This year’s State Farm Champions Classic returns to the mecca of basketball: Madison Square Garden. The event, owned and operated by ESPN Events, will see No. 2 Kentucky face No. 13 Michigan State (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) followed by No. 1 Duke taking on No. 7 Kansas (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET).
In an effort to capture the culture of basketball in New York City and what it means to host the Champions Classic at MSG, ESPN’s Creative Content Unit approached multi-talented Michael Rapaport about collaborating on a creative project and he accepted. He directs and narrated the opening for ESPN’s doubleheader (watch the video above).
“He said this project summarized ‘everything he is’,” said ESPN coordinating producer Julie McGlone. “We are so excited to have him on this creative project and hope fans are engaged ahead of some really great matchups in college basketball.”
Rapaport, an actor, director and comedian, is no stranger to ESPN. A proud New Yorker and die-hard Knicks fan, he has been a guest on The Jump and SportsNation several times, and also directed the ESPN film When the Garden was Eden in 2014.
– Michael Rapaport, who directed and narrated the opening sequence for ESPN’s Champion Classic coverage
“I am happy and excited to be a part of the project,” Rapaport said. “College basketball and New York City have a long history. NYC was the mecca of college basketball long before the NBA was even a thing, and it all took place at the Garden.”
The opening tease encompasses footage filmed in Harlem, Astoria (Queens), the Staten Island Ferry, the subway and of course, Madison Square Garden.
“I wanted to capture the grit and feel of the cracks and crevices of NYC,” Rapaport said. “Basketball at the Garden is historical. It’s the city’s game. Period. It is and always will be the city’s game.
“Performing at the Garden is and always will be the most important place to make your name in basketball, especially for a young college player.”
In addition to McGlone, Rapaport collaborated on the project with producer Bryan Rourke, production manager Amanda Paschal, editor Jason Fielder, coordinating producer Linda Schulz and field producer Jason Bergh.
As for Rapaport’s favorite college basketball analyst?
“Dick Vitale,” he said. “He’s original and has become an icon. He’s still the most enthusiastic guy on air. Bill Walton is really funny, too.”
In between the two games tonight, the newest weekly rankings in college football will be unveiled during College Football Playoff: Top 25 Presented by Chick-Fil-A.