Nike's new Kobe ad

Lots of people don't have much use for Kobe Bryant, but his new Nike spot really is one of the most enjoyable ads he's ever done.

The Los Angeles Lakers star has been in commercials since Roman times, or so it seems, and has always been bankable as an endorser. The balancing act is to mute his arrogance while amplifying his playful side, which is not always easy. Pairing him with the impish Lionel Messi in the Turkish Airlines ad (102 million YouTube views and counting) was a stroke of genius. Messi is just as ruthless an athlete as Bryant, but is more naturally likable, and gave Bryant license to stand down and act like a fool. It helped that Leo is an ocean and a professional sport away from Kobe, and no threat to his kingdom.

The Nike spot gives Kobe back his muscle, but keeps things playful—not so much through the athlete himself, who appears for only a handful of the 60 seconds, but through an amusing montage of mini sequences and props that celebrate Bryant's world and his omnipotent place in it. By humorously overselling its star, it accomplishes the old trick of portraying him as both king and jester—the one who knocks and the one who takes his knocks (on his own terms). The lightheartedness humanizes Kobe, even as he's still officially cast as superhuman. It's tribute and mock-tribute in one.

"This is how the world works," says the already hyperbolic first line of (female) voiceover, against a beautiful shot of a lit-up neon blue-and-green basketball hoop against an immense starry sky. "The sun shines. The grass grows. Kobe Bryant arrives to practice at 3 … the other 3." (A sledgehammer smashes a clock, turning 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.) The voice continues, with visuals matched to each sentence: "Chickens bock bock bock. Broccoli can fight cancer. Rice provides energy. Kobe eats rice, broccoli, chicken. And the world turns." They're almost non sequiturs, not quite random but wonderfully helter-skelter.

"Earthquakes shake. Bakers bake. Kobe Bryant shakes and bakes defenders. Philosophers ponder existence. Scholars read. Kobe Bryant takes everyone to school." Kobe is immortalized as a metal bust, but also as a goofy food portrait of rice and veggies (superhuman, human). Some other nice touches: Kobe's shoes slithering like snakes; Kobe being the only player in focus in the court scenes; the footage of a 360-degree dunk from his high-school days; and the split-flap departure-board style on-screen copy at the end (which also seems random, but again, somehow works).

The tagline is, "Count on Kobe," meaning both the player and his lightweight Kobe 8 System sneakers.

Yes, it's Kobe Bryant's world—other players just live in it. That's been true on the court this season, despite the Lakers woes. And it's been true in advertising lately, too. (source Ad Week)