Marvel and ESPN: The Magazine’s Mighty Team-Up!

By Pat Twist

Heads up true believers, Marvel Comics and ESPN are bringing you a team-up of truly epic proportions.  The super stars of the basketball court and the super heroes from the comic book pages have joined forces for the NBA Preview issue of ESPN The Magazine.

The team at ESPN developed concepts for all 30 of the NBA teams and then the Marvel masterminds turned each idea into a different exclusive cover for the magazine.  The issue hits newsstands today and comic geeks and sports fans alike will find their favorite legends, be they real or illustrated, standing shoulder to shoulder in this history making mash up.

MTV Geek was able to score a Q & A session with the brains behind this legendary collaboration: Gary Belsky – Editor in Chief, ESPN The Magazine; Otto Strong – Senior Editor, NBA, ESPN The Magazine; and Axel Alonso, VP/Executive Editor, Marvel.

MTV Geek: How did this collaboration come about?

Gary: When Marvel joined forces with Disney, it occurred to me that the collaboration with them might be fun.  That was thought number one.  Thought number two was we are always looking for different ways to do season previews, I wondered if Marvel would want to collaborate on the NBA Preview for this season.  Thought number three was to send an email.

Axel: We started work on this about 2 ½ months ago, after ESPN The Magazine sat down with some of our guys in business.  When they came to editorial, I swooped in on the project, being a hoop-head.  I mean, this was ESPN The Magazine’s NBA Preview issue!


MTV Geek: What was the process like for selecting which covers would be used for each NBA storyline?  Some are obvious, like LeBron leaving Cleveland from Stan Lee and John Romita Sr.’s Amazing Spider-Man #50, but some are less well known, like the X-Babies cover.

Otto: The Magazine’s NBA team created 30 unique and detailed basketball-related storylines, one for each team, and presented them to Marvel.  There were no rules, outside of charging them with the task of telling each team’s story using Marvel’s rich library of characters and iconography.  Marvel presented the Mag with storylines and sketches, and pending those approvals, illustrations either took the next step or were revised.  Each one of the 33 images that are in the issue are the fruits of an intensely collaborative effort.

MTV Geek: Free agency was the biggest off-season story this year, with the Heat coming away as the winners.  Is that storyline reflected across all of the covers of the teams involved?

Gary: I think free agency, or the specter of free agency in the case of the Nuggets, is reflected where appropriate throughout the preview, but it was hardly the only theme.

MTV Geek: Were the artists at Marvel already fans of the NBA or were most of them in the dark when presented the teams and players they were going to cover?  Alternatively how familiar were the ESPN writers with the Marvel universe?

Gary: We were certainly impressed with the hoops knowledge they brought to the process.

Axel: Some, like Greg Horn, who did the two pieces to open the NBA Preview Section, are hardcore fans.  He’s a huge Heat fan.  Others were not.  Otto tells me that there are quite a few Marvel fans at ESPN The Magazine.

MTV Geek: The Joe Quesada magazine cover is amazing.  Was Joe given free reign with which NBA stars he could pair with which heroes?

Otto: We specifically did not want to provide an all-Heat image.  We knew that we needed LeBron, Kobe and Kevin Durant.  After that, the ball was in Joe’s court.

Axel: We work-shopped that image.  We knew we wanted to key the biggest NBA stars with the biggest Marvel heroes.  When we decided on Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, we figured “Who better than the Avengers: Captain America, Thor and Iron Man?”  As Joe played around with sketches, it became clear that the cover would be too crowded with 6 eye-popping characters all vying for your attention.  That’s when he proposed that each player hold an artifact that keyed them to a hero – and WHAM!

MTV Geek: Any chance we’ll see an NBA comic put out from Marvel featuring some of the ideas played with here?

Axel: Who knows what the future might bring…

MTV Geek: Which NBA team name would make the best name for a superhero team in the Marvel universe?

Gary: In my opinion?  The Thunder.  But I edit a sports magazine.  I’m a newbie when it comes to comic characters.

Otto: What about the Cavaliers?  It’s a regal name, so why not?

Axel: Gotta go with the name of my home team, the Warriors.

MTV Geek: If there were one NBA player you thought was actually a superhero, but is using his professional basketball career as a cover, who would it be?

Gary: There are two, and I think they would be obvious to everyone:  David Lee and Nate Robinson.

Otto: I actually know the answer to this, but I swore I’d protect his identity.  Sorry.

Axel: Probably the Thunders’ Kevin Durant.  He’s humble, squeaky clean and he’s sick with the rock.

MTV Geek: Thanks so much for taking the time with us today!

For more coverage of the NBA head over to ESPN.com and head over to Marvel.com to see if you can locate the classic images these covers were based on!

Greg Horn's NBA Preview Open

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