Let’s be honest, the Milwaukee Bucks haven’t had that many super marketable stars. Giannis Antetokounmpo far-outstrips some of their latest candidates - Ray Allen, Brandon Jennings, Glenn Robinson and Michael Redd - both in terms of on-court play and sheer personality. With the recent release of this Aegean Airlines in-flight safety video from Giannis though, it seemed pertinent to turn a critical eye towards the gamut of commercials that have featured Bucks players.
By no means is this list exhaustive, the YouTube searches could’ve gone on for years, but it’s a starting point. My expectation is that everyone will trump whatever my number one pick is immediately with one that I overlooked in the comments, but I’ll gladly take the L for this cause. First, a few quick notes on my criteria:
- The commercial couldn’t actively be promoting the NBA or the Milwaukee Bucks. This, of course, disqualifies some absolute gems, but I wanted to focus on ad spots that got players out of their comfort zones. As such, let’s pour one out for the honorable mention of the Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis Laverne & Shirley-inspired commercial.
- Humor is a prevailing theme I looked for. Everyone remembers the funny Super Bowl commercials, the rest usually fade to the background. Some exceptions include the goosebumps-inducing Gatorade or Nike ads.
- Any semblance of genuine acting chops from the players helps. Stilted delivery gets harsh marks from me.
- I’m not necessarily judging the Bucks player’s performance, but more so the commercial as a whole. A better performance does feed into a better commercial though. Their presence should also be a prevailing part of the ad. Let’s get into it.
#18 Time Warner Cable - Horse (Andrew Bogut)
Bogut’s Australian accent would typically be a boon for his rankability, but here he sounds practically indecipherable by the commercial’s end. The pained look on his face gets a bit of kudos from me, but the momentum is ruined by that Time Warner graphic blasting through in the middle of the action.
#17 Coleman Dairy - Coleman Kid (Sidney Moncrief)
I sometimes miss Sidney’s random musings on the Bucks broadcast, so it felt like a reunion as wholesome as a glass of cold milk to see him promoting Coleman Dairy (now known as Hiland Dairy) back in his home state of Arkansas. Moncrief’s earnestness is so genuine though, it waters this puppy’s entertainment value down to skim milk.
#16 Reebok - Rail Sneaker (Glenn Robinson)
Big Dog may’ve displayed an all-around scoring ability that seemed unparalleled when he came out of school, but that offensive versatility didn’t quite translate in this commercial. Not only is it a bit too stylized for my taste, but his voiceover feels like it was delivered with the enthusiasm of Old Yeller. However, the one saving grace is the dog pound fence getting shut with his “This is my planet” tagline on there. There’s no quibbling with cool.
#15 Miller Lite - The two biggest feats in basketball (Bob Lanier)
You learn something new every day. Today, it was that Bob Lanier apparently had huge feet, which was well known enough to create a “feat” and “feet” conceit for a commercial. I like seeing athletes drinking in what looks like a standard watering hole, but this doesn’t stick with me.
#14 Salentine Buick (Andrew Bogut)
Local athletes teaming up with family-owned car dealerships is a time-honored tradition. With low rate budgets, these commercials can occasionally strike gold if they’re willing to be bonkers enough. Salentine goes pretty straightforward here, but Bogut’s gritted tooth smile for the first five seconds is Aussome. Count in his horrific greased spaghetti haircut with a goatee made for ridiculing, and you’ve got the outlines of a memeable bit there. Unfortunately, he winds up having to talk too much. Extra points for the basketball pun at the end.
#13 ESPN - This is Sportscenter “Glenn’s Nickname” (Glenn Robinson)
A much better acting performance from Big Dog here gives this one a higher ranking. The “This is Sportscenter” commercials conceit is good enough to elevate most of the Bucks entries on this list too. Plus, Robinson’s tonal shift from ferocity to befuddlement, purely with his eyebrows making two separate movements to reach their apex, was Local Emmy worthy.
#12 NBA Shootout 2003 - Injured Ray (Ray Allen)
We all know Ray Ray has some acting chops, and he puts them to pretty good use in this clever commercial for NBA Shootout 2003 (RIP). The quick flashes to his excitement over making a virtual bucket while laid up are humorous, but it’s really elevated by how demonstrably he moves the controller while playing. A classic “I’ve never played video games before” move.
#11 Chinese milk? & Nike - Failure to Launch (Yi Jianlian)
Yi Jianlian, destroyer of chairs, carved out his own niche in the Chinese market when the Milwaukee Bucks made waves by selecting him sixth overall, despite pleas from his camp that he would never play in Cream City. It also prompted a brief spark of commercial work. The first is a bizarre drink ad featuring a series of encounters with...twins? Sisters? I honestly have no idea what’s going on here, which is relatively comedic. The latter Nike ad shows him playing in a pick-up game and looking, just okay I think? Stick around till the end, when he launches for a dunk, but it looks pretty clear he would barely graze rim, so they have to cut away and cut back for him to rattle it home. I’m calling this spot “Failure to Launch.” Feels fitting enough for Yi.
#10 Miller Lite - Everyone drinks for the same reason (Bob Lanier)
I have no words.
#9 Wisconsin Gas - Leakers (Bob Lanier)
This is here for one reason, and one reason only, and it is the hilariously outdated chime sound that comes from the silly flame emerging from Lanier’s finger.
Giannis’ disappointing delivery coupled with his head shake is the best part of this commercial, but it’s still just a pretty run-of-the-mill “This is Sportscenter” bit in my opinion.
#7 BMO Harris Bank - Ultimate Souvenir (Giannis)
This one features a better acting performance from Giannis than “This is Sportscenter,” and his unbridled enthusiasm in a bank feels like a fitting callback to what it might’ve been like when he came to this country at such a young age. Most notably though, the quick cuts and souvenir sequence is delightful. The teller gets dinged for her horrific pronunciation of Antetokounmpo.
#6 NBA on ESPN - Deer Xing (Brandon Jennings)
Deadpan delivery always gets me. Maybe that’s just the way Brandon Jennings is as an actor, but he did a fabulous job feigning interest in the happenings within this ESPN RV roaming the backroads to promote one of their prime products. Bango’s surprise and subsequent dribbling is fabulous, as is Jennings distrust of GPS devices. What an odd choice.
Joe Alexander may have been next to nothing in the NBA, but his dunking ability at least provided some entertainment value. This ad spot highlights it with some understated quietness from the high-flying Taiwanese-born player. The ferocity with which he slams the cookie down is wonderful. If only his career had half the quality of this commercial’s conceit.
#4 Gatorade - Building (Jabari Parker)
Reflect on the time during Jabari Parker’s first injury rehab, when the potential still seemed there to have a running mate equal to Giannis. I remember watching this commercial fondly, over and over, thinking about when he would get back on the court for those thunderous dunks. It takes on something of a Greek tragedy feel to it now, but if you were like me, this had you positively tingling at the thought of Parker’s return to the court.
#3 Milko - I’ll tell you what basketball is (Giannis)
Not only is it Giannis’ Greekspeak at its finest, with drama dripping from his lips like an ancient Greek tale, but it gives beautiful views of a country we don’t often see on typical television and movies. Not to mention the all-inclusive nature, artfully placed 34’s throughout, Antetokounmbros appearance and spectacular crescendo to the final shot. Sure, it may feel weird this level of thrill is all to promote a chocolate milk product, but they have experience with this type of promotion before. For all I know, it’s the Greek version of Gatorade. Regardless, the gravitas is too good to ignore.
#2 Aegean Airlines - How can such a small country hold such great beauty? (Giannis)
Initially, I had this one ranked fourth. Then I watched it again and just couldn’t shake the feeling it was too low. I love the spectacular basketball journeys chronicled in the prior two ads, they’re sublime, but they’re also incredibly on-brand. Part of the kudos for these should be taking players out of their element, and showing Giannis’ sheer joy as he looks out from one of the beautiful islands of Greece at his home country is nothing short of spectacular. The purity of making Giannis’ sheer size emblematic of the type of beauty hidden throughout Greece, while juxtaposing him with tiny doorways, people and homes is too picture-perfect to ignore. The shot of his foot-long hands handling a dainty espresso cup is up there with the flaming basketball hoop
#1 Travel Wisconsin - Fall Color on Full Display with Airplane! Cast (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
I go back to my rule number one with commercials: humor. Ultimately, those types of spots stick with me longer than the dramatic ones, even if they aren’t goosebumps-inducing. Kareem’s Airplane cameo is an instantly memorable “actor as athlete” performance, and these commercials playing off that in his return to Wisconsin are a stroke of genius. From the plastic string cheesiness that instantly comes into view to Kareem wearing a Bucks jersey that looks like it came straight from a Goodwill to Robert Hays wonderful deadpan in the pilot’s seat, it’s tough to quibble with these ads. Not to mention how perfectly the conceit dovetails with the subject of the ad. Ultimately, that’s what put the Travel Wisconsin ad series slightly over the top above Giannis’ milk-hawking and Greek adventures. Check out the other two spots from this campaign here and here.
Think these rankings are bunk? Do you have a favorite Bucks commercial I’m forgetting here? I’m sure there are some elder Bucks whose spots I couldn’t track down. Let us know in the comments below!