IRVINE — Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon might be locked out of National Basketball Assn. games next season, but the 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.
The players last faced each other in the NBA finals in June, when Olajuwon's Houston Rockets swept O'Neal's Orlando Magic in four games.
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 experts 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. "We knew it was connected to Pepsico, Reebok or one of [O'Neal's sponsors], but it turned out to be [Pepsico subsidiary] Taco Bell."