How did the Lil’ Penny character come alive? And how did Chris Rock get involved?
I remember them calling on a lot of comedians who were hot at the time like Damon Wayans, Martin Lawrence, a lot of different comedians who were at the top of their game. They were such big names, so the prices they were asking for were either out of Nike’s budget or they didn’t want to pay that much for the commercial. Chris Rock, who wasn’t as well known at that point, jumped at the opportunity and it turned out to be a big thing for him.
I just remember that every time Tyra Banks was on set, a lot more people were at the shoot that day.
Did you and Chris get to hang out during the commercial shoots?
It was funny because Chris and I never did a shoot together at the same time. He would do his part and by the time I would shoot, all they would do is play voice-overs and playback. We were never on set at the same time doing a commercial.
Lil’ Penny even got his own signature sneaker, did you ever expect that to happen?
Of course not. Looking at it now, you can see the way the economy is going, the way the world is going, and the way the shoe game is going, there would definitely be a spinoff of Lil’ Penny having his own shoe. People appreciate Lil’ Penny now and appreciated Lil’ Penny in the commercials so it doesn’t surprise me now that they’re making signature shoes for him.
The whole commercial series took off and became as popular as the sneakers themselves. Once stars like Tyra Banks came into the fold, did you realize how big the campaign was getting?
Oh yeah, it was amazing. The Super Bowl Party ad we had with all the top Nike athletes, and Tyra Banks getting involved, I knew then that Lil’ Penny had really taken off.
Do you have a favorite commercial that you did for the series?
I like the detective one when I saved Lil’ Penny from the burning office. It was a Penny II commercial and the ABA commercial when we were playing basketball and Lil’ Penny said, “I know my spot, fool!” and he was making baskets from everywhere, it was pretty cool.
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As far as behind-the-scenes, did you get to interact with everyone who appeared on the commercials? Do you have any good stories from any of the shoots?
I just remember that every time Tyra Banks was on-set, a lot more people were at the shoot that day.
What’s your relationship with Nike like now?
I have a great relationship. We’re still doing contracts and we’re working on the Air Penny 6. I’m in a great place, man. Being retired and having not played the game in five or six years and still have shoes coming out in my likeness is a true blessing.