Marvel and ESPN are teaming up to turn an NBA game into an Avengers story in real-time, even going so far as to give players Marvel Hero Points for on-court heroics.
If that sounds like something totally foreign and odd to you, don’t worry — this is very likely a first-of-its kind promotion between the two media giants (both of which are owned by Disney). It’s set for May 3, and what it essentially boils down to is airing two versions of one NBA game in real time: one of which is the traditional telecast, while the other is a Marvel-themed version.
The game is between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Golden State Warriors. The traditional telecast will be on ESPN (as well as wherever the game airs in New Orleans locally), while the Marvelized version will be on ESPN 2, ESPN+, and ESPN Deportes. The official name for this deal is NBA Special Edition Presented by State Farm: Marvel’s Arena of Heroes, and it’s slated to start at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.
Now on to the fun stuff: what exactly will this Marvel-themed ESPN telecast of an NBA game look like?
Basically, viewers will watch an NBA game where the presentation integrates a Marvel storyline and characters, including Iron Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Captain America, Black Widow and Doctor Strange. This will be done via 3D renderings of the characters, customized graphics, and an animation package.
Here’s the story summary from Marvel and ESPN press release:
After a narrow victory over an invading alien army, the Avengers receive an ominous threat from the enemy who vows to return in greater numbers and force. The Black Panther and Iron Man quickly realize they will need more help and form a plan to expand their ranks to fight this impending threat. Recognizing the superior physical abilities, agility, and tenacity of Earth’s greatest athletes, the Avengers will hold a series of contests where the winners earn the right to train and fight alongside them as Marvel’s Champions! The Avengers will begin their recruitment with the NBA elite and observe the battle between the Warriors and the Pelicans, focusing on three star players from each team.
The participating players from Golden State are Steph Curry, Draymon Green, and Andrew Wiggins, while the players from New Orleans are Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Lonzo Ball. Zion, it should maybe be noted, is a big Thanos fan, having quoted the villain in his first interview after New Orleans drafted him, saying, “Let’s dance.” Williamson is also totally inevitable if you let him get the ball into the lane. So it kind of fits. Curry is also a fun pick for this promotion, because artist Ramon Villalobos (a mildly vocal Warriors fan on social media) has rendered him as a superhero…
The promotion will eventually crown one of these six players the first Marvel Champion, based on the scoring system below:
One Marvel Hero Point will be awarded for every point, rebound, assist, steal and block;
One Marvel Hero Point will be deducted for every missed field goal, free throw or turnover.
The last bit here is that ESPN commentators Ryan Ruocco and Richard Jefferson will provide game commentary from a Marvel-themed studio along with Marvel expert, Angélique Roché.
I’m certainly going to check it out. I always joke that I’m part of a small cross-section of superhero comics readers and obsessive NBA fans, but that group is probably larger than I think and in this case will likely also include Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, who I think have no officially become the single largest group of anything on the planet.
I’ve long said that I see a lot of overlap between being an NBA and a comics fan, because both involve following and rooting for giant feats of heroics, redemption arcs, impossible odds, third act theatrics, big personalities…the list goes on and on.
This is also not the first time that Marvel and ESPN have teamed up, having done so most directly (to my memory) with the old ESPN The Magazine, which featured Marvel heroes in its body issue one year, as well as for its NBA preview another year, depicting NBA teams as famous comic book covers.
Anyway, the real winner here is probably a mix of younger fans as well as the folks at Disney corporate who paired these properties and pulled off such powerful superhuman feats of synergy.