The phrase “hero ball” conjures memories of basketball’s most iconic game-winners. It also begs replays of brutal isos and laughably selfish shot selection. Equal parts Jordan in Utah and Waiters on Vine. One thing it probably doesn’t remind you of, though, is this year’s Hawks team.
TNT has drawn skepticism for tagging its upcoming Playoff coverage with a campaign called “New Hero Ball.” The first promotional video released featured Kyle Korver delivering a behind-the-back pass to DeMarre Carroll in transition. According to the network, redefining and reconstructing the term “hero ball” is what the 2015 season has been all about.
“We knew it had a negative connotation, and we accepted the challenge to take the term and make it about playing a truly heroic brand of basketball, versus the sarcastic connotation that everyone was familiar with,” Drew Watkins, vice president creative director of Turner Sports, told SLAM. “We tried to take this phrase and make it into a positive by explicitly stating that the real heros of the game are those that sacrifice and dive for loose balls and set picks to free up teammates for shots. We felt that those were the players that should be placed on a pedestal. So why not take the term and apply it to them, and accept that challenge?”
If you buy into what Watkins calls “new hero ball,” you’ll see a lot of it this spring. The Hawks ascended to 60 wins by making the extra pass, while the Warriors lead the NBA in assists en route to one of the best regular seasons ever. The Bucks became a viable League Pass choice for their team defense; Draymond Green became a household name; the Wizards and Raptors, both loaded with stars in their backcourts, were maligned all year for running uninspired isos.
“We try to do things that resonate with what’s going on in the league, rather than stamp something arbitrarily,” Watkins said. “We were seeing the teams and themes of the playoffs lining up to support this idea. What’s cool now is getting people involved. What’s cool now is making the right basketball play.”
While TNT’s NBA coverage won’t change substantially for the postseason, broadcasters will make a conscious effort to point out the screens that set up big shots and the ball movement that leads to a defining moment.
“New hero ball” will be in the spotlight right away: TNT’s first slate of games on Sunday features the Hawks, Grizzlies and Spurs.
“People generally don’t like what’s traditionally been called hero ball. We’re trying to do them a favor. We don’t like it either,” Watksin said. “We want to stamp out the negative stigma that’s been attached to some of the things we’ve seen in basketball over the past couple years. I think everyone, at the end of the day, can get behind good team basketball.”