How a social media team came up with the idea of a jewel-encrusted NBA 75 basketball — and how it traveled the country to make its way into the hands of the biggest stars in basketball and beyond
It has been three-quarters of a century since the first basketball was shot into a hoop in a contest between the Toronto Huskies and the New York Knickerbockers at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. That day — Nov. 1, 1946 — marks what the NBA considers its first official game.
Now, the league is celebrating 75 years of basketball.
From tight shorts and low-post supremacy to alley-oop passes and pace-and-space to the inimitable personal styles of Dennis Rodman, Allen Iverson, and Russell Westbrook, there are several distinct eras of basketball that we don’t need round-number anniversaries to celebrate. But to mark the Association’s diamond year, the NBA’s social team was given the task of finding special, creative ways to commemorate the big 75.
The team chose to create a bedazzled basketball that has steadily made its way across the basketball landscape — and made its way into the hands of not just the biggest names on the court, but heavy hitters from across media and entertainment.
The ball’s overall theme was birthed by the league’s marketing division, who first decided on creating a diamond-shaped reimagining of the NBA logo. Once the social team saw it, they were inspired to run with the diamond theme. From there, the gem-encrusted basketball emerged.
“Whether it’s retired players, current players, or the new draft class, it’s like passing the torch around,” Ashley Atwell, the NBA’s Senior Director of Social Media, told Boardroom. “Having this ball to use in photos ties it all together. Being able to get photos of different generations that have played the game.”
The NBA used its 75th-anniversary television ad, “NBA Lane,” as a runway for the sparkling ball. The advertisement created by Steve Stoute’s ad agency Translation went viral, uniting NBA fans worldwide in remembering past superstars and precious memories; the ball officially made its live event debut on stage at the 2021 NBA Draft.
“[The ball] is something we wanted to integrate into the draft. In the past, we have created bedazzled balls before, but nothing that stood out like this,” Atwell said. “We were thinking this is the perfect time to take special photos with the new draft class showcasing the future of the league, and use this bedazzled ball as an element to bring it all together.”
Upon seeing the ball, Atwell said the draftees were fascinated. Some even asked to make sure the ball was specifically included when it was time to pose for photos. As with the “NBA Lane” commercial and its generations of basketball icons, the presence of next-generation stars led by Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, and Jalen Green gave the ball a boost of publicity.
Soon enough, the league was receiving requests to have the ball make appearances at everything from G League games to Formula 1 races.
Atwell likens it to the novel and film seriesThe Sisterhood of Traveling Pants: “It’s the traveling ball.”
After realizing how impactful the diamond ball could be in commemorating this 75th anniversary season, Atwell reached out to Jim Poorten, a Los Angeles-based NBA social media pro who had the idea of keeping the ball with him on the west coast. “He started bringing the ball to Staples Center where celebrities and former players frequently attend games. [Poorten] began asking them if they wanted to take a picture with the ball. That’s when things skyrocketed,” Atwell said.
Since then, celebrities from Kith’s Ronnie Fieg to recording artists like Lil Wayne, Tinashe, and Saweetie have been photographed with this defining piece of the 75th anniversary season. Atwell said her favorite celebrity moments have been with Kevin Hart, Halsey, and the iconic duo of Reggie Miller and Spike Lee.
Hart posted the photo to his personal Instagram account, showing how meaningful the moment was to him. Halsey clapped back at a trolling Twitter user who said she didn’t know anything about basketball. And as plenty of fans know, Miller and Lee have some serious history that dates back to the 90s Knicks-Pacers rivalry; in this particular photo, the two stars didn’t have much trouble coming together to appreciate the moment.
The ball will be making appearances at two of the NBA’s five scheduled games on Christmas Day — it will begin on the east coast when the Hawks face the Knicks at Madison Square Garden before heading out west for Nets-Lakers at the first official game at the re-christened Crypto.com Arena.