Skee-Lo’s ‘I Wish’ Is Reborn as an Ode to Smaller Ballers in ESPN’s First Work From Droga5

The video claims 6-footers have changed the game

Actor Paul Crawford, standing 6-foot-8, stars in the new take on a 1995 classic. ESPN

Droga5 takes its first shot for ESPN today since adding the business last August, introducing “Life Needs Sports,” a brand platform focused on culturally relevant moments and big-time athletic competition.

A breezy, two-minute musical spot, “Smaller,”timed to coincide with the NBA playoffs, celebrates the league’s “small ball” players — guys who aren’t giants by the game’s standards, but triumph by maximizing their own special skill sets.

And what better to way to celebrate their indomitable spirit than by reworking Skee-Lo’s 1995 hip-hop smash “I Wish”?

In the original song, the singer bemoans that he’s too short to compete on the court and, consequently, inferior in various other aspects of his life. The ESPN rewrite, also performed by Skee-Lo, inverts that notion, with lyrics that praise small-ball style.

For example, the original’s opening, “I wish I was a little bit taller/I wish I was a baller,” morphs into “I wish I was a little bit smaller,” and, near the end, the ESPN jam really jumps with the line, “All the short guys is winnin’ right now.”

“Life measures height,” notes the end of the spot. “Sports measure heart.”

You might have noticed some of the NBA’s biggest “small” men—Steph Curry, Chris Paul, Terry Rozier and Kyle Lowry—featured in the mix. Skee-Lo makes a cameo too, but the red-shirted dude who gets most of the screen time is 6-foot-8-inch actor Paul Crawford, who actually played football as a taller-than-average defensive end. Life got ya down, big guy?

“Working with Skee-Lo was such a fun experience,” says Droga5 Group Creative Director Brandon Pierce. “The ‘Smaller’ track ended up being two days of collaboration in the studio. We’d throw out some lines, and he’d refine them, build on them and make them his own. On set, he was awesome and really helped us get the nods to his original music video honed in.”

Lest baseball fans feel left out, ESPN also dropped a commercial with a bunch Major Leaguers adoring their bats with kisses caresses and, in one case, a good lick:

Careful, buddy, tongue splinters can probably put a guy on the disabled list.

Overall, the work represents a solid first swing for Droga5 and ESPN. Sports and popular culture are so intrinsically and unbreakably intertwined that the team can surely generate plenty of wins from this kind of game plan.

“Sports give us what we need, when we need it: inspiration, connection, escape,” says ESPN’s senior vice president of brand and marketing solutions, Sean Hanrahan. “It also provides relatable metaphors that help us better understand the world around us.”


Life Needs Sports :: Integrated Credits List
Client: ESPN
Campaign: Life Needs Sports
Title: “Smaller” / “True Love”
Launch Date: May 9
Agency: Droga5 NY
Creative Chairman: David Droga
Group Creative Director: Brandon Pierce
Associate Creative Director: Ben Bliss
Associate Creative Director: Evan Schultz
Copywriter: Evan Barkoff
Art Director: David Spradlin
Copywriter: Sean Buckhorn
Art Director: Gonzalo Navarro
Associate Design Director: Mark Yoon
Designer: Erin Wilson
Project Manager: Laura Rothman
Chief Creation Officer: Sally-Ann Dale
Co-Director of Film Production: Jesse Brihn
Co-Director of Film Production: Bryan Litman
Executive Producer, Film: Tricia Lentini Himot
Producer, Film: Jacob Vogt (“Smaller”)
Producer, Film: Isabella Lebovitz (“True Love”)
Music Supervisor: Mike Ladman
Music Supervisor: Jonathan Hecht
Director of Business Affairs: Jocelyn Howard
Sr. Business Affairs Manager: Kiki Powell
Sr. Producer, Interactive: Andrew Puzzuoli
Associate Producer, Interactive: Emily Blumhardt
Sr. Producer, Print: Ariel Wakasa-Gonzalez
Producer, Print: Rose Mahan
Co-Head of Strategy: Harry Roman-Torres
Strategy Director: Kevin DeStefan
Strategist: Newman Granger
Head of Communications Strategy: Colleen Leddy
Communications Strategy Director: Michael Pignone
Communications Strategist: Emily Langham
Data Strategy Director: Andrea Campbell
Data Strategist: Joshua Gordon
Group Account Director: Shane Chastang
Account Director: Marissa Guerra
Account Manager: Tori Tessalone
Legal: Zachary Werner

Client: ESPN
President, Global Sales and Marketing: Ed Erdhardt
SVP, Marketing and Consumer Engagement: Wanda Young
SVP, Marketing Solutions: Sean Hanrahan
Sr Director Brand Marketing Strategy: Samira Zebian
Marketing Coordinator: Sarah Connors
Production Company: Epoch
Director: Zach Heinzerling
DOP: James Laxton
Executive Producer: Melissa Culligan
Producer: Susan Hebert

“Smaller” Editorial: Cabin Edit
Editor: Graham Turner
Assistant Editor: Alex Doyle, Connie Chuang
Managing Partner: Carr Schilling
Producer: Liz Lydecker

“True Love” Editorial: Second Child
Editor: Nick Ljubicich
Assistant Editor: Martin Keating
Executive Producer: Scott Chinn
Producer: Francess Tom-Sahr

“Smaller” Postproduction: The Mill
Executive Producer: Chris Kiser
Senior Producer: Freya Hewett
Associate Producer: Michael Brown
2-D Lead: Jeff Robins
2-D Artists: Antoine Douadi, Rachel Moon, Eric Sibley, Dan Bowhers, Gabriel Kim, Ari Garber

Design Lead: Juan Monasterio
Telecine: Fergus McCall

“True Love” Postproduction: Second Child
Producer: Francess Tom-Sahr
Telecine: Lenny Mastrandrea @Nice Shoes


Song: “I Wish”
Artist: Skee-Lo
Vocal Re-Record Session: Barking Owl Studios

“True Love”
Song: “LOVE”
Artist: Kendrick Lamar ft. Zacari

“Smaller”: Heard City
Mixer: Keith Reynald
Producer: Andi Lewis
“True Love”: Second Child
Mixer: Eric Milano

The Fans. The Brands. Social Good. The Future of Sports. Don't miss the upcoming Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit and Upfronts, a live virtual experience on Nov. 16-19. Early-bird passes available until Oct. 26. Register now

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.