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With Bo out, Robinson fills a tall order

Published Oct. 13, 2005

With Bo Jackson sidelined, marketing experts have been wondering who will replace him as advertising's best pitchman. Some believe the next superstar endorser is David Robinson. David knows basketball.

Robinson, the 7-1 center for the San Antonio Spurs of the National Basketball Association, is already the stuff of legend, a rare professional athlete whose basketball scores (25.6 points a game on average) were rivaled, relatively speaking, by his Scholastic Aptitude Test scores (1,320 out of 1,600).

A mathematics major at the U.S. Naval Academy, Robinson served a two-year hitch with the Navy, remains a lieutenant and civil engineer in the reserves, won a bronze medal as a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic basketball team, is a concert pianist and in 1990 was voted the NBA's rookie of the year.

Marketers are always searching for the next great endorser, in hopes that the celebrity's aura will lend a magic glow to their product or service. There are those who say Robinson's future is limitless.

"I think without a doubt David Robinson has superstar qualities," said Nova Lanktree, the director of Burns Sports Celebrity Service, a Chicago firm that matches athletes with advertising agencies.

"Very often, when an agency calls us, they'll not know who they want, and we'll always recommend Robinson and they'll say, "Oh, yeah!' And if the agency has already been reviewing basketball stars, Robinson's name is always on the list."

While he was still in the Navy, Robinson signed endorsement contracts with Casio watches and Franklin Sports Industries. He also signed with Nike Inc., the athletic shoe company that made "Bo knows" part of the vernacular.

A year ago, the company inaugurated a $15-million advertising campaign for its Force basketball shoe line, with the giant center as the star of "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood," a parody of the children's television show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

"Not only is David Robinson what some people consider the future of basketball _ a big man who's incredibly fast _ but he's also an exceptionally wonderful human being," said Jim Riswold, an associate creative director at Wieden & Kennedy, Nike's ad agency.

"When I walked out of my first meeting with him, it was his niceness that impressed me," Riswold said. "Michael Prieve, an art director, agreed and suggested that there was nobody nicer than children's show hosts. We built from there, and that's what you see."

In each of the dozen or so spots Wieden & Kennedy has filmed, Robinson invites the audience, and sometimes a guest star, into his realm _ the basketball court _ to learn a new word or phrase.

When Charles Barkley, the obstreperous forward of the Philadelphia 76ers, was on, Robinson asked, "Can you say, "Fined?' "

There are still those who say it will be hard for Robinson to achieve Bo Jackson's level as an endorser. Jackson, known for his ability to play several sports, two professionally, reportedly earns about $2-million a year from Nike and $3-million from AT&T, PepsiCo and other companies.

"I believe David Robinson will become a leading product spokesperson, because he's got what it takes," Blackman said. "But I don't see him yet in the sphere of Michael Jordan or Bo Jackson."