Michael Jordan 'Be Like Mike' Gatorade commercial was almost not made due to 'The Jungle Book' music dispute
Disney wanted too much money to use the music
After five entertaining weeks, "The Last Dance" will come to an end on Sunday night. Along the way, we've gotten to relive the Michael Jordan era and learn so much more about him and the Chicago Bulls. While much of the story has focused on his basketball exploits, a big part of the Jordan saga takes place off the court.
From his gambling trouble to his stint playing baseball and his marketing mastery, Jordan is much more than a basketball player. He's now a brand unto himself, with shoes and merchandise sold around the world. A large part of that is because of Jordan's incredible skills, and the championships he captured, but he's had some branding help along the way.
One of the most memorable Jordan spots is the classic "Be Like Mike" Gatorade commercial. Even non-basketball fans are familiar with that phrase and the jingle from that ad, but it turns out it almost never happened. During a recent interview with the Associated Press, the creative director behind it said he was inspired by the Disney film "Jungle Book," and started riffing on the song, "I Wanna Be Like You." Unfortunately, Disney wanted too much money to use the music, which almost scuttled the whole thing.
"Originally there was no song," Bernie Pitzel said. "We were gonna use the 'Jungle Book' music and change the lyrics a little bit, and end up with the line 'be like Mike.' Here's where the story gets good. I don't know if you've had any dealing with Disney. But it's not the magic kingdom. It's not all happy over there; those people are brutal. We get the word that the only way that they can have that — it was an ungodly price. It wasn't just the price. They said you can't use the line 'be like Mike.'"
That was obviously the entire point of the ad, so Pitzel explained that they moved on from Disney and he ended up brainstorming some lyrics at a local restaurant. He then got some musicians and session singers together and they created the melody. In the end, he believes it turned out for the better.
"I heard that instrumental opening that I'm like, 'Oh, my God. We got it,'" Pitzel said. "As it turned out, it was way better that I wrote the song because that's what people remember. If we'd just done it with the 'Jungle Book' music, it would have been a cute little spot, but it never would have resonated like it did."
Obviously it's impossible to say how the ad would have resonated with the "Jungle Book" music, but it's hard to imagine it could have gone better than the version they ended up with. It's rare that commercials break through into popular culture and the public's collective consciousness, but the "Be Like Mike" spot certainly did.
It's a testament to Jordan's greatness and legacy that not only do people still remember a commercial about him decades later, but there are even interviews about the creating of the ad. There are few people in the history of sports that would get that kind of treatment and attention.