Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder is the centerpiece of a Jordan ad from August 2016. Crafted by Wieden + Kennedy in New York, the thirty-second spot depicts a determined Westbrook, a man bent on showcasing his remarkable talents with the help of a trusty Spalding basketball. Dribbling to the free throw line in cinematic fashion, a jet engine begins to roar to life as Westbrook touches off the ground with an airport runway beneath his rising feet. The commercial closes with a bold remark from the narrator: “Some run, some make runways.”
Speculation started to surface about whether the ad was a shot at Kevin Durant, now a former teammate of Westbrook as he currently plays alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and the Golden State Warriors crew. But that’s hearsay – supposedly.
Who doesn’t like to make runways though? Who doesn’t like to have an impact in their respective sport? Though I don’t possess a flight ability like Westbrook, Durant, LeBron James, or the legendary Michael Jordan, I’d like to think that my capacity to take flight as a distance runner is strong and purposeful. Running feels like flying from time to time as the feet glide along the roads with minimal effort.
I’m a fan of the word flight and the prevalence it has in the world of sports, both amateur and professional. Music reinforces the power of this word too. There’s the Foo Fighters (“Learn to Fly”) and Tom Petty (“Learning to Fly”) and Frank Sinatra (“Fly Me to the Moon”). Since basketball is the centerpiece of this article, I’d be remiss not to reference Space Jam (1996) and the song that defines this 1990s film: “I Believe I Can Fly” by R Kelly. I can still remember a young Michael Jordan moving across the dirt in his backyard. Every shot falls through the makeshift hoop. Before calling it a night, the young Bulls icon, like Russell Westbrook in the “Runways” ad, starts dribbling to the basket as his shoes start defying gravity.
I felt like I could fly when I first heard that song at fifteen years old. I felt mighty and tall and fast. When it comes to flight, Michael “Air” Jordan is the quintessential symbol of the word. There’s no one else like number 23, and he moved across the court at breakneck speed with a magnificent finesse. In short, he is the best, arguably the greatest athlete in history. I will never be like Mike, but I remember wanting to as a kid – like millions of other boys and girls across the planet. “Be Like Mike.” That was an empowering message to young, aspiring athletes.
Though I no longer follow Michael as a player since he is now retired from the game, I still think about flight and the concept of taking flight like a NASA rocket blasting off from the ground at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Running has provided this energy for me, this zeal to travel across the land with my two feet. I can visualize myself like Russell Westbrook or Michael Jordan darting down the runway as the shoes pick up speed to the point that the ground is cleared and only the sky and the clouds fill the horizon. Though this visualization lives only in my mind, I have seen it manifest in pictures. Race day pictures.
I would surmise that all runners would prefer to see themselves smiling in their race pictures, but this is typically not the outcome. Grimaces and squinting eyes are more commonplace, and thanks to sites like Tumblr, we can observe the worst photographs. The philosophy behind the Seriously Ugly Race Pics blog mirrors mine, at least when it comes to races and effort. “If you look good, you’re not working hard enough.” To put another way – run faster.
I typically forego race day pictures as it is another expense on top of the others, but I do tend to visit the website or picture provider for a sense of what I looked like during the event. Questions begin to surface about my form too. Did I keep my head up? Did I look forward? Were my arms close to the body or swinging wildly? Where were my feet in relation to the ground? What were those shoes doing? Then I remember Space Jam and Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan. And Bill Murray too, who happened to demonstrate some remarkable athletic prowess on the court against those menacing Monstars.
I think about flight and taking flight. I think about the video of the Airbus A350 making a nearly vertical take-off from the runway at the Farnborough Air Show in Hampshire. And I think about the “Runways” ad with Russell Westbrook. I look intently at those race day pictures to see if there are any of note, any worth admiring. My face is nothing special for sure, but maybe it’s due to great physical exertion. I glance over the face and lower my eyes towards the shoes. It has to be the shoes. Yes! Both are off the ground simultaneously.
I believe I can fly!