Keeping Up With the NBA Playoffs? Check Out This Anime-Inspired Max Series (2024)

The Big Picture

  • Hero Ball reimagines NBA stars as anime characters, adding humor and epic battles to the league's storylines.
  • The series cleverly adapts NBA narratives, visual gags, and references to create a unique and entertaining show.
  • Witness LeBron James as a king, Kawhi Leonard as a cyborg, and battles between players like Zion Williamson and Ja Morant in anime form.

The Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks are on their way to the NBA Finals, leaving a slew of defeated opponents and dejected fans in their wake. If you're not a Celtics or Mavs fan, you're probably going into the Finals with some level of bitterness and/or disappointment in your team, whether they were swept in the first round, suffered a disappointing Game 7 loss, or missed the playoffs altogether. If you’re still mourning the elimination of your favorite NBA team, lift your spirits by looking back at some of the best moments of the 2023-24 season on and off the court with Bleacher Report’s anime-inspired series Hero Ball. Though it hasn't yet gained the popularity of Game of Zones, Hero Ball distinguishes itself by using anime art styles and tropes to retell some of the most entertaining NBA storylines throughout the past two seasons, complete with plenty of visual gags and its own catchy theme song.

'Hero Ball' Turns NBA Stars Into Anime Heroes (and Villains)

Before Hero Ball, there was Bleacher Report's beloved Game of Thrones parody series Game of Zones, which ran for seven seasons and offered a medieval take on the NBA from 2014-2020, taking inspiration from HBO's massively successful fantasy series. Bleacher Report's YouTube comment sections are still clamoring for the series to return, but this seems increasingly unlikely, especially with the launch of Hero Ball in 2022. Throughout its past two seasons, Hero Ball has parodied some of the biggest moments in the NBA, from the blockbuster trade that sent Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns, to last year's controversial In-Season Tournament. It also adapts some of the NBA's most prominent narratives into anime form, like a new generation of players competing to take over as the face of the league from aging superstars LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry.

In Hero Ball, on-court rivalries are depicted as epic battles, and clever character design highlights the quirks and reputations of players across the league, like Nikola Jokić's affinity for horses, Miles Turner's Lego collection, and Zion Williamson's love of Naruto. In anime form, the famously stoic Kawhi Leonard is depicted as a cyborg, James Harden as "The Traveler," and LeBron James as a king, always sporting his four championship rings.

'Hero Ball' Highlights the Best Stories of the 2023-24 NBA Season

After Season 1 of Hero Ball covered stories like the collapse of the Brooklyn Nets and the arrival of Victor Wembanyama, Season 2 kicked off with a recap of the Damian Lillard trade saga that almost saw the former Portland Trail Blazers star join the Miami Heat, ultimately ending with his trade to the Milwaukee Bucks. Throughout the 2023 off-season, it was widely reported that Lillard was determined to take his talents to South Beach, so in the Season 2 premiere, Jimmy Butler takes a road trip to Portland to pick him up. Jimmy downs several cups of coffee — a nod to Butler's Big Face coffee brand — as he drives to Portland while listening to sports radio hosts guarantee the Lillard trade to Miami is a sure thing. But when Jimmy arrives, he's forced to battle the citizens of Portland, who collectively transform into a Sasquatch-type beast before Giannis Antetokounmpo swoops in to take Lillard to Milwaukee. Emo Jimmy Butler even makes an appearance as Tyler Herro drives them back to Miami after the disastrous trade.



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Hero Ball'smost recent episode dropped in April, shortly before the start of the NBA Playoffs, with a reminder of just how much pressure the Boston Celtics are under to win the championship. Boston’s “ultimate starting five” assemble an attack robot to battle the Eastern Conference Playoff teams, and the metaphorical target on Boston's back is rendered literal as the East fire rockets at them. It's Paolo Banchero of the Orlando Magic who casts a spell that sends the Celtics off a cliff, leaving only the left arm functioning, and an injured Derrick White tells Jaylen Brown he'll have to drive with the left hand, making light of Brown’s continued struggles with his left-handed dribble. When all hope seems lost, Al Horford appears as the “glue guy,” allowing the Celtics to reassemble and head up Playoff Mountain to face the real threat: Nikola Jokić.

'Hero Ball's Clever Visual Gags Reference Basketball Culture and Anime

Keeping Up With the NBA Playoffs? Check Out This Anime-Inspired Max Series (2)

Aside from the NBA narratives being adapted in Hero Ball, the series is also laden with visual gags and references. There are a few obviousrecreations of NBA memes like Luka Dončić looking triumphantly at Devin Booker as the Dallas Mavericks destroyed the Phoenix Suns in the 2022 Western Conference Semifinals, Jimmy Butler's mischievous look to camera while sitting courtside at a Chicago Bulls game, and LeBron James' blissful poolside Instagram story from 2018. Some of the best visual gags happen in the background and could easily go unnoticed, like Josh Hart giving himself a dejected high five in the Season 1 finale, referring to this hilarious compilation of Hart getting left hanging by his teammates over the span of multiple seasons.

In the first 30 seconds of Season 2, Episode 7 alone, there are a dozen visual references pertaining to the many phases of LeBron James’ career, now the oldest active player in the NBA. A display case shows off not only James’ four MVP trophies and three Olympic Medals, but some of his most memorable fashion moments, like his Thom Browne short suit from 2018, and the all-white ensemble he wore on Draft Night in 2003. When Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson burst in to attack LeBron, he's launched into a bookshelf — featuring titles like A Tale of Three Cities and How To Win Friends and Influence GMs — and yells “I was going to think about reading those!” With this, Hero Ball refers to yet another LeBron James meme: a collage of James reading different books in the tunnel before games, but whether it was The Hunger Games or The Autobiography of Malcom X, he always seemed to be on the first page.

Though there are visual anime references scattered throughout Hero Ball, like the MVP trophies shaped like Astro Boy, there are some more direct references to anime, like Attack on Titan and Naruto, when Zion Williamson and Ja Morant face off in Season 1, Episode 3. Hero Ball turns Williamson, a huge anime fan himself, into a viscous titan straight out of Attack on Titan until Morant uses the power of friendship to stop him from destroying the city. But even if you're not the most well-versed in anime, there's plenty for NBA fans to appreciate in this clever reimagining of the past two seasons. So while you wait for the NBA Finals to kick off on June 6, revisit the highs and lows of the season with Hero Ball.

Hero Ball is available to stream on Max in the U.S. and on YouTube.

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Keeping Up With the NBA Playoffs? Check Out This Anime-Inspired Max Series (2024)


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