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Bulls Thu Oct 03 2013

How Miley Cyrus Briefly Deflated the Adidas Derrick Rose Relaunch

Mike Will Made It '23'For a year and a half, basketball fans waited for Derrick Rose to return to the NBA.

While Chicagoans are no doubt looking forward to seeing him back on the court, perhaps no one is more excited for his comeback than Adidas. To make good of Rose's lucrative endorsement contract, Adidas launched #thereturn last October, to keep him (and implicitly, his signature shoe line) in the spotlight while demonstrating his commitment to rehabilitation and reclaiming his potential.

Last Monday, Rose appeared in Chicago for the launch of his newest shoe, the D Rose 4. Along with the event, Adidias released a video called "all in for Chicago" reaffirming Rose's dedication to the game, his city and his team, and serving as a PR counterattack to anyone who criticized him for not returning to play sooner.

With the 2013-2014 NBA season on the horizon, and reports of a confident, healthy Rose ready to reclaim his mantle as the best basketball player in the game, the timing of his shoe launch could not have been more perfect.

...that is, until a certain pop star came along to rep the shoes of the only other Chicago Bulls player legendary enough to make Derrick Rose irrelevant.

Whatever one thinks of Miley Cyrus' twerk, tongue and molly-fueled media blitz, Chicagoans and basketball fans should take note of a video that dropped last Tuesday that prominently features the former Disney starlet.

Next big thing producer Mike Will Made-It's "23," an anthem about proudly wearing Michael Jordan's signature Nike Air Jordan sneakers, features the 20-year-old would-be diva along with Juicy J and Wiz Khalifa wearing various styles of -- you guessed it -- Air Jordans.

But it's not just the shoes that make the video. Cyrus also struts in two separate outfits made of cleverly-folded jerseys with His Airness' former number, 23. Nearly everyone else in the video is wearing '90s era Bulls championship paraphernalia and number 23 jerseys with the basketball icon's name replaced with the hotshot producer's own moniker. Nevermind the fact that Jordan's instantly recognizable face never appears once, or that his first two championships with the Bulls happened before Cyrus was even born.

Even after factoring in Cyrus' opportunism, the timing of the single and video release is somewhat puzzling. Sure, Mike Will Made-It had been hyping its release for months as the lead single off a future album. And "23" seems to fit just fine in-between a Miley Cyrus Rolling Stone interview, fiancé breakup, dating rumors, pregnancy rumors, MTV special and an upcoming dual host/performance spot on "SNL" to push her upcoming album, Bangerz.

However, not only is "23" not on the album she's marketing, she wasn't even originally considered for the track.

So was Mike Will Made-It simply trying to jump aboard the Miley Cyrus hype machine in a more visible way? Or was the release of an Air Jordan tribute song video right after the Adidas D Rose 4 launch more than a coincidence?

On one hand, the Hannah Lux Davis-directed video does seem like something Nike could've had a hand in. The intro alone features a drawn-out, bouncing Nike logo basketball, and the song chorus -- "J's on my feet/so get like me" -- isn't a far cry from Nike's own "Just Do It."

Furthermore, the production company behind the video, London Alley, also shoots commercials. Specifically, they've made a few for Reebok, including one for the signature shoe line of Tyga -- a rapper they have also made several music videos for.

On the other hand, despite the trend towards product placement in music videos, if Nike had a direct hand in the "23" video release, it likely wouldn't have featured Mike Will Made-It holding a Beats By Dre Pill portable speaker over a high school intercom.

Plus, accessorizing with the aura of professional sports and fashion brands has become par the course for hip-hop. Cyrus' "23" co-collaborator, Wiz Khalifa, first broke with his NFL Pittsburgh Steelers uniform-referencing #1 hit "Black and Yellow." Upcoming touring partners Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar have both name-checked Jordan, the former declaring himself the "Michael Jordan of music", and the latter putting a song out earlier in his career called "Michael Jordan." Fittingly enough, the rappers will be performing Nov. 7 at the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and a popular statue of MJ right out front.

Though "23" is just as much about the man under the jersey as the status and visual splendor of his shoe brand, it's hardly the most blatant fashion homage in rap. Gucci Mane has been more than happy to rely on a high-end brand for his own identity. Kanye West's recent BBC interview reveals that several songs off "Yeezus" were inspired by being dismissed by the fashion world. The video for Migos' "Versace" remix featuring Drake, Meek Mill and Tyga repeats the brand name and flashes its logo so many times, "23" looks subtle by comparison (though it doesn't trump the original video actually starring Donatella Versace). Fittingly, the mixtape "Versace" is on also features the songs "Hannah Montana" and "Dennis Rodman (feat. Gucci Mane)".

Some rappers have moved beyond the mere rhyming and referencing. Beyond his Rocawear apparel line, Jay-Z held a stake in the Brooklyn Nets before relinquishing it to start a sports agency. Will Smith owns part of the Philadelphia 76ers. Following in those footsteps, the Toronto Raptors announced that the city's own Drake (fresh of the release of his third album), would become the team's global ambassador.

On a smaller scale, Chicago rapper Rockie Fresh's Puma endorsement, Kanye's Nike Air Yeezy, and Tyga's aforementioned Reebok line all demonstrate that footwear brands now view rappers as having the same cultural cache and commercial appeal as the NBA's best players.

Of course, rap (among other genres) has always been filled with pop culture references big and small, and athletes have long been courted for product endorsements like any other high-profile figure or celebrity. But with the increasingly blurred overlap emerging between product brand campaigns, professional sports, and rappers, it's hard to keep track of, or even tell, what's a paid endorsement, what's product placement and what's merely praise whenever these worlds converge.

For all the ambiguity surrounding "23", Rose's new Adidias "Basketball is Everything" commercial isn't as clear-cut as it seems. After all, it features Rose with rappers Big Sean, Common and 2 Chainz, and a visual reference of Big Sean's clothing line, Aura Gold.

As the NBA season draws near, the Derrick Rose news cycle is about as likely to slow down as Miley Cyrus is to fade quietly out of the limelight. Nike, by chance or choice, saw a tribute to their Air Jordan brand temporarily draw attention away from the D Rose 4 hype (or news about current Chicago Bulls players, for that matter), and Adidias, by chance or choice, echoed the same cross-branding blur in the latest piece of their myth-making, story arc refining campaign for their star athlete.

Meanwhile, with a still-resonant Jordan and eagerly-anticipated Rose split between rival shoe brands, the Chicago Bulls will continue to be a popular global brand -- and popular to appropriate in ways that may have little to do with actually playing basketball.

Unfortunately, no matter what Derrick Rose and Adidas may say, basketball isn't everything.

Just ask Miley.

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