On Larry Bird’s 61st birthday, there’s no better time to revisit his iconic 1993 “Nothing but Net” ad with Michael Jordan.
The ad — which first ran during the 1993 Super Bowl — imagines a game of HORSE between the two basketball legends at different points in their careers: Bird, at the end of his career with the Celtics, and Jordan, who was in the middle of earning his first “three-peat” for the Chicago Bulls.
In the ad, Jordan shows up to the gym with a bag as Larry Bird shoots hoops on the court.
“What’s in the bag?” asks Bird. Once Jordan tells him — “Big Mac, fries” — Bird has a challenge for him.
“Play you for it!”
Just one rule in the game: You can’t miss! They agree that the first one to miss has to watch the winner eat the McDonald’s burger and fries. The two then start a game of HORSE, trading trick shots that get increasingly ridiculous. The last shot in the ad has the two ascend to the top of Chicago’s Hancock Center, 100 stories above ground, where we catch Bird challenging Jordan to sink a shot “off the expressway, over the river, off the billboard, through the window, off the wall, nothing but net.”
That final shot almost didn’t happen, according to CNBC. Somehow, their agency didn’t clear the commercial use of the Hancock Center in the final shot
“At the last second our lawyers realized we didn’t have commercial clearance to use the Hancock Building,” said Jim Ferguson, who helped create the ad as part of the Leo Burnett creative team. And their solution was a little unusual: “I think we traded the rights to use it for a basketball autographed by Jordan and Bird and I think $100,” Ferguson confesses.
There’s more. If you’re wondering why Bird had to challenge Jordan, it turns out there was no other option; Ferguson says they “had to have Larry challenge Michael to the game because we couldn’t have Michael make the challenge because of his gambling situation at the time.”
That’s in reference to Michael Jordan’s well-documented gambling habit — something that’s gotten him in trouble before.
“Nobody ever thought it would turn into what it did!” said Ferguson.