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He's Gotta Pitch It
Rick Reilly
May 27, 1991
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May 27, 1991

He's Gotta Pitch It


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So you set off in February to do a story on the new black sports guru, Spike Lee, and you get the brilliant idea to have his alter ego, Mars Blackmon, the original Look, Mom, I Can Fly guy, do the interview for him. Can't you see it? Mars Blackmon, star of Nike's Mike and Spike ads, Mr. Street Chic, doing his first recorded interview! It would go like....

Q: So, Mars, what are your thoughts on Milwaukee Bucks forward Fred Roberts?

A: Yo, that haircut is radioactive!

Q: Are you saying his haircut is odd?

A: Are 7-Eleven smocks dorky?

Stuff like that. So you try it on him, and what do you get? Glacier floes. Turns out Spike Lee doesn't appreciate being thought of as Mars Blackmon or the guy who plays Mars Blackmon or even the guy who invented Mars Blackmon. In fact, Spike Lee will sign anything, anytime, except when somebody asks him to sign as Mars. Then he gives the Anthony Perkins stare, straight ahead, with those big, sleepy eyes. Guess you can't blame him.

People think of him as Mars, this one tiny character, instead of as the leading black American filmmaker and the writer, producer, actor, spokesman, thinker and T-shirt designer he has become. If it can be said that blacks carry the lead in American culture—in music, sports, vernacular and dance—then Spike Lee is carrying one hell of a lot of it on his bony little shoulders. Besides everything else he has done—the ads (Nike, Levi's, Diet Coke), the books (four, so far), the music videos (Anita Baker, Branford Marsalis, Steel Pulse, Public Enemy), the presidential campaign commercials (Jesse Jackson), the speeches (25 colleges last year)—he is film's new Orson Welles, hatching the idea, writing the script, producing the film, directing it, stealing every scene and driving Hollywood crazy with his insistence on having the final cut. So when you ask him to talk like Mars, he gets offended. Sort of like Van Gogh might have been if you had hollered, "Yo, Vinnie! Do Sunflowers!"

Still, for a guy who plays him so well, Spike is about as far from Mars as he is from...Mars. Check Mars out: the big black Cazals, the Brooklyn bike hat, the Georgetown T, the big gold nameplate around his neck, the bike shorts and the Dexedrine mouth filing everything in triplicate. On the other hand, check Spike out as he walks in for an interview: corduroy pants about two sizes too big for him, a wool sweater three sizes too big for him (where does Spike shop for this stuff, Chez Ewing?), a Malcolm X letter jacket (from a biographical movie he hopes to begin this fall), an X hat, leopard-rimmed specs and, of course, new Air Jordans, which Nike must fly in fresh daily.

As for his mouth, Spike is about as talkative as tile grout. He speaks only if he has something important to say, and, even then, you could get sciatica leaning over to hear it. How can Spike and Mars be the same person? Who knows? Nobody said Spike Lee makes sense. He has a gorgeous '60 T-Bird but can't drive. He loves basketball but stands 5'5". He is building a house next to a golf course on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts but hates golf. He weighs maybe 100 pounds with the Air Jordans on, yet his daily food intake is just less than that of Sandusky, Ohio. For instance, as we try to get inside him, we have to dodge some serious chicken fingers, fries and a cherry Coke, which he puts down in the corner booth at Junior's, a favorite restaurant of Spike's, in downtown Brooklyn.

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