It begins with a lone conversion van cruising northbound on Shields Boulevard in the middle of the night. A spotlight shines on Oklahoma City's skyline as the soulful sound of legendary vocalist Sam Cooke fades in with the classic tune “Good Times.”
The next 53 seconds seem surreal.
But it's the commercial's final five that can send chills down your spine.
As that silver van rolls north along Robinson Avenue, three spotlights illuminate the city's skyline. The unmistakable 50-story Devon Tower rises high above all else. The words “Basketball Never Stops,” and an accompanying Nike swoosh, then splash across the skyline to close out the one-minute spot.
“I first saw it during the football game Sunday night,” said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. “I was watching it with my brother, and I remember turning to him as we were both watching it and we were both amazed. I looked at him and said ‘What is that worth?'”
If you still haven't seen Kevin Durant's latest commercial, you need to stop what you're doing, log on to YouTube, search “KD Paint the Town” and sit back and enjoy. Then hit the replay button until your heart's content.
That's how good the Oklahoma City Thunder star's new Nike ad is.
“Five seconds into it, you have to remind yourself that this is a national commercial,” Cornett said. “Because your first instinct is that it's a very well-done local commercial. And then you realize, no, everyone is seeing this. It's just really well done.”
Durant filmed the commercial, which made its television debut last Sunday night, over a four-day span in mid-October. As part of Nike's Basketball Never Stops campaign, Durant is seen searching for and showing up at various locations throughout the Oklahoma City area to join games of pick-up basketball. The spotlights serve as his guides, leading him to games with everyone from truckers to senior citizens.
“It's based on Kevin's love of the game,” explained Nike spokesperson Cindy Hamilton. “Everyone would agree that it's obvious that he would be looking for opportunities to play every day even if he wasn't in the NBA. His love of the game is authentic in how he lives his life and how he plays the game. And so this campaign really honors and amplifies his spirit and his desire to always want to play.”
Throughout the 149-day NBA lockout, Durant cemented his reputation as a gym rat, randomly showing up and playing at parks and gymnasiums in each corner of the country.
The reigning two-time scoring champ became an instant playground legend and internet sensation when he scored 66 points at New York City's renowned Rucker Park on Aug. 1. He scored 40-plus in two more New York City events that same week then took his one-man show national, making appearances in Atlanta, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, Portland, Dallas and Oklahoma City. In July, Durant traveled to China and the Philippines for basketball clinics and showcases.
On Halloween, Durant amazed the sports world when he joined Oklahoma State students in Stillwater for a night of flag football.
Hamilton said Durant's undying accessibility and willingness to engage fans made his new ad a natural fit.
“Whether it's digitally or physically, he's constantly talking to fans and going one-on-one with them on Twitter and Facebook,” Hamilton said. “So that is also something that we wanted to bring about through the spot.”
Viewers of the commercial are treated to a tour of Oklahoma City as Durant drives around in search of games. He joins businessmen and women atop a parking garage that locals might recognize as the court belonging to The Classen apartments at NW 23rd and Classen. He joins a family-style barbeque and plays on the side of a barn near Route 66 and County Line Road. He surprises senior citizens at a game night, which was filmed at Taft Middle School and Olivet Baptist Church near NW 10th and Western. One man, sporting a white headband and blue T-shirt, mimics Durant's shoulder shimmy as he prepares to shoot a free throw.
Durant also gets schooled on a drive and reverse layup by a cassock-wearing clergyman outside a local church, which is the distinctive First Presbyterian Church on NW 25th Street.
Durant even takes it to a group of truckers at a local Love's Travel Stop, where he rains in a jumper on a goal assembled to the back of a truck.
“We wanted to really showcase the diversity of the city,” said Hamilton. “We feel like Oklahoma City has a big-city feel but at the same time it also has large, open, southern, Midwestern space and feels to it as well. And so we wanted to bring those aspects to life.”
The only footage that wasn't filmed in Oklahoma City was a park scene in which Durant went one-on-one with rapper and friend J. Cole. That scene was filmed in Los Angeles.
Everything and everyone else was local.
“A lot of the people had no acting experience at all,” said Chris Freihofer, the commercial's casting director and owner of Freihofer Casting. “They just came and played basketball and got to hang out with Kevin Durant. And you could see all the joy on their faces and how much fun they were having.”
Freihofer said he was taken back by how several hundred people responded to his casting call. “There was a ton of interest,” he said.
Hamilton said Nike chose to film in Oklahoma City because there was no better place to celebrate Durant's authenticity than in his host city. It also gave Durant an opportunity to give back to the community.
“The city itself has such unique character and diversity,” Hamilton said. “And that's just rich for storytelling and rich for this kind of campaign.”
Cornett, who lobbied hard to bring the NBA to town in large part because of how the league would promote Oklahoma City, said the publicity at this point “is just layer upon layer.”
“The commercial's about Kevin. It's not about the city,” Cornett said. “But I think the idea that they've gone to Kevin's city to shoot it kind of reflects that we get the connection with him the same way Nike does. Nike wants to be associated with Kevin Durant, and Oklahoma City's brand wants to be associated with Kevin Durant. Our skyline wants to be associated with Kevin Durant. So we get the same benefit as Nike from that perspective. He's a magical personality right now.”