Although stacked “super teams” are becoming the new norm in today’s NBA (see: Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics), the notion that so many veritable basketball superstars could play together in a regular season game was, quite literally, fiction a decade ago.
All aboard the Funk Ship, ‘cause we’re going back in time.
During the spring of 2002, Nike Basketball debuted a three-part ad campaign that transported viewers back (technically, sideways) to an alternate reality (circa 1975) where the brand’s top endorsers played against hoopers of this other era. The second of these spots brought to life Nike’s own version of a super team, called the “Roswell Rayguns.” The fictional Roswell Rayguns were a struggling ABA franchise until it “made a couple of key trades” for Vince Carter, whose “Dr. Funk” character had previously appeared in found footage of a game at Rucker Park (which Dime named the ninth-best basketball commercial of all time), Baron “The Numbers Runner” Davis, Paul “The Shot Caller” Pierce, Jerry “The Hustler” Stackhouse, and Jermaine “The Undisco Kid” O’Neal. In addition, other Nike athletes such as Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan (now with adidas) donned Rayguns uniforms in the final commercial.
Created by Wieden+Kennedy Portland, the spots cleverly kept the funk alive by employing grainy, vintage clips transposed with the team of modern All-Stars (not to mention, their high-tech Nike Shox and Zoom Turbine sneakers), retro graphics, and a soundtrack performed by P-Funk artist Bootsy Collins. Nike also launched a Rayguns website, and sold limited edition merchandise branded with the team’s logo, including authentic jerseys and two Rayguns colorways of Nike Dunk SB sneakers (which did not release until 2005).
To the credit of both Nike and W+K, the end result was a truly holistic, believable and more importantly, memorable basketball universe.
Unfortunately, much of the information about the beloved Rayguns team disappeared over time. There is a fan site on an Angel Fire domain (the true definition of retro), a smattering of photos online, the occasional eBay auction, and, of course, YouTube videos. But what remains of Nike’s rebirth of cool is a fun reminder that we can still hop in the Funk Ship, and return to 1975 – err, 2002 – when the game was so much simpler.
Even if it wasn’t real.