Durant’s Got Game for NBA Live

LOS ANGELES Texas Longhorns star Kevin Durant, most likely the first or second National Basketball Association draft pick this Thursday, co-stars in his first commercials for Electronic Arts NBA Live game through independent Wieden + Kennedy. The first of three spots breaks today.

The commercials feature live one-on-one action and interplay between Durant and Wizards star Gilbert Arenas. In one ad, Arenas is giving Durant a dunking lesson, when Durant clunks it off the rim. Arenas responds not with court tips but videogame strategy: “No, no, no! Who’s teaching you this stuff? Left stick, right stick, towards the basket, then the square button when you get close. Wait on the square!”

In another spot, Arenas is schooling Durant in dribbling with his eyes closed (a game “training” technique) and making him repeat everything after him: “I am the shoot button. I will take it to the hoop every time. No man will stop me.” Durant repeats every thought dutifully until Arenas says, “Except for Gilbert Arenas.” When Durant protests, Arenas admonishes him not to break concentration.

The third ad shows Durant stealing the ball from Arenas and going in for an unchallenged layup. When Arenas protests that he hadn’t taught Durant that trick, Durant says he has “his own go-to moves now.”

On draft day on ESPN, the spots will run in that order, with the steal coming after Durant has presumably been drafted.

Creative directors at Wieden in Portland, Ore., are Jose Cabaco and Tim Wolfe. Jayanta Jenkins (art) and Marc D’Avignon (copy) also worked on the commercials, directed by MJZ’s Phil Joanou, who Cabaco credited for giving the spots a “clear, clean, epic look.”

“We’re not showing game footage, but embracing game conversation,” said Cabaco. “We’re not completely going away from the game world, just keeping it within the real world. Honestly, that’s where EA is these days.”

Cabaco said that the creative strategy stemmed from the realization that the EA game features “extremely real moves and pace, so it’s like being able to play the real Durant and Arenas.”

Wolfe said that the hype around the draft this year made it “lightning in a bottle to show [Durant]” in a game. “Last year, we kicked off a new strategic direction for NBA Live. That was the beginning of the conversation, and now we’re getting to the emotion of the game.”

Using Durant before his NBA debut gives the brand an opportunity to build the story of how he came up as a rookie and grew to challenge pros such as Arenas, he said.

In addition, one of the subtle messages of the marketing is that the new title (coming out in October) would be updated with new players, moving gamers from old versions to the latest iteration.