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|
"The list of artists working on this is virtually a who's who of who's hot in comic books right now.
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
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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