Here's Part I in case you missed it.
"You know, the first attraction I ever built when I came down south from Scotland? It was a Flea Circus, Petticoat Lane. Really quite wonderful. We had a wee trapeze, and ah, a merry-go - -a carousel - - and a seesaw. They all moved, motorized of course, but people would swear they could see the fleas. "I see the fleas, mummy! Can't you see the fleas?" Clown fleas, high wire fleas, fleas on parade... But with this place, I wanted to show them something that wasn't an illusion, something that was real, something they could see and touch. An aim not devoid of merit."
My plan was to take advantage of being so close to Central Park and go for a run before heading over to the mysterious warehouse to see the mysterious presentation for the mysterious new Syracuse Orange uniforms. That plan is D.O.A. when I hit the snooze button. When I finally do wake up, I have just enough time to shower, pack, do a morning email check and get my ass down to the lobby.
Waiting there are my fellow bloggers and we're herded into a black SUV with tinted windows that is waiting just for us. It's close to 9:30 a.m. and the presentation is set to begin at 10:00 a.m. The powers-that-be have said we shouldn't arrive until just a few minutes beforehand so we sit in the car for a good ten minutes before our driver is given the okay. We do not speak a word to our driver the entire time. It is awkward.
Upon say-so, he takes us over to Good Units, a "raw, multi-level, subterranean space which houses high profile exhibitions, installations, fashion shows and film screenings." It's raw indeed. As we're taken down into the bowels of the building, it slightly resembles the set from the first Saw movie, except covered in Nike logos.
First thing I notice when we walk inside is that, when it comes to making sure everything is covered, they spare no expense in manpower. There seems to be three Nike or agency employees for every guest in the space. If I had asked a question, I imagine the sound of a dozen people answering it and six more speaking into their headpieces would have been overwhelming. Despite the fact that no one will see this save for a handful of media folks, this is no throwaway event.
We finally make it down to the bottom floor and are told to wait by the bar while they prep the showroom. On the bar is a continental breakfast spread as well as a bevy of sodas, but no water. 10:00 a.m. Diet Coke it is.
There's a crowd of about fifteen people around us and everyone seems to be in their own little pod. We're the blogger pod. There's a photog pod and a reporter pod and a Nike rep pod. The only folks who seem to be mingling are representatives from each of the schools featured today. A guy from Baylor comes over to say hi. I say, "I bet you're having a nice year," which I'm sure has been everyone's go-to ice-breaker with him for weeks now. He chuckled and confirms that it has, in fact, been a very nice year.
It's at this point I realize that Baylor is here and that's crazy.
I'm surprised not to see anyone from Syracuse. I had overheard someone in the hotel lobby saying that Daryl Gross was in town but I guess not. Just figured someone would have made the trek down to New York City to see New York's College Team's new uniforms.
I did meet a Kentucky rep and he's everything I would expect a Kentucky rep to be. He introduces himself in a way that seems to actually say, "Who are you here with?" When I say that I'm a Syracuse blogger, he references the 1996 National Championship game within fifteen seconds. He shoehorns in the fact that "Coach Cal" is undefeated at home since taking over the Wildcats and there's mention of large home attendance as well (not that I asked). Unimpressed with the conversational merits that we bloggers provide, he walks away without a word when the conversation stalls.
I reach for another Diet Coke.
"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."
As the moment nears for the doors to open and the platinum to start flowing, we bloggers spy two tall, skinny tables off in the corner. Our assumption, which is confirmed by the Nike rep nearby, is that these are here for us. A place to set up shop and blog our butts off following the presentation.
I'm impressed. I don't expect this kind of foresight. I speed-walk over to claim my spot near the plug before anyone else cause I'm a selfish jerk.
Around 10:10 they let us in to the big room. Like everything else, it's dark and mysterious. There's a giant open space in front of us with a basketball hoop and not much else. Three rows of bleachers cover the south and east corners while the west and north are a giant, blank wall. There are projections all over the wall, which we are about to find out, is just the beginning.
Once we all take out seats, a young boy walks out onto the "court" in front of us with a basketball. While I don't have video of the entire presentation that followed, here's the intro:
From there, begins what I can best describe as "basketball performance art." Through the magic of graphics, the boy and his court and transported to other lands, other worlds and even the back of a giant lizard at some point. And every time he finds himself in a new landscape, he "transforms" into a 6'7" college basketball player wearing one of the new Nike Hyper Elite Platinum uniforms, taking the time to dunk on top of a lizard, and then transforming back into the boy. A couple times he even morphs into a 5'11" female basketball player.
The Desert Wastelands...
The Recycled Cherry 7-Up Bottle Forest:
The famous Hoth Playground court:
The Court next to French Fry Ocean:
And Gojira Court:
The concept being that, no matter what the climate, temperature, pressure or situation, Nike Hyper Elite Platinum uniforms will perform, however it is that a uniform performs. I suppose that works the same way Gatorade "helps" you, but the point is made.
"All major changes are like death. You can't see what is on the other side until you get there."
After our trip through the Basketball Galaxy, we return to the here and now as all of the players return to the front and the little boy disappears. Was he ever really there in the first place??? (Yes, he was).
One by one, the players take their turn to strike a pose in front of a giant image of themselves doing something aggressive, like throwing an elbow or yelling for the hell of it.
From there, the players assemble as a Nike rep emerges to explain the nuances of the uniform series. That the schools wearing them are schools that Nike considers elite programs. Every school wearing the uniform has also won a National Title while wearing Nike uniforms, a detail included in each uniform and warm-up:
The presentation comes to a close and we're told the players will now line up so that we can take photos. This requires you to stand in front of the models, all of whom look like they'd rather be on an actual basketball court than standing here waiting for you schnooks to take photos of them.
We're told that we can now join everyone on the next level up where there are manneqins wearing the uniforms. We're also told we can interview the Nike rep. No one does.
But we do take lots of pictures of the mannequins.
And with that, I got to writing. The uniforms themselves had already been leaked so that took a bit of the edge off, though I was glad to see there was some value in the photos and information I was passing along.
About a half-hour into my writing, a Nike rep set up shop next to me. He said outloud, "I just heard Darren Rovell is talking about the uniforms," which struck me as an interesting thing to say because the "talking" that he was referring to was more like "trashing."
At this point, I turned to him and said, "You probably shouldn't check CBS Sports." He replied, "They don't like it?" I concurred and his response said it all, "As long as they're talking about it" and went back to work as if I had told him the sky was blue.
That was no revelation. It was not shocking to hear. I've read many articles on the "as long as they're talking about" mantra that carries the endless Oregon uniform monstrosities.
I'd just never seen it in person. There it was. Confirmed. It does not matter what you say about these uniforms, only that you say something.
The room soon cleared out. The models remained and began an impromptu dunk contest back in the big room. From what I could tell, the Syracuse model won. Just sayin'.
As I kept writing and updating, I soon realized that us three bloggers were eventually the only non-Nike employees and clean-up crew left. The mannequins had been packed up. The models left in their street-clothes. We figured we'd done enough damage and decided to leave as well.
And with that, the day rapidly came to an end. The SUV took us back to the hotel. We soon split up. I ducked into a Starbucks to catch up on my emails and posting before the car scheduled to pick me up and take me to Newark for my flight arrived.
"You never had control! That's the illusion! I was overwhelmed by the power of this place. But I made a mistake, too. I didn't have enough respect for that power and it's out now."
Leaving the event, I'm struck by the fact that no one from Nike ever once tried to tip my hand in how to react to the uniforms. No one even checked on me after the presentation to ask me what I thought. In fact, in conversation with a high-ranking communications person with Nike, he went out of his way not to ask me what I thought.
And as far as I know, no one from Nike checked to make sure I was actually writing something about the uniforms and not just playing Mafia Wars on their dime. And since I left the event, no one from Nike has actually spoken to me. I was there, with them, and then I wasn't.
I have to appreciate the way I was treated as a whole. It truly was a "spare no expense" trip and I wanted for just about nothing. And when it came time for me to "pay them back," no expectations were laid out. No boilerplates, no requests and no demands.
You could chalk it up to the monolithic structure of a mega-corporation like Nike. How could they possibly micro-manage little old me? But I feel like it was part of the way they do business. Like so many of their uniforms, they're elastic, free-flowing and curiously abstract.
It finally occurred to me while I was sitting in Newark Airport what the other side of Nike is. I had read online that every time one of the schools wearing a Nike Elite Hyper Platinum uniform played, they would be playing a team that wears Adidas or Under Armour. Not only that, but on more than one occasion a Nike team would be playing Maryland (Under Armour's flagship school) and Notre Dame (Adidas' flagship school).
The uniforms were about the school playing against them as much as they're about the school wearing them.
They're a giant f*** you to Nike's competitors.
And that's the trade-off for a school like Syracuse. When you sign on the dotted line to wear Nike gear, it's a contract signed in blood. Nike tells you that they will provide with the very best. The finest uniforms. The nicest sneakers. The sleekest designs. The most up-to-date materials.
But every so often, you need to pay them back. And being a pawn in their merchandising war against their competitors is that payment. The Nike Hyper Elite Platinum uniforms are the weapon, schools like Syracuse and Duke and Florida are the soldier and Adidas and Under Armour are the enemy.
Don't fire until you see the logo on their uniform, men.
If the battle to supply the nation's college athletics programs their uniforms is being fought, then this is Nike pointing at its crotch and saying, "What now, huh?"