Nike’s most unusual 3-on-3 game featured Charles Barkley taking on sumo wrestlers with Michael Jordan refereeing


Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan has participated in countless Nike promotional events over the years. However, arguably none were stranger than the time that Jordan refereed a three-on-three basketball game featuring NBA legend Charles Barkley taking on sumo wrestlers in Japan.

As the NBA grew in worldwide popularity in the 1990s, Nike started to increasingly promote the league on the world stage. This included the continent of Asia, with Jordan and other NBA stars participating in the “Hoop Heroes” tour in Japan in 1996.

During the tour, Jordan was joined by Barkley, as well as Jason Kidd and Michael Finley. The event, which took place at the Yokohama Arena, featured music, light shows, and interactive activities for fans. The Tokyo Broadcasting System also televised it.

As part of the tour, Jordan and Barkley squared off in a traditional four-on-four game. However, things took a bizarre turn during the event’s three-on-three game as Barkley, Kidd and Finley took on a group of sumo wrestlers. Jordan, on the other hand, opted to officiate the game.

The playful matchup mostly consisted of the NBA stars attempting uncontested jumpers while the sumo wrestlers lingered in the key waiting for rebounds. The players, of course, were not going full out, either. Nonetheless, it looks like everyone involved still had a good time.

Also read: 21-year-old Michael Jordan once bought 7 cars in a single day but ended up keeping just a black Mercedes

Nike’s Hoop Heroes tour featuring Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley was a big success for the company

NBA legend Charles Barkley taking on sumo wrestlers at the 1996 Nike Hoop Heroes tour
NBA legend Charles Barkley taking on sumo wrestlers at the 1996 Nike Hoop Heroes tour

As for the success of the Nike Hoop Heroes tour, it reportedly led to big profits for the company. In a 1996 article, AdAge’s Jeff Jensen reported on the event, saying that it generated “hefty profits” for Nike:

“High on entertainment values like music and lighting, and heavy on athlete-spectator interaction, the show even had some NBA stars challenging a group of Japan’s best sumo wrestlers to a game of basketball.

“Tokyo Broadcasting System televised the events; Nike is now shopping for an international distributor. Nike also set up a retail space for its athletic footwear and apparel, and reported brisk sales and hefty profits,” Jensen wrote.

Today, basketball in Asia is as popular as ever, with an increasing number of players touring Asian countries as part of their endorsement deals. However, NBA players facing off against sumo wrestlers is still a rare sight to behold.

Also read: Michael Jordan once nearly faced a horrific accident after learning of Magic Johnson’s HIV diagnosis

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