It's funny how names stick in one's memory. Growing up in the UK in the 1980's, I saw kids idolize American sport stars; most of which had never seen their idols play.
The names I am going to discuss below are still etched in my memory, even though they had little influence on the sports I participated in when growing up. When I talk about American sports stars here, I'm not talking about people like Hulk Hogan and Tom Watson who were well-known to the uk audience. I'm talking about sports which were not mainstream here in the Uk.
1 - Michael Jordan
Oh Man!! If there ever was a person who was a Global Brand, it would be this man. Nike Air Jordan merchandise was the thing to have in the 80's. The caps and the jackets were the things to haCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/4950349054/ve if you wanted to look cool.
With a lot of imitations on the market, I think that 80% of the UK child population were wearing the Jordan badge. Basketball on TV was rarely seen; a few kids had hoops put up in their yard, but not many. Any influx in interest was due to the hype surrounding Jordan which in turn spread the brand like wildfire; never has a man helped promote awareness to Basketball in the Uk as much as Michael Jordan.
2 - William Perry 'The Refrigerator'
"Have you seen the size of the fridge?" If I had a dollar for every time I heard this question. I remember my dad showing me a picture of him in the local press, I don't remember the article, but didn't need to, as the nickname said it all.
Perry was the talk of the school, and any other establishment you would venture into. Whenever someone saw a 'larger than life' person in the street who looked hard as brick wall, you would here, "That guys like the fridge".
Again, it was media attention that planted the seed which saw thousands of young children hassling their parents to stay up late to watch American Football.
3 - John Madden
Any kid who owned a computer had heard of John Madden. The 'John Madden football game' was hugely addictive, and any serious gamer would have this title in their collection. Until recently, when doing a little research for this article, I knew very little with regards to John Madden. It surprised me greatly to find out the success he achieved as a coach. The Madden NFL game is still going strong even today
On the rare occasion that we weren't playing soccer in the school yard, the kid in class who became obsessed with NFL, would reach into his bag and take out his American football. There would then be a ten minute argument over who would be quarterbacks, with the winners starting another argument over who would be 'Montana'. Whenever I watched NFL on TV, this is the man I always looked out for. Joe Montana - cool and talented, what a legend!
5 - Patrick Ewing
Another NBA Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/2310536465/'Hall of Fame' player makes it into the top 5. What do I know about this man? What does he look like? Who did he play for? How successful was he? Well, I couldn't really answer any of those questions when I was a kid. However, what I do know is that all the super cool kids were wearing Ewing sneakers with his signature on the side.
Yet another example of how global superstars become marketable brands and influence the consumer.