Yeah, Spike still lives in Brooklyn. Leave Brooklyn? Are you mental? Spike may never leave the block. As a teenager, he lived on Washington Park (his dad still lives there). Now Spike lives in a nice brownstone around the corner and works around yet another corner. Your serious homeboy.
Spike dreamed up Mars Blackmon for his first commercial film, She's Gotta Have It, and then unearthed him for Nike's Air Jordan ads. Actually, Nike ad writer Jim Riswold and producer Bill Davenport unearthed Mars. They were watching She's Gotta Have It when they noticed that Mars didn't take off his Jordans even to do the nasty. Light bulbs went off in their heads. Was it tough to sell Spike on doing an ad with Jordan? "I think he would've done the commercial free, just to meet Michael," says Riswold.
The first Nike ad was "Hang Time," in which Mars ends up hanging on the basket rim while Jordan dunks on him. Very cold. Directed by Spike in his beloved black-and-white, the ad was filmed in one murderous day. "I remember Michael saying over and over, 'How many more dunks do I have to do?' " says Riswold.
Riswold writes the ads, but they're occasionally Spiked. For instance, it was Spike's idea to call Jordan "Money," as in, "Money, why you wanna leave me hang-in'?" He also put the "Shuddup down there! We're trying to make a commercial!" into the ad shot in Mars's bedroom. As for the famous line "Do you know? Do you know? Do you know?" it came from Spike screwing up in She's Gotta Have It. "When I couldn't remember what line came next, I'd just say the line I knew a few times," Spike remembers. "The first time I did it, we realized it worked, so we kept it." The rest is street-hip history.
From Jordan's point of view, Spike can cop an attitude anytime he wants. "Spike's fun to be around, and he knows basketball," says Jordan. Besides, in Spike's ads, Jordan doesn't have 29 takes' worth of Wheaties dripping from his chin.
As for Spike, you can bring up Mars only a few times before he starts dropping the Cone of Silence over your head. "I never wanted to play Mars for a clown," he says. Spike wants to be serious, wants to be angry, wants to be an artist, and Mars keeps tweaking his nose. Mars was even offered his own movie for polymillions, but Spike turned it down. Now Spike wouldn't mind letting Mars fade out for good. "I think we'll let Mars die a natural death," he says. And you think he means soon.
Spike and Mars have one other thing in common: the sports page. Spike is Jack Nicholson East. He is seen at more Knick games than Marv Albert. He goes to Mets games and to Giants football games and to whatever game is being played tonight. This man is so afflicted that he reads The National. He weaves sports motifs throughout his films. Nola, the sexually hyperactive protagonist of She's Gotta Have It, wears the jersey of former Knick (now Washington Bullet) Bernard King, the ultimate scoring machine. Mookie, the loafing pizza delivery man who starts Brooklyn burning in Do the Right Thing, wears the jersey of Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers' pioneering black baseball hero. Pete Rose, Darryl Dawkins and Mike Tyson have all popped up in Spike Lee "joints." Truth is, Spike is no different from you or me in his rage for sports, except that when he yells at a Chicago Bulls game, "Yo, way to house him, Michael," Jordan looks at him and says, "Thanks," and then they have dinner together after the game.
Speaking of which, since the Mars interview has gone zilcho, you beg an invitation to go with Spike to the Knicks-Bulls game at Madison Square Garden tonight, where Jordan himself will appear. This is such a required event for Spike (two courtside seats) that he will miss the Broadway debut of his sister, actress Joie Lee, in the Lincoln Center performance of the Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston play Mule Bone. "She understands," he says. After the game, Spike and Jordan chat about a possible project for Fox. Then Jordan is off to the Black Girls' Coalition party at Reins, Lee is off to Joie's cast party...and you are off on a story that could go nowhere.
What makes this guy so color conscious? He signs letters and screenplays with the Malcolm X marching slogan "By any means necessary." In his journal, he'll write "Black to work" or "Black to the future." His production company is called 40 Acres and a Mule, after the grants that American slaves mistakenly believed they would receive after emancipation. Last year Spike pulled 40 tons of money out of Citibank because it did business with South Africa. He refuses to allow his films to be released in South Africa while apartheid laws exist. He made a deal last year to take over Spin magazine for one issue, telling the editor, Bob Guccione Jr., that it would be Spin's "blackest" issue ever. It was. (It was also the Spikiest issue; Spike put himself on the cover, conducted two interviews, featured his sister in an article and mentioned himself 27 times.)