by Eldon Khorshidi / @eldonadam
Though you may not recognize the name, there’s a good chance you’ll recognize the face. Jesse LeBeau is that “little white boy” in the Nike Kobe Zoom VI commercial (above), which catapulted his career as a ‘commercial actor’ and aspiring streetballer. We sat down with the 24-year-old to discuss the business of basketball commercials, the emergence of Ball Up as the new face of streetball, and the developing urban sports watch company Deuce Brand.
SLAM: Tell us a little about your history, both on and off the court.
Jesse LeBeau:I was born in Ketchikan, Alaska. My parents are from Alaska; my dad is originally from California but he eventually settled in Alaska when he married my mom. I used to take a boat to get to school growing up. I would go everyday before school in the dark and the janitor would open the gym for me. I’ve spent my whole life in the gym, like literally my whole life because of my school situation in Alaska: the sky was dark on my way into and out of school, so there were not many ‘outdoor’ activities to partake in. I always had a love for basketball, and ever since middle school I was constantly in the gym. In Alaska, there’s not much to do, so basketball is king.
SLAM: Did you play against good competition in high school?
JL: Yes sir. We lost in the State Championship to Mario Chalmers’ team in both my junior and senior year.
SLAM: That’s dope. You guys are both point guards so I know you must’ve guarded him and vice versa. How’d that go?
JL: To be honest, he never impressed me [laughs]. He had long arms, could pass well and was a solid defender, but he didn’t dominate the game. At that point he was one of the top players in the nation. We both scored like 13 points for our respective teams. I don’t get how he’s gotten so far. Must be a hard worker… and had some luck [laughs].
SLAM: What about after college? Is that when you linked up with Michael ‘Airdogg’ Stewart and Haneef ‘Young Hollywood’ Munir of Team Flight Brothers?
JL: Yeah. After college, I wasn’t getting many looks because of my size (LeBeau’s a modest 5-11) and I didn’t have a lot of exposure being from Alaska. Michael was a college teammate of mine. He knew Haneef through some dunk competitions from back in the day.
One day after practice, Airdogg let me in on a little secret: that he was doing commercials in college, but he was keeping that on the low. He already had some sick ones with Vince Carter, Michael Jordan, and was even in a Master P music video. He brought me up for an audition for a Wells Fargo commercial. I didn’t get casted but I got called back which was cool. At the audition I met Young Hollywood and all three of us clicked. They had the dunks and crazy athleticism (see below), and I had the dribbling and lob passes. We knew we had a good shot at making something happen. That experience linked me up with TFB and opened my eyes to the whole commercial business side of basketball.
SLAM: For the readers who don’t know, give a quick explanation of what Team Flight Brothers is…
JL: Team Flight Brothers is a group started by a guy named Chuck Millan. He got a group of guys and put out videos on YouTube. It was Airdogg, Young Hollywood, Jonesy, TDub, Werm, and some other guys. TFB had been around while we’re in college, but Airdogg joined it during our college years. It evolved from YouTube into NBA halftime dunk shows and All-Star Weekend attractions. There are some more complicated parts that I’m not too familiar with, but that’s the basic gist of it.
SLAM: So how did you land the Kobe Commercial? That must’ve been fun…
JL: Michael introduced me to his agent who ended up signing me and I started auditioning and got a small part on a Nike commercial with Dwyane Wade and Kevin Hart. You don’t see my face in the spot but it was still very exciting. Then I auditioned for the Kobe commercial in mid-December and got called back. They had me do some acting, recite some lines, and then play 2 on 2. I had the audition of a lifetime; everything went picture perfect and kids and people in the stands were yelling ‘white chocolate’ and I got a standing ovation when I finished. Four days later I got the final call and the rest is history.
SLAM: Very cool. How was shooting a commercial? Probably a lot more goes into it than we see on TV.
JL: Definitely. I did one day of wardrobe, one day of working with Kobe’s trainer to make sure the moves were on point, and two days of 14 hours of actual shooting. Honestly, it was exhausting as hell. I never realized how much goes into a 60 second commercial. It’s a lot of hard work. You have to shoot it from so many different angles and the lighting has to be perfect.
SLAM: But at least you had the chance to meet Kobe, right?
JL: Ah, no! I didn’t get to meet Kobe. But since everyone asks, I might start telling people I did [laughs].
SLAM: Is the commercial business lucrative? We’ve seen guys like the ‘Verizon Man’ make a living off commercials, but it’s not that common.
JL: Yes [laughs]. Commercial acting is an industry I didn’t even know existed, but if you land the right gigs, you can make a comfortable living off of 1-3 commercials a year. I’m working on some stuff with Nike right now, and hopefully things blossom over well. But it’s tough if you only do commercials, because then your basically living off your last paycheck and hoping for the next one.
SLAM: No doubt. Tell us a little about the Ball Up movement.
JL: A bunch of guys left the AND1 tour a little while back—The Professor, Air Up There, AO, Sik Wit It—and made the move to Ball Up, which was developing at the time. I guess Ball Up made a heavier push than AND1. It’s basically a new, revamped, streetball tour that’s proliferating and expanding.
SLAM: How’d you get involved with Ball Up?
JL: One of the coaches saw me in a celebrity game, and asked me and some members of Team Flight Brothers to play against the Ball Up team in a sort of ‘tryout’. Matt Barnes and Rick Fox were the coaches (Barnes was our coach). We went and played and it went well and I got the name ‘Spin Cycle.’ Now I’m hoping to get voted on and win a contract with them so I can tour all over the world! The first ten games are all in California, at Cal-State Northridge, and then the final team will go onto the International tour. I’m real excited about Ball Up and the push to bring streetball back on TV. I’m passionate to use basketball as a tool to spread a positive message to kids around the world.
SLAM: How’s the competitive atmosphere of streetball? Do guys actually play defense?
JL: All of these guys can really play. The dunks are obviously unbelievable, especially in person. The ball handling, tricks, and showmanship are all at a very high level too. On the defensive end, a lot of people are afraid to get embarrassed so they back down. I think it has a lot to do with pride, which is kind of unfortunate. I try to go hard on defense. But I do pick my matchups wisely [laughs].
JL: Another one of my college teammates founded Deuce Brand like a year ago. Right now, The Professor and I are pushing the company hard. It’s an urban up-and-coming watch company; a combination of ion bands with a digital watch. An increasing amount of NBA and NFL athletes are wearing the product and working with Deuce Brand on and off the field, including Matt Barnes, Greveis Vasquez, CJ Watson, Nick Collins of the Green Bay Packers, and Stevie Johnson of the Buffalo Bills. It’s a huge movement that’s really looking good.
You can catch Jesse LeBeau and members of Team Flight Brothers in the Ball Up Tour on Fox Sports Network every Sunday at 5pm/9pm pst.