See the NBA's legend-filled 75th anniversary ad

The league fills a fictional neighborhood with 20 former stars, 14 current ones, seven mascots and plenty of Easter eggs for hoops junkies

Published On
Oct 07, 2021

Editor's Pick

Rivals—not neighbors—is the word most associated with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, whose epic NBA Finals duels in the 1980s are the stuff of basketball legend. But in a new video celebrating its 75th anniversary, the NBA imagines the Celtic and Laker greats living across the street from each other.

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The scene is part of a three-minute video called “NBA Lane” that portrays a fictional neighborhood inhabited by current and former NBA stars. Actor Michael B. Jordan stars as a bus driver who shuttles children through the neighborhood. The league’s most famous Jordan—Michael—is absent. But the NBA managed to get 20 legends to appear in the ad—including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and Isiah Thomas—as well as 14 current stars, such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Zion Williamson. Also included are seven team mascots, including Benny the Bull and The Raptor from Toronto.

The video was handled by Translation and directed by Rick Famuyiwa (“Dope” and “The Mandalorian”) and Emmett Malloy of the Malloy Brothers (“Big Easy Express” and “The Tribes of Palos Verdes”). The campaign, which includes 30-second and 60-second formats, will begin running on TV on Sunday. The bus in the ad comes from Hoopbus, a philanthropic organization whose programs include basketball court renovations and other community-building efforts.

“We wanted to bring together legends and current players in the way of a community, which is really what the NBA is. We thought of no better community than a palace where all of your NBA favorites could actually live side-by-side, so we created NBA Lane,” said NBA Chief Marketing Officer Kate Jhaveri.

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The video includes plenty of references that hardcore NBA fans will get: Gary Payton, known as a great defender during his Seattle Supersonic playing days, is shown stopping the bus, while saying “you can’t get by me.” Dikembe Mutombo’s famous finger wag (associated with his shot-blocking skills) is depicted in a Don’t Walk sign. Other scenes include LeBron James tending to a garden and Abdul-Jabbar teaching Dirk Nowitzki the hook shot. (Abdul-Jabbar is shown sitting in the oversized rocking chair the Lakers gifted him during his last regular season game in 1989.) Lil Penny—the Nike ad character based on Penny Hardaway—plays chess against Jerry West. Williamson holds a cup of Big Face Coffee (a brand started by the Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler) before breaking a backboard with a dunk.

Asked why Air Jordan does not make an appearance, Jhaveri said, “We look at this spot as the beginning of the narrative, and so we are really looking forward to bringing this story to life throughout the entire season. There are lots of amazing legends and current players that can have a role in those future iterations, Michael included.”