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Remembering Nike’s “What If” Commercial

Nike’s “What If” commercial focused on parallel universes where athletes played different sports. What were the best ones?

Mock Up for Nike by Carsten Schertzer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Remembering Nike’s “What If” Commercial

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

If you Google “Best Nike commercials” there is no shortage of results to look through and judge. You will find many of the brand’s greatest hits appear on almost every list.

You’re going to see:

Tiger Woods juggling a golf ball.

The 2010 World Cup Short Film “Write the Future.”

The Freestyle Mix Tape.

Charles Barkley telling us to raise our own kids.

Jordan’s greatness being linked to apparel.

What you will not see is my favorite Nike commercial.

Nike’s “What If” ad was about a parallel universe where several of the most famous athletes of that time had chosen a different professional calling instead of the sport they were synonymous with in 2004.

Here’s who is featured in the ad, from my least favorite to the one that makes this ad great.

6. Lance Armstrong – Boxer

Ok, so right away this is likely the reason this commercial probably isn’t listed among the pantheon of great Nike spots. I understand the “star” of the ad (it opens and ends with him, yikes) having his whole legacy tarnished can have a negative effect on the whole ad. But at the same time, “The Usual Suspects” is still a good movie.

We don’t need to spend any more time here.

5. Marion Jones – Gymnast

I am just not a big Olympics fan so this just doesn’t do a lot for me.

Shout-out to Marion Jones though for being one of the athletes I remember first learning about in Sports Illustrated for Kids. I think she was either the athlete of the month or maybe she was one of the tear-away cards, but I vividly remember reading about a UNC track star and when she became a big deal it was cool to see.

Marion likely appreciated this story.

4. Randy Johnson – Bowler

He’s absolutely perfect as a professional bowler and as a foil to Pete “PDW” Weber.

In terms of non-Boston sports memories, the Diamondbacks winning the 2001 World Series is up there, but I think I’d trade that if I could live in this reality.

I also want to be sure PETA recognizes my decision here would save the life of that bird. I don’t use the term hero a lot, but…

3. Serena Williams – Volleyball

As we have seen, if I come across you in the real world then I feel like you become a part of my life.

Serena Williams and I were once at the Dave & Buster’s in Times Square at the same time. So was “P Diddy”. So, Serena, Sean and I are forever linked, it can’t be escaped.

Also, Serena’s volleyball partner is not Venus in the ad, making it easy to imagine Venus and another partner forming an intense rivalry with Serena’s team. For years they battle, without either ever fully getting the advantage over the other.

Then, when it seems like both of their careers are winding down, a new team bursts on the scene. This team first destroys Serena’s team and then takes out Venus’. They are the talk of the volleyball world, but they are too showy and disrespectful to be embraced by the true volleyball enthusiast. They need to be taught that respect is earned in this game, and the only team that can do it are the two sisters who turned their backs on competing together years ago. But they team up for one final run at the World Volleyball Championship Tournament to try to prove to the world, and to themselves, their best bet for one final victory…is each other.

“Spike Sisters” premieres on Netflix in 2022.

2. Michael Vick and Brian Urlacher – Hockey

Now we’re having fun! (And the ad is featuing another athlete with a major off field issue and it’s now more obvious why it’s not as celebrated as some others!)

Vick and Urlacher are both Alternate Captains on the Colorado Avalanche and seem to form a Fulton/Portman-like enforcer presence (Urlacher lays a dude out) while also having the offensive skill of a Sakic-Forsberg tandem (Vick snipes a goal late in the ad).

They also both just look awesome in the uniform.

Vick had two other memorable Nike commercials. One was more well-known, The Michael Vick Experience, and the other was just kind of weird and awesome at the same time. In the latter, Vick and Terrell Owens are on the same unnamed team with what look like greenish teal jerseys. They are playing in a snowstorm, but some of the physics of how players are moving make it seem like they are on an indoor soccer surface instead of a football field.

Also, judging by the symbols on the scoreboard there seem to be special power sources each team can use during the game as if it’s a cross between Mario Kart and Mutant League Football. Vick uses his to avoid a sack and TO uses his to leap over two incoming defenders. You can tell this because their jersey numbers light up and make a robotic-like noise.

And right before TO scores the winning touchdown the opposing bench throws their Gatorade jug at him.

1.  Andre Agassi – Baseball

In the best parts of this commercial, Andre Agassi plays shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.

You might say, “Wait a second, is the whole reason you love this ad so much simply because it featured an athlete you liked from another sport playing for your favorite baseball team? I bet if he was on the Yankees or even the Cardinals in this ad you wouldn’t care at all about it, huh?

And I would respond, “Hey… shut up.”

When Agassi is in the field, he makes a beautiful one-handed pick up and jump throw to first. This is clearly using Nomar Garciaparra’s body as a double and still looks amazing. I love Nomar, he’s awesome and I have a collection of Nomar cards I view as my retirement plan.

Also, he and I shared a flight to LA once, so again, forever connected.

When Agassi is hitting, I think he’s Todd Walker, but I can’t confirm that (feel free to correct this in the comments!). Still, he rockets an oppo liner to left field with great form.

And much like Vick/Urlacher, Agassi looks great in the uniform.

This makes the ad a home run by my standards.

(long pause)

Did you see what I did there?

Did you laugh?

Did you?

Tell me I’m good.


Moving on, I can’t say this is the best Nike ad ever. It might not even belong in the top 10. But if we learned anything it’s that if you do something weird or feature one of my favorite teams, I will never forget your ad. And this one did both. So good job, Nike. You just might have a future in the advertising game.

Terry is from Massachusetts and is a passionate fan of the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins. He also will admit he only pays attention to Syracuse basketball when they're good. If there's a Twitter trade rumor even remotely associated with one of his teams, he's likely fallen for it. Finally, he believes 100% that if the Celtics had beaten the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals they would have swept the Thunder in the Finals.

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