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Marvel/ESPN The Magazine Team-Up

The House of Ideas joins forces with ESPN The Magazine for their NBA Preview issue

By Ben Morse

The superstar athletes of the National Basketball Association have always been larger-than-life, but now Marvel's helping ESPN The Magazine push them to heroic levels.

As part of their NBA Preview issue hitting stores Friday, October 22, ESPN The Magazine has collaborated with the House of Ideas' finest artists and editors to marry basketball's best and brightest with the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe with incomparable illustrated editorial content. Each of the NBA's 30 teams will be featured in their own art-laden preview celebrating and paying tribute to classic characters and storylines while also prognosticating what the 2010-2011 season will bring.

"We've always wanted to do something with comics and we're huge fans of Marvel," explains ESPN The Magazine Editor-in-Chief Gary Belsky. "We started thinking [this] would be a good way to do the previews and had a sense that now that [Marvel and ESPN are both] within the same corporate family [as part of Disney], it might make it easier. Once we reached out, we realized they do stuff like this all the time, so we didn't have to wait, but the benefit of the [acquisition] was that it made us start thinking."

Leading Marvel's end of the effort: Vice President - Executive Editor Axel Alonso, a self-admitted "huge hoophead."

"I was immediately excited and to me the mathematics of NBA superstars and Marvel super heroes just goes without saying," he enthuses. "This was a collaborative effort from the ground up. The editors [at ESPN The Magazine], myself and [Marvel Manager Talent Relations] George Beliard, who was assisting me, were in constant communication at every stage in the game down to the minutiae of the shoelaces."

"They didn't presume to be experts on the NBA, so we figured out pretty quickly that what we needed to do was give them storylines for each team and they'd match up the appropriate stars or owners with the right Marvel characters or storylines," continues Belsky. "That's where they were expert, and I've got to tell you they did an amazing job in terms of figuring out the best connections between the NBA storylines as defined by ESPN The Magazine and the pantheon of Marvel characters."

Alonso and Beliard wasted no time in lining up Marvel's top artistic talent to work on the project, and found little resistance from among a basketball-loving pool of creators.

ESPN The Magazine NBA Preview opening art by Greg Horn
"Right out the gate was Greg Horn," reveals Alonso of the first recruit to Team Marvel. "He's probably the happiest guy on Earth now that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are playing for his Miami Heat. He was onboard immediately for this.

"The list of artists working on this is virtually a who's who of who's hot in comic books right now. Olivier Coipel, Leinil Franics Yu, J. Scott Campbell, Greg Land, Terry Dodson, Kaare Andrews; many of these guys are huge fans of the game, and in the case of the international artists, as the NBA expands internationally, they're getting into it."

Horn received the task of creating the art that would open the entire feature, and rose to the occasion, using one of the NBA's most prominent champions as his centerpiece.

"It shows Kobe Bryant, the leader of the NBA Champion [Los Angeles] Lakers, holding the Infinity Gauntlet," describes Alonso of the piece. "In this case, the Infinity Gauntlet is modeled after Kobe's five [championship] rings, and hovering just out of reach is the sixth ring he and the whole league covet. Surrounding him also reaching for the ring are some of the contenders juxtaposed with Marvel heroes [like] Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and Spider-Man. When you see these NBA icons battling for the ball so to speak with the Hulk, it really can't help but bring a smile to your face."

While proud of the entire issue, which he played a huge role in crafting, ESPN The Magazine's NBA Senior Editor Otto Strong confessed a soft spot for one image in particular:

"As soon as I heard about the idea behind the [Cleveland] Cavaliers image, I was immediately struck with that. It's very strong, very powerful and could almost run without words, that's how beautiful it is."

"The Cavaliers image is an homage to possibly one of the most resonant comic book images of all-time: 'Spider-Man No More' [from 1967's AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #50], in which we see Peter Parker leaving his Spider-Man tights discarded in the trash in an alleyway as he walks off into the cold, rainy night," elaborates Alonso. "We thought what better image to sum up how Cleveland [fans] feel seeing LeBron James leaving his Cavaliers jersey behind as he walks onto greener pastures with Miami. The icing on the cake is that we managed to get John Romita Sr., a comic book legend and the artist who drew the original [image] to come out of semi-retirement and do the illustration."

Teams like the Lakers, Heat, and Boston Celtics will understandably be getting their share of the spotlight as top contenders to the NBA throne, but Strong vows no team-or fan-will find themselves shortchanged with this edition of ESPN The Magazine.

"One of the things that is really special to me about this project is that all 30 teams get equal footing and equal due," he says. "There was as much care and dedication put into the [Sacramento] Kings as there was to the Celtics. That doesn't happen in a lot of previews.

"Some of the images speak for themselves, but we realize a number of our readers may not be comic book fans or may not fully understand the world of the images they're seeing," Strong adds. "In the write-ups, we're able to infuse the story of the season and speak to the images so that even if you're not a comic book fan, you'll be able to follow the story along."

As all parties eagerly await fans getting to see the fruits of their labor on Friday, October 22, Belsky also looks forward to hopefully future team-ups between Marvel and ESPN The Magazine:

"We want to think about sports in a relevant but different way than everyone else is doing and the Marvel people really helped us. It was just a joy. I can't imagine that we won't figure out ways in the future to work together again."


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This. Is. Awesome. I love the NBA and always make mine Marvel. I'm hoping they sell some prints of these as I would love to get the Knicks page framed for my man room, which currently houses my exclusive Knicks jerseys/photos and marvel figurines/busts etc. I will be there tomorrow morning to pick my copy up! Keep the cool collaborations coming!!


My 2 favorite things. Comix and the NBA. Great so awesome.


I'm with nilonim...."The Rapist or Sodomist" (and you Faker fans that believe he is innocent are so frickin' naive)...I mean Kobe is the perfect one to personify evil in the NBA. Let's face it...he's the worst "ambassador" of the game...he's the reason the NBA sucks now.


I dont know Silverman.... looking at the image.. I cant think of anyone that best personafies the Avatar of Death, that Killed everything I loved about Basketball, would be Kobe Bryant... you see it as a hero, I see it as Thanos, and the Heroes taking it to him. :) just sayin


Jealous. Go lakers!!


LOL! Too funny! Too funny! And awesome!


Frankly I'm sickened. There are very few NBA players, or players in any other sport that I would say even show proper sportsmanship, let alone an attitude worthy of a hero. Kobe being one of the worst of the bunch. The Disneyfication of Marvel is cutting a fine edge, but if Marvel traverses too far into honoring sports as well, I may have to Make Mine Distinguished....


Lakers rule the NBA!!!!! I've been rockin the Golden armor since 86!!!