Georgetown Coach John Thompson runs his team through practice. He shouts at one of his players, "Stop pouting. It may work with your girlfriend, but it's not going to work on me."
Thompson finally blows his whistle and calls out, "Freddie, get over here!" He rests his hands on the player's shoulders as he berates him gently, consoles him and then, with a gentle pat on the rear, sends the player back onto the court.
Is it John Thompson the coach, or is it John Thompson the actor?
The above scene is another Hollywood illusion, but typical of Nike's remarkable advertising campaign, carefully crafted to imitate its subject's philosophical realities. The athletic and footwear company, so successful in the past in using Moses Malone, Carl Lewis and Lester Hayes in striking commercial poses, has struck again with its Thompson spot.
If you watch the commercial -- and it's better than most of the programming it pays for -- you might immediately wonder: how did a bunch of TV folks get John Thompson to act?
"Actually, we didn't get John to act," said Peter Moore, Nike's creative director. "John actually kind of got into coaching them. He can't stop coaching. He was just being himself."
"I do what comes naturally," Thompson said, laughing with a mock brag. "Hidden acting talent, I guess . . . How'd I like making the commercial? I liked it fine, especially when I received the check. I don't know, really. To tell you the truth, I didn't even think that much about it."
Nike and Thompson collaborated in much the same way Nike usually operates. The company, its advertising people -- Chiat/Day agency in Los Angeles -- and Thompson sat down together to get a clear idea of the coach's philosophy. The commercial translates that philosophy in a slick, polished fashion.
While we watch Thompson being himself at practice, copywriter Jeff Gorman wrote the following words for Thompson that we hear in a voice-over:
"Most people are unaccustomed to hearing the honest truth. But the biggest strength of our program is being blunt with the kids -- right from the beginning. Because if the truth becomes a surprise to a kid, he's going to run from you instead of for you."
And there, in 46 words, is the brunt of Thompson's thinking. It should become a valuable tool for Georgetown. On future recruiting trips, Thompson ought to carry a portable VCR with him. He'd walk into a prospect's house and tell the family, "I won't take up much of your time. I'd just like you to watch this 30-second videotape." Roll the tape, shake the proper hands and tell the prospect, "See you on campus in the fall."
The commercial was shot in a day at Georgetown's McDonough Gymnasium. Nike hired former Hoya Fred Brown as the player Thompson chastises, partly because current NCAA players could not be used and partly because of Thompson's well-remembered embrace of Brown at the end of the 1982 NCAA championship, a game the Hoyas lost to North Carolina in part because Brown threw an errant pass in the final seconds.
Thompson's relationship with Nike began in 1979; he is under contract with the company through 1989. He is one of 90 Division I basketball coaches under Nike contract. Nike does not disclose financial terms with anyone it contracts.
Dave Smith, a Nike lawyer, said the company uses the coaches for two reasons: 1) they advise how to make basketball shoes properly and 2) they make Nike shoewear available to their players. The first reason pales in comparison to the second. It's difficult to imagine Thompson and Lefty Driesell sitting around a diner, discussing the merits of high-top versus low-top shoes for Nike research, but one can understand the valuable exposure the company gains from having hundreds of college (and NBA) players wearing its product.
Nike's most valuable presence, however, might be its unique commercials. The spots highlight distinctly different sports heroes, and Nike's logo is not even shown until the final second.
"What comes across to the consumer is an honesty about Nike," copywriter Gorman said. "We're not hitting you over the head with a sledgehammer. The commercials draw you in, and they're asking you to fill in the blanks. You take away what you want to take away."
Is George Michael going Hollywood? Is George Michael turning disco? Is George Michael leaving town?
Last month, he appeared on "The Tonight Show." On Friday nights, he regularly spins records at The Foundry in Georgetown after the late newscast. And he could become a very hot property if "The George Michael Sports Machine" continues to succeed nationally on Sunday nights.
But the WRC-TV-4 sportscaster says he's happy right here. All things considered, he wouldn't rather be in Philadelphia (from whence he came).
His WRC contract will run two more years. "I can't even look at the possibilities two years from now," he said. "If I could choose, it's real simple: I want to stay (in Washington), I want us to have the strongest news team and I want the 'Sports Machine' to be a solid commodity weekly for NBC."
Michael's nine-minute "Tonight Show" appearance -- with videotape, of course -- could lead to another guest spot. "If they call me once a year, you can bet your sweet bird I'll make it," Michael said. "But I could not do it on a regular basis. Too much of that stuff takes away from what I'm paid to do."
Only George Michael could say no to Johnny Carson.
Attention, all die-hard Washington Federals fans: both of you can watch the new Federals -- the Orlando Renegades -- in their USFL opener at Tampa Bay tomorrow at 8 p.m. on ESPN. Bring a good book.