NBA 2K’s New Star-Studded Ad Goes Beyond the Court and Deep Into the Neighborhood

CP+B L.A. takes its game to the streets

Won’t you be my neighbor, Kyrie Irving? How about you, Paul George and Isaiah Thomas? Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

Those three big-time ballers, plus seven more NBA stars, pop up around an otherwise typical city neighborhood in CP+B L.A.’s fun launch film for the latest version of NBA 2K, which drops Sept. 19.

In this ZIP code, you run into league royalty virtually anywhere—at the barber shop, tattoo parlor, used record and CD emporium … even the local basketball court. But the teen dude at the center of the action plays it extremely cool, at one point telling Irving, “It’s just another day in the neighborhood.”

The spot promotes the 2K Sports franchise’s new “Open World” feature, which lets gamers explore different aspects of the broader basketball experience, including visiting various local haunts.

“Neighborhoods are really the birthplace of basketball culture,” agency creative director Barnaby Blackburn tells Adweek. “We liked the idea of this perfect basketball neighborhood, a place with all the venues you’d expect to find in an everyday neighborhood and with all the regulars you’d expect to bump into. The difference being that these regulars, from the barber to the tattoo-shop owner to the guy playing cards on the steps, are NBA superstars, and that everything in this neighborhood exists to serve basketball.”

In order of appearance, the spot’s impressive roster features D’Angelo Russell, Paul George, Joel Embiid, Thomas, Damian Lillard, Bill Walton, DeMar DeRozan, Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns and Irving. These stars also appear in the 2K18 game. (During the film, look for Shaquille O’Neal’s smiling face on an arcade game, the return of Lil’ Penny—good lord!—and other easter eggs for NBA fans.)

“We needed a vehicle or guide to get us through the neighborhood, so we liked the idea of a kid walking from his apartment to go play basketball on a sun-drenched afternoon, meeting all the regulars on his way, and greeting them like you would the locals of your own neighborhood,” Blackburn says.

Anesu Mutara’s chill performance—strolling through South Central Los Angeles and Long Beach during a two-day shoot in June—provides a relatable focus in the midst of the celebrity full-court press.

“The final ingredient was the handshakes with each player,” Blackburn says. “Of course, these elaborate handshakes are common in basketball and are emblematic of the tight-knit relationship teammates have with each other. There was something we loved about how this regular kid is tight with the greatest players on the planet, and how in this neighborhood they’re on the same level.”

This marks another notable marketing push for the NBA 2K franchise from CP+B, following its work for NBA 2K17, which featured a Fitbit tie-in encouraging gamers to get more exercise IRL. That work was honored this week by Adweek’s Project Isaac Awards as one of the most innovative campaigns of the past year.

As for NBA 2K18, director Stacy Wall of Imperial Woodpecker has walked similar streets before. He helmed Nike’s acclaimed “Short a Guy” spot from 2015, which followed an average kid who spends a magical day interacting with his heroes from various pro sports teams.

Though the set-ups in the two ads are pretty much the same, the vibes are quite different. “Short a Guy” has a quick-cut, fantastical feel—like a fan’s frenetic fever dream come true. And at times it’s played for laughs. (Pick-up lacrosse? Really?) NBA 2K18’s “Run the Neighborhood,” despite its impressive star power, casts a subtler, more personal aura. Wall’s deliberate pacing and dense visual palate impressively integrate the hoop legends into a slightly skewed version of everyday reality. Also, there’s a muted, retro ambiance (the record store is one example) that adds an extra layer of emotional resonance.

“The intention was to create something that had a slightly nostalgic feel, to transport you back to those perfect summer days when all you wanted to do was hang out and play ball,” says Blackburn. “It’s a summer basketball hallucination with this regular kid walking through the neighborhood shaking hands with his everyday friends who just happen to be NBA superstars. Above all, we wanted people to smile while watching it, to enjoy this kid’s journey and want to be in his shoes.”

Client Name: 2K Sports
Agency: CP+B LA
Executive Creative Director: Kevin Jones
Creative Directors: Barnaby Blackburn, Gustavo Kopit
Director Of Video Production: Kate Hildebrant
Sr Integrated Producer: Jackie Maloney
Music Supervisor: Andy Hamm
Production Company: Imperial Woodpecker
Director: Stacy Wall
Line Producer (Production Co.): Robbie Mooring
Director Of Photography: Mihai Malaimare Jr.
Editorial Company: Cut & Run LA
Editor: Sam Ostrove
Assistant Editor: Moss Eletreby
Post Executive Producer: James Drew
Post Producer: Catherine Yi
Post Production: ETC
Flame Artist: Eric Mason
Mix Company: Eleven LA
Audio Engineer: Jeff Payne
Color Design Company: Company 3
Colorist: Tom Poole
Group Account Director: Ryan Skubic
Content Supervisor: Jake Welch
Executive Business Affairs Manager: Rebecca Williams
Jr. Business Affairs Manager: Taylor Tsuji
Project Manager: David Rowe

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.
Publish date: September 11, 2017 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT