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Behind the scenes at NBA Con
Comic Con, but for NBA junkies
Before we begin, an anecdote that summarizes my experience at the sneak peek for NBA Con 2023, the NBA’s first attempt at a basketball culture convention.
Let me preface this by saying that I’m not huge into basketball YouTube/Instagram stuff, so I wasn’t familiar with Tristan Jass, a trick-shot artist with a massive social media following. So when he showed up and casually announced he would launch a basketball from behind a chain-link fence approximately 100 feet away from the hoop, cold, with no practice, I was a little skeptical.
I wasn’t the only one. Even Jass has admitted that many of his most famous shots took 500 attempts to get right. This felt like more of a warmup for him before his real performance this weekend.
The first try was way wide and way short. The media people started giving little side-eyes to each other.
The second try hit the backboard square and missed the rim by about ten inches. We stood up a little straighter.
The third try desperately needed Mike Breen. “BANG!” He drilled it, and the fifty-ish people watching went nuts. It was very impressive.
Like that trick shot, I think NBA Con will surprise people with just how cool it is.
I got to take a look at the convention as it was still setting up Thursday night, and it’s clear that the NBA is putting its best foot forward in its first attempt at an NBA convention.
The organizing principle is inspired by neighborhoods, with each ‘hood representing a different cultural interest. There’s a little park area with benches and fake grass where fans can watch NBA games and highlights all weekend, and a snowcone truck will be toodling around. Food trucks and vendors will be lining the walls.
The NBA’s chief of event strategy and development, Joey Graziano, labeled NBA Con an “intersection” of all the hoops and hoops-adjacent interests that basketball culture has developed over time, and he and his team didn’t miss much.
Music: check. The convention will feature performances from artists such as 2 Chainz, Eslabon Armado, Toosii, and more on a big stage, plus a number of DJs to soundtrack the event throughout the weekend.
Basketball: check. There were courts strewn about the place that will be used for basketball activities, including three-point shootouts, pickup games, a ballhandling course, and more.
Fashion: check. The Con is drippy enough to form a basketball-themed stalagmite. There are clothing vendors everywhere, including New Era, a massive Amazon store, Mitchell & Ness, and many more boutique names.
A highlight: My Hero Academia-themed NBA team shirts. They were still being unpacked as we toured, so I didn’t get a great look, but anime fans should be intrigued:
Players: Check. The Con is hosting numerous panels and speakers, including Victor Wembanyama, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Paolo Banchero, Jerry West, and many more. In fact, my favorite thing about NBA Con may have been their effort at a music festival-like poster promoting their speakers. How did they decide who got top billing? No offense to ESPN College Hoops 2K5 cover athlete Josh Childress, but how did he get better positioning than Bruce Brown or Myles Turner??
So NBA Con hits the big things. It also has a bit of a carnival-like atmosphere (in a good way), best embodied by this 20-foot hoop that fans can take a shot at:
You have more questions. I have answers.
Is there Pop-A-Shot? Not only was there Pop-A-Shot, but fans can link it to their NBA ID to track scores all weekend. (NBA IDers can also get customized swag from a special booth.)
Is there NBA Jam? Ridiculous question. An entire booth was dedicated to selling NBA Jam arcade cabinets of various sizes.
Is there NBA 2K? If fans want to hop on the sticks, they can do so at some dedicated gaming stations.
Are there exclusives? NBA Con has product drops that can only be found at the convention, as any good Con should (and some of the items we saw being unpacked were absolutely fire emoji). Plenty of things are being debuted ahead of general sale, too, for people who like to reply “First!” on internet comment sections.
Special shoutout to Custom Levels, who almost made me want to pick up golf with their gorgeous player- and team-based golf club bags (unfortunately, for some reason, my only photo that wasn’t blurry was of the Drake/Raptors bag):
There are even rumors of a pickleball court, with Graziano citing the sport’s popularity in the NBA Bubble as a reason for the NBA to explore pickleball partnerships further.
In short, NBA Con looks like it will be a blast for fans. It checks the boxes on all the good things any Con needs, and as Graziano put it, this is just the first step. Every year, the NBA will add more to the convention, not stopping until the Con becomes its own destination, side-by-side with Summer League instead of peering out from behind it.
Like Jass’ trick shot, I don’t think it will be too long before the NBA strikes gold.
(If you’re in Vegas and interested in attending, tickets are on sale for $60, although they told us to share the code “DUNK20” for anyone who wants a 20% off coupon. So there you go!)