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Marvel & ESPN assemble to turn a real-life NBA game into an original, Space Jam-esque Avengers story

By Josh Weiss

Before Bugs Bunny and the rest of the Toon Squad crew retake the basketball court this summer in Space Jam: A New Legacy, Marvel's Avengers will sidle up to the foul line for a night of super-powered basketball. Disney and ESPN have assembled for an "NBA Special Edition" event that sets up Earth's Mightiest Heroes (Iron Man, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Black Widow) with court-side seats to a match between the State Warriors and the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday, May 3 at 7:30 p.m. EST.

The experimental telecast (dubbed Marvel's Arena of Heroes) plans to use a mixture of "3-D virtual characters, animation packages, and customized graphics" to weave an original story around the game itself. The plot? The Avengers are looking to recruit new heroes in an effort to repel an alien invasion led by an enemy with a score to settle.

"Recognizing the superior physical abilities, agility, and tenacity of Earth’s greatest athletes, the Avengers will hold a series of contests where the winners earn the right to train and fight alongside them as Marvel’s Champions!" reads the release. "The Avengers will begin their recruitment with the NBA elite and observe the battle between the Warriors and the Pelicans, focusing on three star players from each team."

Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins (of the Golden State Warriors) and Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball (of the Pelicans) are all up for the "Champion" title. Hold on just a hot second there. A group of fictional characters are looking for a professional basketball player to help them defeat malevolent visitors from outer space? Now, where have we heard the set-up before? It's on the tip of our tongues...Ah well — it'll come back to us eventually. 

"Marvel and ESPN have brought the worlds of sports and superheroes together for years through comics, documentaries, and other stories celebrating athletes and their extraordinary abilities,” Mike Pasciullo, VP of Marketing and Communications for Marvel Entertainment, said in a statement. “The new Marvel’s Arena of Heroes telecast will be the first of its kind to bring Marvel’s storytelling directly to the real-time experience of a NBA game, and we are excited for fans to be able to watch their favorite players through the lens of Marvel’s mightiest heroes."

"We’re eager for fans to experience this unique, innovative presentation that will pair Marvel and ESPN’s exceptional storytelling and production,” added Matt Kenny, ESPN’s VP of Programming and Acquisitions.

The scoring system is as follows:

  • One Marvel Hero Point will be awarded for every point, rebound, assist, steal and block;
  • One Marvel Hero Point will be deducted for every missed field goal, free throw or turnover.

For those who aren't Marvel junkies like the rest of us, basketball fans can watch a regular, un-edited version of the game on the flagship ESPN channel. Arena of Heroes, which is sponsored by State Farm, is airing on ESPN 2, ESPN+, and ESPN Deportes. Ryan Ruocco and Richard Jefferson are set to provide up-to-the-minute commentary from the comfort of a Marvel-inspired studio, while Angélique Roché (host of the Marvel's Voices podcast) will also be on hand to provide expert superhero analysis.

"We are thrilled to work alongside ESPN and Marvel to present fans with the first-ever Marvel-inspired alternate NBA telecast,” said David Denenberg, the NBA's Senior VP of Global Media Distribution & Business Affairs. "This fun and innovative game presentation builds upon our goal of providing personalized and compelling viewing options for our fans."

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