The tongue is out, the Bulls togs are on. His Airness, Michael Jordan, is coming back to play ball this fall.
Only not for real. The formidable basketball player and marketing legend is pushing 50 and better suited for the golf course these days. But that hasn't stopped 2K Sports from dragging his Hall of Fame likeness out of retirement.
This week, the sports games subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive released the cover art for its next generation of the NBA 2K franchise, "NBA 2K11," and -- surprise! -- Jordan is the featured player.
Forget that he hasn't hit the court professionally in almost a decade. Stamping Jordan's image on boxes freshens his own image and, more importantly, pulls 2K Sports out of a marketing trench for next season.
You see, the big name in the game today is LeBron James, the erstwhile Cleveland Cavalier who's shopping for a new team the way Carrie Bradshaw shopped for Manolos in "Sex and the City." The free-agent period in the NBA has already started; however, not many moves have been made as the league waits for "King James" to decide where to stash his crown.
Theoretically, James is the domino that will send the others tumbling.
That presents a problem for 2K Sports, which needs a name, face and jersey to start selling its digital brand of basketball. And needs them now. James announced he'll make a public decision Thursday on ESPN (on a one-hour broadcast, no less). But 2K Sports needed a sales plan already. So Jordan, the biggest name who isn't going anywhere, provides a safe, sellable option.
Months of planning and preparation go into video game development and marketing, thus 2K Sports and other publishers must also attempt prognostication -- the divining of the future of sports. Usually, the leagues, players and luck work in their favor. But on occasion, the marketing machine hits a speed bump (Recall the embarrassment Electronic Arts suffered when Packers quarterback Brett Favre suddenly announced his retirement).
"We knew as soon as we signed Jordan that we needed to do something special for the cover," said 2K Sports vice president for marketing Jason Argent, in a news release Wednesday. Flip that statement around and you'll probably get something more closely resembling the truth.