Commentary

A brief history of talking sports objects

Originally Published: May 24, 2011
By Patrick Dorsey | Special to Page 2

You talkin' to me?

Wait, you're a basketball. Why are you talking at all?

Oh, it's because you're part of the NBA's 2011 playoffs ad campaign, and with a strangely familiar voice (Is that Hank Azaria? Michael Clarke Duncan? Charlie Murphy? Maybe even John Slattery?) you're talking about old times on the court -- be it Derek Fisher's famous "0.4" shot or Michael Jordan's emotional moment. Lately you've even been interviewing legends like Dr. J.

But before you feel too special, Page 2 is here to let you know: You're not the only sports-related inanimate object to somehow sprout vocal cords and speak to mass audiences. For years -- decades, even -- we've been hearing all sorts of things from … all sorts of things.

Such as …

NIKE PUPPETS DIVISION

The MVPuppets: They talked, they chalked, they taunted, and they even sang. In 2009 the Kobe and LeBron puppets starred in numerous commercials. One problem: The seemingly inevitable Lakers-Cavs matchup was derailed by Orlando. One positive: If nothing else, these commercials brought back memories of …

Li'l Penny: The king of this list. Also a Nike commercial star, the mid-1990s miniaturized puppet version of Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway was voiced by a comedy rock star (Chris Rock, that is) and might have left a greater legacy than the talented but injury-riddled Magic guard.

Frank the Talking Headcover: Remember when Tiger could do ads like these, featuring a laid-back Woods and a talking Tiger headcover? Now he's sputtering -- unlike Paul Giamatti, the Oscar-nominated actor who provided Frank's voice (and is the son of late former MLB commissioner Bart).

EQUIPMENT DIVISION

Peter Puck: Forget selling product. How about selling a sport? Back in the 1970s, networks aired instructional hockey videos to TV audiences, featuring and narrated by a strangely adorable talking puck. Three decades later, some teams even brought him back, CGI-style.

Scooter the Talking Baseball: Was all video of this guy destroyed? A cursory Web search couldn't unearth any clips of Fox baseball's Scooter, the mid-2000s character voiced by SpongeBob SquarePants himself (Tom Kenny).

Pille the Talking Football/Soccer Ball: Everything the World Cup touches is gold, right? Apparently not Pille, nor his/her/its friend Goleo VI, who served as co-mascots for Germany 2006 and didn't quite catch on.

Reebok RealFlex 76 Buddies: aka the crew on the soles of Reebok's new flexible shoes. Between this, the NBA ball, the McDonald's lemon and ads for the Kevin James movies "Zookeeper," this could be the trippiest playoffs ever.

MOVIE DIVISION

The "Cars" Cars: They race, they talk, and they made big bank back in 2006. Now -- also seen in TV spots during the NBA playoffs -- they're back to dispense more auto-wisdom with a sequel (June 24).

Screwie and Darlin' from "Everyone's Hero": Those talking cars grossed $462 million worldwide. Talking ball and bat, voiced by Rob Reiner and Whoopi Goldberg? Same year, just $16 million. Even Scooter fared better.

Wilson: Well, at least Tom Hanks could hear him talk.

And finally ... SEINFELD DIVISION

The Phil Rizzuto Keychain: Two words: "Holy cow."

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Patrick Dorsey is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor for ESPN.com. He has worked for the Web and newspapers. He also played in one Division-III golf tournament (he shot 105).