Behind The ScenesNBA

ESPN, Marvel’s Doctor Strange collaboration results in NBA “Super Heroes”

What would happen if the NBA’s biggest ballers got superpowers? Well, thanks to some teamwork between ESPN and Marvel (both owned by The Walt Disney Company), fans get one possible look.

For a project inspired by the new Marvel movie Dr. Strange, NBA players such as Golden State Warriors teammates Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (who play against the Celtics on Friday, Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN) are depicted as having mystical powers.

Originating with ESPN’s team that supports a long-term collaboration with Tencent in China, the art appeared on and also across international editions of ESPN sites and apps in Asia and Europe.

Front Row spoke with those at ESPN and Marvel involved in the project.

Can you explain the creative process behind this project?
Otto Strong, deputy editor, ESPN The Magazine: I’ve been collaborating with Marvel since 2010, and like working with any great team, you just simply state your vision and then step out of the way. Yes, we know sports.But guess what? Often times they do, too, and that shared passion makes for some memorable images.

Mike Huang, deputy editor, ESPN International, NBA: We had an opportunity, through our team in Southeast Asia, to collaborate with Marvel ahead of the Asian release of Dr. Strange. Knowing that Otto had worked with Marvel before, we approached them on how to execute this. We looked at a previous project – Heroes of Euro – and modeled some of Dr. Strange after that.

How were the players and their superpowers picked?
Strong: The NBA is experiencing a golden age. These players are not just all-stars, but they possess MVP-caliber games who will likely all wind up the Hall of Fame once their playing days are done. Once Mike and I identified those five players, we tried to find the singular aspect that best defines their game. We shared that with Marvel, and the illustrators did the rest.

Can you share the illustration process in creating realistic abilities into superpowers for the featured NBA players?

Darren Sanchez, editor and project manager, Marvel: ESPN and Marvel wanted to give the players super powers that best complemented their on-court abilities. After some discussion, we decided to go with precision, power, speed, defensive prowess and versatility.

We brought in some great Marvel artists who were more than happy to draw the players with these exaggerated features while being careful to keep the likenesses on point. Each artist was told which player they had and which super power to showcase and they came up with several creative interpretations. We picked the sketch we liked best for each player and the Marvel artists did the rest.

Here's a look at the rough drafts of Russell Westbrook's Marvel persona.
Here’s a look at the rough drafts of Russell Westbrook’s Marvel persona.
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