The NBA in-arena hype video is a wonderfully malleable bit of fan service. For teams with long and storied histories, it can connect current circumstances with the golden glories of the past (see: Los Angeles Lakers). For teams transitioning between eras, the arena video can restate an overarching culture or express some civic pride (see: Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Brooklyn Nets). Or it can be used as an excuse to be super-weird (see: Indiana Pacers).
However, before we begin, two trends must be addressed:
• Nearly every team video leans on a collection of overused tropes — typical basketball-y stuff like guys dribbling very seriously or holding the ball in one hand and slapping it with the other as if to dare the viewer to try to take the ball — but my favorite is something I call the “face sunrise.” You know the move: The camera starts with a close-up of an athlete’s downcast face, which is lit dramatically so the subject’s eyes really pop. Then the player steadily raises his face so it becomes square with the camera, fixing it with a gaze that’s part martial determination and part “SOON.” The face sunrise is in full effect this season, with some teams making interesting tweaks to the classic format.
• It’s a great time to be alive for people who enjoy tripped-out stoner planetarium visuals with their sports. Three teams — the Cavaliers, 76ers, and Hawks — have contracts with Washington D.C. audio/visual technology firm Quince Imaging to “design, install, and maintain the league’s first permanent court-projection systems,” and the Kings, Heat, and Nets have also utilized Quince Imaging. Meanwhile, the Magic continue to use LMG Inc. for their court projection, and the Raptors went local and contracted with Canadian companies In Touch Media and GestureTek for their 3-D graphics. The Clippers use L.A.-based Second Spectrum, most likely running PowerPoint and Windows XP.
Now, without further ado, here are your 2014-15 NBA Hype Video Awards.
Best Use of a Team’s Legendary History
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are in the midst of a tough season and are possibly tanking. A win over the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday night has been the highlight of the season. With the team’s short-term prospects cast into the lottery wasteland, the Lakers’ video team has assembled something that looks to the past in order to point the way forward.
(Bonus Best Moment: “Byron’s Back!”)
Best Implementation of a Team’s Name
Winner: Chicago Bulls
Runner-up: Charlotte Hornets
Chicago’s hype video starts in pretty pedestrian fashion with the Bulls players saying a bunch of quasi-inspirational shit while standing in front of three banks of klieg lights, and then it transitions into your standard “Montage of Exciting Plays Set to Some Hans Zimmer–Sounding Music.” The best part of the aforementioned section is the revelation that shooting Doug McDermott in Leni Riefenstahl–esque black and white turns McBuckets’s skin into the most blindingly white substance yet discovered across the human visual spectrum.
But that’s OK — because the real star of Chicago’s hype video is the sixth iteration of the franchise’s long-used “Running With the Bulls” theme. A classic.
Charlotte celebrates the return of the Hornets nicely, keeping the insectoid theme consistent throughout by placing pictures of the players inside honeycomb shapes as if they’re larvae.
Most Mind-Bending Phish Visuals
Winner (tie): Hawks, Kings, and 76ers
Pass the ganja goo balls! I couldn’t decide between these three Quince Imaging courts. All have their charms, and all look very, very cool. The Kings take their fans through a tour of the team’s Sacramento history, and they have the best mix of colors. Extra points for their fans being audibly blown away. Atlanta’s video smartly, in the wake of the Danny Ferry/Bruce Levenson mess, links the team to the city and the community. Plus, the red hawk wings are awesome and vaguely menacing — like something out of the Prophecy movies. Meanwhile, the 76ers have their own Big Three this season: K.J. McDaniels, Nerlens Noel, and the 3-D court.
Best Prom Video
Winner: Indiana Pacers
Welcome to Pacers Prom. I mean, how else to describe this? So much incredible stuff. I love how inexplicably prominent Chris Copeland is. I love the off-the-charts “What am I doing here?” caucasity on display from Damjan Rudez. I love the competent as-long-as-I-got-my-suit-and-tie vibe radiating from Shayne Whittington, who has played less than 10 minutes this season. I love Rodney Stuckey’s head nod to LL Cool J lip-lick. I super-love C.J. Miles’s hat-over-face bounce transitioning into Luis Scola not knowing what to do with his hands and looking like a dude who just stepped out of a reverse mortgage commercial. I love that the whole video is basically the spiritual descendant of this:
Best “Shake It Off” Dis Track
Winner: Miami Heat
LeBron James might’ve led the Heat to four consecutive Finals appearances and back-to-back titles, but he left, so toss that no. 6 jersey right down the memory hole. The message of this video — that the Heat franchise is more than just one player, no matter how otherworldly that player may be — had to be sent. Still, it would be weird to have Zo lead us on a tour of Heat history, during which we see Kevin Loughery, Alec Kessler (may he rest in peace), freaking Pat Cummings, and many other seminal Heat figures, but not include LeBron James. So, they put James in the video … in a Cavs jersey, watching Anderson Varejao’s soul get torn out by a rampaging Dwyane Wade. Also:
Best Face Sunrises and Best “SOON.” Faces
Winner: Houston Rockets
There are two epic face sunrises here — Patrick Beverley and Kostas Papanikolaou — and copious “SOON.” faces. I mean:
James Harden legit makes faces in this video like he’s about to stuff hundred-dollar bills into the camera’s G-string. It’s probably my favorite hype video of the season.
Best Dragon Ball Z Reference
Winner: Golden State Warriors
When the Warriors signed a pre-Linsane Jeremy Lin in 2010, they were accused of using a roster spot as a marketing ploy and baldly pandering to the Bay Area’s vibrant Asian American community. That’s how I feel about Golden State’s 2014-15 hype video, in which numerous Warriors players go Super Saiyan. Look at this thing. They know what they’re doing. I really like the way whoever made this video approached the face sunrise, though. Instead of having individual rising faces, they cut them together in a montage ending with Steph. Innovative.
Best Unintentional Promo for a Franklin & Bash Replacement Series
Winner: Phoenix Suns
The Suns’ video team seems to have taken its font, graphics, and overall visual language directly from TNT’s promos for the network’s various shows, right down to the Fall Out Boy song. This video is also notable for eschewing, with the exception of a brief something from Archie Goodwin, the face sunrise for the caught-you-looking camera shot. As in:
Best “What Even Is This?” Hype Video
Winner: New Orleans Pelicans
I have no idea what this is.
Best Homecoming Video
Winner: Cleveland Cavaliers
You only hire Keith David to narrate your hype video when something exceptional has happened. I especially like the piece of music (before “Turn Down for What”) that’s reminiscent of Philip Glass’s score to the Pruitt-Igoe section of the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi.
Best Extended Reboot Metaphor
Winner: Detroit Pistons
We can rebuild him.
From the somber black-and-white shots of owner Tom Gores, next to new Pistons czar Stan Van Gundy, announcing a reset of the culture to the time-lapse shots of workers readying the Palace for opening night to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope doing curls to Brandon Jennings seemingly contemplating what is and isn’t a good shot to the in-arena pump-up video of Pistons players actually being rescanned into a computer, the Pistons hype video is all of a piece. The Pistons are currently 2-5.
And finally, here’s a compilation of the best face sunrises from the NBA hype videos of 2014-15.