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Throwback Thursday: ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ Nike Commercial

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By Drew Hammell

In 1995, there was a Revolution brewing in the US. It was born in the ‘60s by the Black Panther Party. Inspired by that movement, poet Gil Scott-Heron wrote a song called ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ in the early ‘70s, which was accompanied by a smooth bass riff and twittery flute melody. By 1995, the ‘Revolution’ had been repackaged and converted into a mainstream Nike basketball commercial featuring lyrics by rapper KRS-One, along with a similar bass and flute in the background. In 25 years, the message had shifted quite a bit.

The stars of the Nike ‘Revolution’ commercial were Jason Kidd, Jimmy Jackson, Eddie Jones, Joe Smith, and Kevin Garnett – all top 10 NBA draft picks between 1992 and 1995. They were wearing flashy new sneakers – specifically the Nike Air Way Up and the Air 2 Strong.

These five players were the future of the NBA and society. They were “fulfilling the unfulfilled promises of Hank Gathers and Ben Wilson,” as KRS-One would say. Gathers, who was on the way to becoming one of the greatest college basketball players ever, collapsed and died on the court during his time at Loyola Marymount in 1990. Wilson, a high school basketball legend in Chicago, was shot dead in 1984 at the age of 17.

At the end of the commercial, KRS-One explains what the new Revolution is: “The Revolution is about basketball, and basketball is the truth.” Most scholars would scoff at this claim – a revolution is a sudden radical change in the social structure. How could basketball be the Revolution?

In terms of marketing, lifestyle branding, and sponsorship, basketball definitely has been revolutionary. Nike has understood this for decades – Air Jordan and Nike basketball sneakers alone are now a multi-billion dollar industry. Out of the four major US sports, basketball is perhaps the most relatable and marketable to people of all ages. Children grow up playing basketball and watching their heroes on television, while adults also watch and purchase the retro versions of sneakers they grew up wearing or wanting when they were younger.

Around the globe, basketball has also taken off more so than football, baseball, or hockey. In the ‘90s, the US was superior by far in international competition. But today, the world is catching up, with stars emerging from countries like Serbia, France, and Australia. And while revolutions can be divisive and hostile, most would agree that basketball, if it is indeed a true revolution, has brought races and nationalities together. That type of revolution is worthy of being televised.

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