NBA's Return Is a Dream in ESPN's Fantastical New Campaign

Bird, Jordan and Kobe share time with LeBron, Curry and more

NBA legends share the screen with current stars in a fantastical :30 from ESPN that boasts vivid dreamscapes created through Epic Games' Unreal Engine. Developed by agency Arts & Letters with production house Psyop, the ad broke Monday during ESPN's Monday Night Football.

Though something of a change of pace for the cable network, plugging into the world of video games fits the mold of recent campaigns from the NBA and its partners. Such efforts frequently tout the league's rich history, casting players—and the game itself—as cultural drivers transcending on-court heroics.

This new work, dubbed "It's a Beautiful Time for Basketball," follows suit, adding surreal 3-D animation to drive a narrative that fuses the virtual realm with IRL sports:

NBA Tip-Off | It’s a Beautiful Time for Basketball

Here's your roster for the commercial:

  • Ja Morant - Dunks in a Grizzly bear lake sequence.
  • LeBron James - Tosses chalk for the first time ever anywhere.
  • Devin Booker - Executes a desert alleyoop.
  • Steph Curry - Hits a three pointer in what appears to be a Roger Dean painting circa 1973.
  • Luka Dončić - Airborne horses can't guard this dude.
  • Nikola Jokić - Way up in the Rockies, charging hard to the hoop.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo - Deftly blocks his own shot. (So, his team is ... pleased?)
  • Kevin Durant - Flies through the sky for a layup.
  • Joel Embiid - Evades celestial defenders.
  • Jayson Tatum - Shoots through a Boston Celtics-inspired Irish storm.
  • Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant - Appear via archival footage.

"We want to celebrate the veterans and rookies that make up the NBA today while appreciating the time of greatness in which we find ourselves," A&L creative director Andrew Kong tells Muse. "Using footage of legends like Bird, Jordan and Kobe felt like a great way to honor their contributions and compare the game today with the beauty of years' past."

"Once we picked the players, we built a custom dreamscape around each one, and peppered in easter eggs that nod to each player's story and team," adds agency ACD Brett Simone. For example, Curry isn't playing in a Yes album cover, but a stylized version of San Francisco. (The Golden Gate Bridge is right there! Squint, people!)

"We want this work to excite all types of NBA fans by celebrating a rare time in league history—one sparked with new debates, new star power and new stories," says A&L strategist Millie Tunnell. "We wanted to embrace this pivotal moment of change and bring our storytelling to life in a new way, with visually and emotionally, that matches what the league and the fans are experiencing."

Two more spots are on tap as ESPN prepares for the NBA's 76th season, which begins Oct. 18.


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Creative Credits
Agency: Arts & Letters Creative Co. 
ECD: Charles Hodges
Director of Strategy: Andy Grayson
Strategy Director: Alex Morrison
Strategist: Millie Tunnell
Group Business Director: Brenda Schneider
Business Director: Hill Shore
Head of Production: Temma Shoaf
Executive Producer: Calleen Colburn
Senior Producer: Andrea Rodriguez 
Assistant Producer: Austin Butler
Creative Directors: NJ Placentra & Andrew Kong & Molly Jamison
Creative Team: Brett Simone, Lillian O'Connor, Steve Gonzalez
Music Supervisor: Cam DiNunzio
Business Affairs Manager: Jennifer Kmetzsch

Client: ESPN
Laura Gentile, EVP, Commercial Marketing, Networks and ESPN
Emeka Ofodile, VP, Sports Marketing
Lucas Ferraro, Director, Sports Marketing
Jason Ritchkoff, Associate Director, Sports Marketing
Maximo Reyes, Associate Manager, Sports Marketing
Mohammed Ahmed, Marketing Coordinator, Sports Marketing

Production Company: Psyop
Directors: Loren Christiansen, Shane Griffin
Executive Producer: Joe Maggiore
Producer: Cameron Lewis, Rory Hamilton-Battenfeld
Associate Producer: Tapy Noun 
Editor: Loren Christiansen
CG Supervisor: Pakorn Bupphavesa
Art Director: Clint Chang
Designer: Tae Kim, Paul Cayrol, Caroline Goehner
Compositor: Tingting Li, Galo Gutierrez, Bruno De La Calva, Carl Mok, Christopher Brown
VFX: Nicolas Donatelli
Unreal Artists: Pablo Cardenas, Frank Lee, David Pressler
Matte Painter: Andrew Park

Company 3
Colorist: Kath Raisch
Producer: Jake Rioux

Music Studio: Consortium
Track: "On and On and On"
Composer: Seth Olinsky
Music Post Producer: Maggie Flatley
Music Editor: Justin Miller

VO talent: Nana Dadzie

Audio Facilities: 
Barking Owl Sound
Executive Producer - Ashley Benton
Assistant Producer - Lily McCann
Mix - Elizabeth McClanahan
Assistant Mixer - Mikayla Petersen

Overcoast Music & Sound
CD: JL Hodges
Engineer: Matt Whitworth

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