prove to be extremely memorable and end up being iconic representations of the time period in which they were originally created.


ten Michael Jordan and Larry Bird: the showdown

Michael Jordan and Larry Bird in their McDonald's ad

This series of announcements involved a one-on-one match between basketball legends Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, where the winner could eat Jordan’s lunch at McDonald’s. The fact that he’s even ready to play around a meal he’s already bought is not only humorous, but also oddly accurate given Jordan’s competitive nature.

This game presumably lasts for an extended period of time, as subsequent announcements pick up right away with the two still firing it during the meal. The idea of ​​these two trading blows and fighting endlessly for a (presumably cold) Big Mac was just odd to be forever etched in public memory. However, this ad campaign is still viewed with fond memories to this day.

9 Usain Bolt: Be the fastest

A close-up of Usain Bolt in his Virgin Media ad

In 2016, Virgin Media touted the speed of their internet speeds by comparing them to none other than Usain Bolt himself. This advert is boxed in the context of the speed at which 9.56 seconds can elapse – the time it took to Bolt will run 100 meters in 2009.

Not only is the immense effort to become a world record holder in Bolt’s name shown in the ad, but one also sees the enormous national pride his fellow Jamaicans felt for his accomplishments. The variety of editing techniques used in the ad also help make it still as interesting as the first time it crossed the TV screen.

8 Joe Greene: Hey kid, catch it!

Joe Greene drinking a coke during his Coca Cola commercial

This classic Coca-Cola ad quickly became a fan favorite after it aired in 1979 and most notably at the 1980 Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Rams. The ad portrays “Mean” Joe Greene meeting a child with a bottle of Coca-Cola in his hands. After the kid offers the bottle to help his idol rejuvenate after the game, Green returns his jersey.

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This ad captures the spirit of its time so well and is particularly heartwarming, given how “Mean” Joe goes against his perceived image to offer a token of generosity. It certainly doesn’t hurt for the Steelers to win the Super Bowl in the year it aired, either, helping to further solidify his legacy as an all-time great.

7 Muhammad Ali: Impossible is nothing

Muhammad Ali in the Impossible Is Nothing Adidas Advertisement

Muhammad Ali’s first victory in professional boxing came in 1960, a bit too early for the boom in televised sports and associated clothing around the world. If he had come a little later, there is no doubt that his charismatic personality and his jokes would make for some extremely memorable commercials.

This did not prevent Adidas from including Muhammad Ali in their Nothing is impossible campaign in 2004, which showed the legendary boxer’s leadership qualities and the pioneering path he took to reach the top. While many advertisements aim to make it seem like anyone can achieve their goals, this Adidas ad sets Ali apart from the competition and helps establish him as an untouchable legend.

6 LeBron James: swimming pool

LeBron James in a swimming pool during his Nike ad

This advert spends so much time being genuinely hilarious that he almost forgets to sell you his product. In 2006, Nike ran an ad featuring four different versions of NBA superstar LeBron James.

By having James play four ridiculous characters at the same time, Nike allowed LeBron to show off his humorous side which has only grown since the first airing of this commercial. If basketball had never worked for King James, at least he would be spectacularly successful as a method actor in Hollywood.

5 Kobe Bryant, Tony Hawk, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Phelps: Unleash Your Inner Rockstar

Kobe Bryant, Tony Hawk, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Phelps in an advertisement for Guitar Hero

When Guitar Hero World Tour was released in 2008, this advert was virtually impossible to miss. Cooperative gameplay for up to four players in the Guitar Hero the franchise was one of the best experiences video games had to offer at the time.

The advertisement showed this by bringing together four legendary athletes to form a rock band. Members included Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez, Tony Hawk and Michael Phelps while usurping the iconic underwear dance scene from Risky business. Not only did this ad show what the game was all about, it was also a pleasure to watch.

4 Michael Phelps: Rule yourself

Michael Phelps in his Under Armor ad

Michael Phelps took more serious publicity with Under the armor Rule yourself a d. This ad showed a side of Phelps and the Olympic competition that the public doesn’t often get to see; it’s hard not to sympathize with him while looking at him.

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The chosen cross-country track “The Last Goodbye” by The Kills also seems incredibly appropriate, addressing the grim reality of the end of Phelps’ Olympic career. Considering he had won five gold medals at the 2016 Olympics, he at least received a happy ending for all his hard work.

3 Serena Williams: Do it!

Serena Williams holding tennis ball during Nike ad

Nike’s “Just Do It” ad campaign has become so immensely popular that the phrase is almost synonymous with Nike itself. With Serena Williams up front and center, however, this advert sells the idea of ​​going out there and doing your best.

Serena has never forgotten the tennis lessons her father gave her as a child, as she channeled them to reach unprecedented heights in women’s athletics. Nike ran numerous ads under the slogan “Just Do It”, but none were as emotional as this one.

2 Troy Polamalu, LaDainian Tomlinson: Leave nothing

Troy Polamalu and LaDainian Tomlinson in their Nike ad

Nike has done a lot of classic commercials, but one of the most memorable features of NFL legends Troy Polamalu and LaDanian Tomlinson. The announcement shows the two future grown-ups progressing throughout their childhood, until the day they meet in the field.

Like several epic movies, the cinematography is the best part of this commercial as it shows Polamalu framed continuously moving to the left and Tomlinson to the right. It really helps sell the collision course the couple seem to be on until they inevitably meet in the NFL.

1 Michael Jordan: Be like Mike

Michael Jordan smiles during his Gatorade commercial

With his iconic role in the movie Looney Tunes Space Jam, the 90s saw a whole generation of kids wanting to “Be Like Mike”. This was seen further in one of the the best pub campaigns of all time. Gatorade started commercials in 1991, getting kids and adults to look like Michael Jordan and drink their products.

By keeping it simple and running short commercials of Jordan having fun, playing basketball, and drinking Gatorade, the company caught lightning in a bottle and helped propel Jordan’s image even further. With a theme song like this, who wouldn’t want to be like Mike?

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