Culture & Lifestyle
Published May 7, 2021

ESPN's Rachel Nichols Reviews Marvel’s Arena of Heroes

The host of The Jump examines Marvel history and this week's Warriors-Pelicans matchup!

The first-ever Marvel-inspired alternate presentation of a basketball game, NBA Special Edition Presented by State Farm: Marvel’s Arena of Heroes, took place on Monday, May 3, as the Golden State Warriors took on the New Orleans Pelicans.

This wasn't just any throwdown, though, as players from each team earned Hero Points, which corresponded to their achievements on the court over the course of the match. Integrating an original Marvel story, the game saw the Avengers recruit three players from each team to see who would finish with the most. 

The Warriors came out on top, winning the game 123 to 108, and the first ever Arena of Heroes champion was crowned, as the Warriors' Draymond Green beat out teammate Steph Curry with 48 total Hero Points to 47. 

Draymond Green in the Arena of Heroes

In the simmering aftermath of the event, Marvel.com caught up with the host of ESPN's The JumpRachel Nichols, to get her thoughts on the mighty Marvel Universe, the Arena of Heroes, and more. 

What’s your Marvel origin story? How’d you become a fan?

You can't not love Marvel if you love comic books and Super Heroes. I've always really dug different Super Hero movies, but when Marvel started making movies at Disney, they changed so much about the tone, and the scope, and the pattern of how those movies were done.

It's been captivating, and it's been so fun along the way, feeling like you've been on this same journey with, not just these characters, but everyone else in the world.

Do you have a favorite Marvel story or character arc?

Look, I didn't think that much about Wanda Maximoff before this year. I was like, oh yes, Scarlet Witch, interesting, fine. I was kind of curious about how they introduced her, since the way they talked about the twins getting their powers was so different from the comic books. When the movies took a different direction with it, I was like, oh, that's interesting. But that's kind of all I thought about her.

And then Disney+ comes and does WandaVision, and I'm like, oh my god, I love her. And that's what comic books do so well, too, right? You can have a character who's been more minor throughout a couple runs of someone else's story, and then they break out.

You wore a shirt that paid homage to Mary Jane Watson’s look on the cover of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #601 during an episode of The Jump this week. Are you an MJ fan? A Spidey fan?

Yes. I mean I am team Mary Jane when we go through the Spider-Man girlfriends and cohorts, absolutely. I think from the way I look there's some obvious connection there!

But yeah, I think one thing that's been really fun is getting the chance to go back and look at different issues of the comics. So I can't say that I’d read everything about the INFINITY WAR storyline in the books, but when the movies were coming out, I’d go read the comics. And I'm lucky that I have people around me who are super comic book nerds. So I could go to them and be like, okay, what are we looking at here? What are we getting to here?

So, for me, when we were doing Marvel Day at ESPN, I was like, I know what shirt I'm pulling out. I'm pulling the Mary Jane.

As a Marvel fan and as a sports expert, do you ever find parallelsin terms of narratives, stories, maybe even charactersbetween the two?

One of the things I always talk about that I love about live sports is that you don't know what is going to happen. And the example I used to give is, hey, there's a bunch of movies where Will Smith is battling aliens, and it's exciting, and I've gone to all of them. They're great—but, in the end, I know that Will Smith is going to win, and I know that the aliens won't. And what I love about live sports is, hey, I don't know who Will Smith is, and I don't know who the aliens are! One of the things that was so fun about the Marvel movies, especially once we got to Avengers: Infinity War, was they were willing to have a movie where the good guys didn't win. And I think that captures, in some way, what sports fans love, that kind of uncertainty.

This week, for the Marvel’s Arena of Heroes game between the Warriors and the Pelicans, players received a Hero Point for every point, rebound, assist, steal and block, and were deducted a Hero Point deducted for every missed shot, free-throw, and every turnover. Draymond Green became the first Arena of Heroes champion, so what was your reaction to the game?

The Hero Points were really fun. It gives you kind of an extra thing to think about during a game and in a game where, hey, it didn't happen to be the closest score in the world. You were still invested in, oh, is Draymond going to pull ahead of Steph? Is Steph going to stay ahead of Draymond in the Hero Points? It's like, well, okay, the game might be out of hand for one team, but there's this whole other contest going on, and I'm super into it, so I thought that was really, really fun.

And obviously, Draymond came out on top. It's a great example of why Draymond Green is so valuable and shows an understanding that it's not just about the points put on the board. It is about a lot of different things because the Hero Points value different parts of the game beyond just how many baskets you get. It was a cool way to see fans who might not know the Warriors team as well, or might not know Draymond Green's game as well, can learn through watching the Arena of Heroes game; here are all the other things he does on the court. And here is why that's a big deal, and that's why he can win Hero Points for this game.

Overall, it's been one of the great joys for me in the last 25 years of being a Marvel fan to see and experience this. I could not have been more excited for this crossover.

As always, stay tuned to Marvel.com for more! Pax et Justitia!

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