Chris Farley Failed to Recreate College Hoops’ Most Iconic Moments

‘He was literally like a 10-year-old kid, and they just called recess’
Chris Farley Failed to Recreate College Hoops’ Most Iconic Moments

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In 1993, a low-level Weiden+Kennedy copywriter was given “the keys to this kind of cool car.” The cool car was college basketball on ESPN — a low priority at an agency with its focus on Nike but a sweet challenge for 24-year-old Glenn Cole. “I have an ESPN basketball campaign,” Cole told The Athletic. “I watch a lot of Saturday Night Live. And I was obsessed with Chris Farley.” You can probably guess what happened next. 

Cole thought it would be funny to screw around with the trope of basketball highlights. His idea: A sole figure on the blacktop recreates some of the college game’s greatest moments, but instead of the ball going in, it continually clangs off the rim. “And then I was like, ‘Oh my God, Chris would be the perfect person to do that.’”

Farley was the funniest person to do the job, but not because he was an incapable jock. In high school, he played football and hockey; at Marquette, he competed in club rugby. “Chris was a gifted physical comedian,” said Farley’s agent, Doug Robinson. “And a lot of people don’t know that Chris really was a tremendous athlete. He moved really well. He loved sports. So if Chris was going to do physical comedy, he was going to commit to whatever it is that he did.”

Farley signed up to recreate three great college hoops moments. There was Rumeal Robinson’s two free throws with little time on the clock and the game on the line. The Michigan Wolverine, ice water in his veins, calmly sunk them both to take down Seton Hall. Farley’s version wasn’t quite as smooth — you could build a basketball arena with all his bricks.

Then there’s freshman Michael Jordan winning the title for the North Carolina Tar Heels by draining a mid-range jumper against Georgetown for the one-point win. But why win by one when you can win by two, reasoned Farley. Two gigantic travels, er, steps back behind the three-point line was all the comic needed to make the victory even more convincing. To be fair, the three-pointer didn’t exist in 1982, but Farley’s all about taking chances. 

Finally, Farley reenacted Christian Laettner’s miracle shot against Kentucky to send Duke to the Final Four. Like the real-life Laettner, Farley faced five Wildcat defenders. Unlike Laettner, Farley’s opponents were made of cardboard. The comic took them out in hilarious fashion, eventually scoring the winning bucket by destroying everything in his wake.

Laettner doesn’t remember anyone warning him about the spot, which began airing during his second NBA season. “All I know is that all of a sudden, it was out,” he said, “and it was hilarious and it was awesome.”

The filming experience was awesome for Farley as well. “He was literally like a 10-year-old kid, and they just called recess,” said Larry Frey, the campaign’s creative director. “Full of energy. Like, ‘Hey, guys! I’m probably going to screw it up today.‘ Super self-deprecating. Super enthusiastic. And just winging it.”

Farley eventually got the personal seal of approval from Laettner. A few years after the spots aired, the two men were booked on the same flight. When Laettner boarded, first-class Farley looked up, smiled and embraced the basketball player, who told him, “Awesome commercial.” 


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