New ESPN Series ‘NBA 75: Connected’ Pairs Stars of Past and Present

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ESPN will debut NBA 75: Connected, a five-part series joining current NBA standouts with legends of yesteryear this Friday, The Big Lead has learned. The project continues the celebration of the league's 75th anniversary and is directed by Rudy Crew.

The first two half-hour installments, airing back-to-back at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, are point-guard focused and feature Trae Young with Isiah Thomas and Damian Lillard with Gary Payton. Three more episodes will air sometime in March and April. 

Young and Thomas are each fearless, tough-as-nails engines. Lillard and Payton each hail from Oakland, Calif. and rose to stardom in the Pacific Northwest. 

 “There’s so much chatter making comparisons between players and that’s fun for the barbershop,” says Crew of the series. “The more substantive conversation is who borrowed from who to better the game. To make an improvement on that design and plant their own flag.”

At the show’s core is a conversation about connection points. Crew hopes fans both young and old are able to see and appreciate the similarities instead of getting distracted by the differences. 

Crew says that Young and Thomas, who had never met before filming, felt like teammates after only three or four minutes. “That’s what’s so sweet to witness,” he says. “Both parties have a respect for each other. They played the games at different times but they know what the other is talking about. They speak the same language.”

One of the director’s major takeaways was how much reverence the younger players have for those who have come before and how that’s reciprocated from the elder statesmen, who are able to have the insight and awareness to savor such reverence.

While the series explores five specific examples, Crew’s work can be extrapolated by creative minds willing to see their own connection points. And how the evolution of the sport is always taking place.

“It’s about revealing the DNA of a ballplayer and seeing what the lineage is,” he explains. “If you were to take a tissue sample from Stephen Curry, you’d see Reggie Miller and Tiny Archibald of course, but you’re also going to see George Gervin. Curry’s floater is a longer version of Gervin’s finger roll. All of these players borrow from the past to create their own masterpiece.”