A Different Lens

The NBA's first Virtual Reality film, chronicling the 2016 NBA Finals, doesn't disappoint.
by September 14, 2016

We’ve been watching LeBron James on TV for 14 years. For all those years, commentators and journalists have marveled at his physical frame. 6-8, anywhere from 250 to 270 pounds, able to jump out the gym, with the strength of an ox. We’ve seen him bully his way down the lane, jump over people, assert dominance as he pleases.

But for the majority of us, we haven’t had any way to actually see just how big he is because we can’t get up close to him. We haven’t been able to actually appreciate his combination of weight and muscle, the way he simultaneously jets around the court and bodies his defenders.

With “Follow My Lead: The Story of the 2016 NBA Finals,” narrated by Michael B. Jordan, we can finally understand just how intimidating the player of a generation is.

“Follow My Lead” is a 25-minute film that chronicles the entire story of the NBA Finals. From both locker rooms, to shoot arounds, to behind-the-scenes at the arena, to the actual games, the entire film was shot through Virtual Reality cameras during the entirety of the Finals.

Oculus, Facebook’s VR company, and m ss ng p eces, a production company that deals with only VR, teamed up to provide access to basketball that we’ve never seen before.

The way they shot LeBron… he’s larger than life. You can feel his confidence coming through the headset when you watch. LeBron doesn’t walk. He saunters, with his head, chin and shoulders higher than everyone else. He knows who he is, his place in history. He’s incredibly tall, bigger than Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson. But his body is compact. He’s somehow muscularly lean.

The m ss ng p eces team didn’t always focus their cameras, or the way they cut to each scene, directly on him. Instead, they let him come towards you. They let him take his time. They let the viewer feel the full effect of LeBron James.

From the NBA’s perspective, this idea was a no-brainer. For years, they’ve been on the frontline of digital exploration, whether it was being one of the first companies to sign up for YouTube or for Twitter.

Jeff Marsilio, Vice President of Global Media Distribution for the NBA says that the League found out, in a short amount of time, that VR was just another platform to try out.

“We were having a conversation before the Finals and [Oculus] were like, ‘We’re really in the mood to push the envelope in some areas in live action capture and prove some things that people think aren’t possible,’ “ Marsilio says.

“We, of course, were just entering one of the most storied NBA Finals ever,” he continues. “The problem or the challenge is that in order to do this right, we needed to provide a level of access that even on a good day, in the regular season, is challenging. To provide it during the Finals, on relatively short notice, the access that we needed to provide was a commitment we just needed to make. We just said, ‘Look, this is an opportunity. So let’s take it.’ “

The result is a comprehensive look behind-the-scenes and into the action. Ari Kuschnir and his m ss ng p eces team shot over 100 hours of film away from the court, along with each and every game, from the first player to show up to the court for warmups, to the final buzzer.

There’s a different camera angle of the LeBron block against Stephen Curry, when he trash talks. There’s footage of Steph draining threes from 30-feet during shoot around. There’s peeks into the Cavalier and Warriors practice facilities. There are different perspectives on iconic plays, reigniting the emotion of the Finals. When you put the headset on, you actually feel like you’re there. You forget the headset altogether.

Eugene Wei, Head of Video for Oculus says that everyone was initially skeptical about the length of a 25-minute Virtual Reality piece. But the story needed to be told properly, and it just-so-happens we had one of the most epic Finals ever.

“We wanted to tell the traditional style of sports documentary that you’ve probably seen before,” Wei says. “Hard Knocks or 30 for 30. That style of sports documentary, no one’s actually tried it [in VR].”

“The players are large in stature so VR really conveys something,” he continues. “You stand next to these players and you’re like, ‘These people are immense.’ On TV they feel smaller. These are the largest, most athletic human beings you’ve ever seen. They don’t even seem human. In VR, you get that.”

To see the film, stop by the NBA Store on the corner of 45th Street and 5th Avenue in New York City today, between 12-6. While there, you can also take your picture with the Larry O’Brien Trophy and meet Brook Lopez. 

Photos courtesy of NBA

[ngg_images gallery_ids='1788' display_type='photocrati-nextgen_basic_imagebrowser']