James Roles On in Wieden’s Nike Spots

LOS ANGELES The star of the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James, takes center stage in a series of Nike commercials from independent Wieden + Kennedy that recalls Eddie Murphy’s multi-character movie roles in The Klumps.

Two of the 30-second spots, “Butter” and “Glory Days,” broke theatrically two weeks ago; “Celebration” aired on television for the first time last weekend. “New Shoes” and “Answering Machine” are set to break in the coming weeks.

“I don’t think we knew what an incredible actor he was before he was actually on the set,” said Mike Byrne, creative director at the Portland, Ore., agency, who worked on the campaign with creative directors Hal Curtis and Jim Riswold. “He’s come out of hair and makeup right in character. We were immediately inspired by Lebron’s playing, but now we’re thinking, ‘Let’s dimensionalize him and get to know him.’ “

The spots picture James in four such dimensions. As “Wise,” he’s a graying old-school athlete boasting of a “quadruple double” in his youth. As “Business” (who calls Wise “Pops”), he is a no-nonsense player, confident to the point of being a little cocky. In “Answering Machine,” he arrives home in a Bentley in the early morning, having been out all night, and asks the others, “Who’s going to make me waffles?”

“Kid” is the child who represents the “unadulterated joy of basketball,” said Byrne. In “Butter,” he dreams of dunking a dinner roll on the court. “Athlete” mostly observes the others and is the closest to James’ off-court personality, suggesting that the other characters are projections of his subconscious.

“Celebration,” which features a dance among the characters to the Rick James song “Superfreak,” will continue a TV run, joined by the upcoming spots. The theatrical ads, which run as a pair separated in the advertising pod, are supported by in-lobby displays.

Epoch Films’ Stacy Wall, who was a creative at Wieden years ago, Byrne recalled, directed all the spots. “He did some of the best Nike spots, including ‘Little Penny,’ ” Byrne said. “He has a real passion for basketball.”

Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike spent $180 million advertising in 2004, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.