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The way some of our finest sports stars come through against all the odds to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat can often seem like the stuff of legend. The best players appear to have super-human powers that place them far above us mere mortals. Like the classic heroes of Ancient Greece, these modern supermen are in a league of their own.
Just their name on the roster can fill a massive stadium with expectant fans, and a few moments of their brilliance can change the course of a game or even alter the trajectory of a whole season. From the hoop-hitting stars of the NBA to the touchdown throwing quarterbacks of the NFL, these men are legends in their own lifetime. So it makes sense that Marvel would immortalise these incredible super humans alongside their own stable of superheroes.
Marvel / NBA cross-over 2010
Perhaps the most famous Marvel / NBA crossover happened way back in 2010. Back then Marvel was better known for its comics than for its blockbuster movies. The all-conquering Marvel Cinematic Universe was still in its early stages, with just a couple of Iron Man films under its belt. Few knew what a box office behemoth it would become, climaxing with the biggest film of all time, Avengers: Endgame, which took a breath taking $2.797bn at cinemas worldwide. And there is still much more to come.
ESPN linked up with the NBA and Marvel to create a series of copycat covers depicting the biggest stars and stories in the game at that time. These played on some of the most famous Marvel comic covers of all time, substituting the real-life heroes of the basketball court for the mythical superheroes of the comic book. You can see the full set of covers here.
Classic covers from the NBA
The huge promotional coup for ESPN The Magazine brought together huge stars and huge stories. The shock of Le Bron James leaving the Cavaliers for Miami Heat saw the Amazing Spiderman #50 cover redrawn, with the star walking away from his jersey, just like Spidey walking away from his suit. Similarly, Carmelo Anthony, better known as Melo, was shown leaving the Denver Nuggets in a homage to Cyclops leaving the X-Men. Even the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D got in on the act with Michael Jordan standing in for Nick Fury as the leader of Marvel’s very own SWAT team, this time leading the Charlotte Bobcats.
With no less than thirty covers in the series, covering every team at the time, there was something for all NBA fans, and they are still fascinating and highly collectable today. Whether you are backing Miami Heat or Atlanta Hawks to win the NBA South East conference, or the LA Lakers and Clippers to win the Pacific conference, you’ll find a classic Marvel / ESPN The Magazine cover to match your team.
How they came about
The covers were a true collaboration, with ESPN journalists supplying the stories and the Marvel team matching these to the most appropriate cover and superhero. As the ESPN The Magazine Executive Editor explains: “This was a collaborative effort from the ground up. The ESPN editors…were in constant communication at every stage in the game down to the minutiae of the shoelaces.” At their end, Marvel put some of its best illustrators on the job, including J. Scott Campbell, Olivier Coipel, Terry Dodson, Leinil Francis Yu, Kaare Andrews, John Romita Sr. and even their Editor-In-Chief at the time, Joe Quesada. The results are truly amazing for fans of either baseball or comics, and for fans of both, they are a dream come true.
Marvel and the NFL
The 2010 collaboration isn’t the only time Marvel have mixed it with top level American sports. In 2019, they got together with the NFL to produce five special covers to celebrate the top picks in the NFL draft. Not only did these include the most exciting young players, they also included some of the most iconic covers in Marvel history. Once again, ESPN The Magazine was involved, and once again, the results were astonishing.
Quarterback Kyle Murray led the charge as number one overall draft pick. To celebrate his move to Arizona Cardinals, he was given the honour of taking the place of Spiderman on his very first comic book outing on Amazing Fantasy #15. This was the start of Spiderman’s incredible journey that would eventually take him ‘Far from Home’ on the big screen, and it is sure to mark the start of big things for Murray too.
More debut crossovers were used for the other covers, with number two draft pick, defensive end Nick Bosa (San Francisco 49ers) trading places with Tony Stark on his debut cover Invincible Iron Man #1. 15th pick quarterback Dwayne Haskins (Washington Redskins) replaced Thor on his debut cover Journey into Mystery #83, while 16th choice defensive end Brian Burns (Carolina Panthers) was drawn as Captain America on the debut issue to bear his name. Completing the set from lower down the draft, wide receiver DK Metcalf (Seattle Seahawks) replaced Cage in shirt shredding style.
Collectors’ versions of collectors’ items
This new batch of cross over covers is especially interesting, as it uses some of the most collectable covers in Marvel history and makes them even more interesting. The tribute versions may not carry the same monetary worth or special status with the dedicated comic book fan, but they are still worthy of a place in any collection.
The success of these top-class comic book crossovers makes you wonder what other spheres of life would benefit from ‘Marvel-isation’. Could we soon see our politicians as invincible superheroes (or dastardly villains)? Could we see a TV talk show special with James Corden as the Hulk and Jimmy Kimmel as the smooth-talking Tony Stark? Perhaps other sports could get in on the act; after all, who better to play The Flash than Usain Bolt? The possibilities are endless, as art imitates life imitating art in a constant cycle.