NBA Entertainment’s The Association Strikes Gold with Denver Nuggets

Now in its third season on NBA TV, NBA Entertainment’s The Association has firmly cemented itself in the upper echelon of the rapidly expanding sports-docuseries genre. Although it is often compared with Hard Knocks (produced by NFL Films) and 24/7 on HBO, its closest counterpart would be MLB Productions’ The Franchise on Showtime. But, where HBO’s shows follow teams intimately for a matter of weeks, The Association and The Franchise face the prodigious challenge of following a team for an entire season.

The third installment of the NBA TV docuseries follows the Denver Nuggets for a full season.

“This is a true season-long documentary, whereas Hard Knocks and 24/7 are finite periods of time,” says Dion Cocoros, VP of original production, NBA Entertainment. “This is an entirely different beast in that we are following a team for a whole year. We check in with them every week and don’t let many days go by where we aren’t with them.”

This season, The Association is providing an intimate look at the players and coaches of the Denver Nuggets. The six-episode series airs every two to three weeks (Jan. 25, Feb. 15, March 7, March 21, April 11, and April 25).

Capturing the Character and the City
NBA Entertainment has an almost constant presence with the team, deploying two crews equipped with Panasonic VariCam HD cameras and wireless microphones to cover the team’s practices, games, and day-to-day life during most homestands and periodic road trips.

“Two crews will be with the team most of the time or, at the very least, a single crew with a producer,” says Cocoros. “So there are almost always a couple cameras rolling.”

In addition, Cocoros and company deploy a Vision Research Phantom HD high-speed camera once per episode to capture scenic views of the Denver landscape, as well as ultra-slow-motion shots during Nuggets practices and games.

“We want make the city a real character in this series, so that is where the [Phantom camera] comes in,” says Cocoros. “We did it with Los Angeles and Boston [during the first two seasons of the show], and we’re doing it with Denver this year.”

In terms of miking, coach George Karl is regularly outfitted with a wireless mic during practices and games to capture “a lot of the little nuances and the day-to-day stuff,” according to Cocoros. In addition, several players wear wireless mics during practices and around the facility.

A POV-less Production
Other docuseries often use robotic POV cameras — such as Canon 5D or 7D cameras — in an effort to make players, coaches, and executives more comfortable. These individuals will often open up more and become more personable because the cameras are so small and no camera operator is present.

However, that has not been the case during this year’s incarnation of The Association. Karl, GM Masai Ujiri, and the majority of the players in the locker room have been far from camera shy, allowing NBA Entertainment crews full access to nearly all aspects of the organization.

“Shows tend to use those [robotic cameras] because they want to avoid the [players’ and coaches’] seeing the camera and [becoming self-conscious],” says Cocoros. “But George and Masai have been so with us that we haven’t needed to go the robotics route. We might mount a small lipstick camera on a player’s dashboard as he drives into the game, but that’s about it. Robotics are usually used because they are less obtrusive, but the team has been so accessible that we haven’t really had the need for them so far.”

The Comfort Factor
This comfort with the camera can largely be attributed to Cocoros and his crew’s ability to integrate themselves into the organization during the rushed post-lockout training camp in December, as well as their almost constant presence at the Pepsi Center practice facility.

“The more they see you around, the more they realize that this is something special and that you’re working on a documentary, not a hit-and-run piece,” says Cocoros. “Once they see the first show, the team begins to appreciate what you’re doing and why you’re there. They’ve been a pleasure to work with thus far.”

Postproduction: A 50-50 Mix
After the on-site crew feeds the mountain of footage back to NBA Entertainment headquarters in Secaucus, NJ, the postproduction team immediately begins compiling the next episode at its 100% Apple Final Cut Pro editing facility.

According to Cocoros, about half of each episode is completed a week before the air date. The second half is completed two to three days before the show premieres, but NBA Entertainment reserves the right to make changes right up until airtime, if necessary. The narration, provided by voice-over pro Dave White, is usually laid down two days before air, but can be adjusted at the last minute should the occasion arise.

“We like to keep a percentage of the show open almost until it airs, because we don’t want the episode to feel dated,” says Cocoros. “For example, last year, when Kendrick Perkins was traded [from the Celtics to the Oklahoma City Thunder at the trade deadline] just before the air date, we had already delivered the show, but that was a monumental moment that changed the entire show, so we pulled it back and dropped that in.”

Episode 2 of The Association: Denver Nuggets will premiere on NBA TV on Wednesday Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. ET. 

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