Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon might be locked out of National Basketball Assn. games next season, but a fledgling labor dispute is not stopping the All-Star duo from scoring points as television pitchmen for Taco Bell's new Double Decker taco.
The commercials are the follow-up to an advertising campaign that began in late June with teaser advertisements in several newspapers suggesting that the nation's two dominant basketball centers would go one-on-one on the court.
In the first ad, O'Neal challenged Olajuwon to a follow-up match: "Sure, you're pretty good with your team behind you, but I want you one-on-one."
Olajuwon's response in a subsequent ad was: "Shaq: You want to go one-on-one? No problem. Anywhere, any way, any time at all."
The advertisements prompted a flurry of speculation that the two centers would meet each other in a one-on-one match. Is an on-the-court matchup possible?
"That's up to them and their agents," said Jonathan Blum, vice president of Irvine-based Taco Bell. "It's not up to Taco Bell, but it's one match I wouldn't want to miss."
In the commercials, produced by director Spike Lee, the contest pits Taco Bell's soft taco against its hard-shell taco, with O'Neal favoring crunchy and Olajuwon opting for soft. The centers agree, though, on the Double Decker. Taco Bell's newest menu item wraps a hard taco in a soft flour tortilla.
The initial advertisements, which analysts described as a highly effective way to build interest in Taco Bell's newest product, caught even NBA officials off guard.
"We saw them [in the newspaper] the same day everyone else did and wondered what the hell was going on," an NBA spokesman said.