When Hip-Hop Meets Hoops: Revisiting Sprite's 'Wild Style 97' Campaign

Growing up in Chicago, Illinois, Reginald Jolley became infatuated with this sound that was coming out of The Bronx, New York. The four elements of hip-hop (b-boying, graffiti, rapping, and DJ-ing) spoke deeply to the younger Jolley.

While artists like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five along with the Cold Crush Brothers were making their way sonically, it was the visuals from the 1982 movie, Wild Style, that piqued Jolley’s interest in the new art form.

“It was the first and only real hip-hop movie,” said Jolley. “Hip-hop being this new thing and finding myself as a teen once I got wind of the culture of it, it really worked for who I was and growing to be. I found hip-hop at a time in my young teens, it was a perfect match.”

Years later when Jolley became a creative director with Sprite, he incorporated hip-hop into many of the company’s spots, which included "Voltron" and the" 5 Deadly Venoms". But it was the "Wild Style 97” campaign that allowed him to redirect one of his favorite movies.

Jolley wanted to recreate the legendary basketball scene from Wild Style that featured the Cold Crush Brothers and Fantastic Five testing each other’s rapping skills and subsequently doing the same in basketball.

To keep the original feel, Jolley nabbed Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers, Prince Whipper of the Fantastic Five, and budding hip-hop superstar Missy Elliott. But instead of Whipper and Caz representing their respective crews, they represented Sprite’s newest signature athletes, Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs.

Grandmaster Caz, who represented Kobe, remembers meeting a young Bryant and how impactful that commercial was when it was released.

“Kobe was mad cool, not stand-offish, smiling as usual,” said Caz. “Tim was the same, he was a little more laid back but he was engaging. It was amazing for the union between hip-hop and basketball, which is natural. The two go hand in hand in every neighborhood since hip-hop started. Being seen every day on TV with Kobe and Missy and Tim and my brother Whipper Whip, it was amazing.”

Prince Whipper, who was on the Duncan side, credits the shoot for inspiring him.

“The greatest day of work I’ve ever had, even more than when we did Wild Style,” said Whipper. “It changed my perspective, it changed a whole lot in my life, work, and what level of the game you want to work in and what you want to be in and what you strive for.”

Aside from rapping and shooting the commercial, the artists were grateful to grace the blacktop with two of the greatest basketball players.

“How many people you know played ball with Kobe and Tim,” said Whipper.

“Playing basketball with Tim Duncan, the thing that I walked away with the most was trying to block his shot and I couldn’t even reach,” said Caz.

Hip-hop and the NBA propelled Sprite to what we know it as today. When Stephen Horn joined the Sprite brand in 1984, he repositioned the brand from “I Like The Sprite In You” era to the “Obey Your Thirst” era, in which the Coca-Cola soft drink brand chose the premier hip-hop artists to help promote the brand. Artists like Kurtis Blow, Nas, AZ, and the Lost Boyz all played a pivotal role in making Sprite a consumer's favorite.

“The brand went from being down for nearly a decade to being the fastest-growing non-alcoholic for multiple years with no change in the product,” said the former vice president of the Sprite Brand Business, Darryl Cobbin. “Largely because of the combination of young Black males in hip-hop and young Black males in basketball. We did not go after the most popular hip-hop artist, we went after the most meaningful hip-hop artist. So while we were doing A Tribe Called Quest, Grand Puba, Large Professor, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, KFC was doing MC Hammer. We weren’t interested in the largest or most popular at the time. We were interested in those that we thought would be the most influential, and we got lucky.”

With the leadership of then-Director of Sports and Entertainment and current Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, Sprite brought in young NBA stars like Duncan, Bryant and Grant Hill. Duncan and Hill were both key cogs to the brand's rise to the top but it was Bryant’s brand loyalty akin to his relationship with the Lakers that paid dividends for Sprite.

“Artists would come and artists would go, but Kobe was with the brand a long time,” Cobbin added. “The benefit to the brand that Kobe Bean Bryant brought to us, as he grew up and because he grew up and remained on Sprite, we were able to retain consumers as they grew up. You’ll be hard-pressed to find endorsers that are in the non-endemic sports area. Partners who are with the brand for that amount of time, it was unique.”

The combination of the hip-hop artists that brought Sprite to its peak and the new era rising stars of the NBA is why the “Wild Style 97” ad serves as an important timestamp for the company. “Wild Style 97” is one of “Reggie Knows” proudest moments during his tenure at Sprite.

“When someone asks me about what was my favorite campaign, I know technically I should say Voltron but Wild Style was so deep personally,” said Jolley. “The court rap which is what we created. If you’ve seen “Wild Style” you would have a greater appreciation for it, you would feel it in your soul. When me and Crazy Legs (legendary B-Boy dancer) were watching it, we were screaming at the monitors, no one understood our excitement.”

Jolley also tributes Bryant’s work ethic for making “Wild Style 97” special.

“Just how he handled his game and whatever perfection goes with it,” said Jolley. “He’s like now that I’m doing this how do I do this the best that I can do it. He was so attentive; he was just a professional. He’s like this is what we're here to do, I’m going to win at this and he did it. It was just warming, super warm. Like all them appreciating each other, them appreciating me, us all collectively paying homage to hip-hop like that.”

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