If you’ve played with the Wii, the Kinect, or PlayStation Move, you’ve already blurred the line between games and real-life action. But you’ve never experienced anything like the immersive, genre-bending installation called “The Last Shot”—unless you’re Michael Jordan.
Even Jordan himself hasn’t experienced some aspects of this amazing setup.
Here’s what happens when you step inside: your actual surroundings transform. You find yourself on a basketball half-court. At first, the walls around you are white as the THX 1138 set. But then those walls come to life. Suddenly, you’re surrounded by a realistic-looking crowd, because the walls are actually massive LED displays.
But wait, there’s more: The floor beneath you morphs into parquet. Which arena’s parquet? It depends what you selected while you were waiting in line. On wall-mounted iPads outside the scene you choose a scenario, and two of them are storybook moments from Jordan’s career.
You can either try to replicate his game-winning shot in the 1982 NCAA Championship game versus Georgetown, or you can replicate his final shot as a member of the Chicago Bulls in 1998: a top-of-the-key jumper against the Utah Jazzthat boosted the Bulls to their sixth NBA championship.
When the experience kicks in, it’s like a video game augmenting real life. A path lights up on the ground to show you where to go. On each wall, 4K footage of a real crowd cheers or boos depending on whether you deliver. In the Utah scenario, the “home crowd” cheers when you miss—a nice touch.
A real play-by-play announcer calls out your every move, and real players on the court deliver that key assist, play defense and act as stand-ins for Byron Russell, playing along when you push off.
This jaw-dropping immersive environment was a collaboration between creative agency AKQA, video-production company Stardust, and Nike’s Jordan brand, and it’s part of a bigger suite of interactive experiences made to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Air Jordan. It’s on display at the Jordan All-Star Weekend exhibition, which runs through Sunday night right across the street from Madison Square Garden, where Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game is being played. It’s open to the public for free, but the lines are predictably long.
One of the keys to The Last Shot’s immersive ways is the amazing level of detail. For the 1982 crowd scene, some of the 250 actors wear throwback fashions, big mustaches, and mullets for an extra dose of ’80s authenticity. Using RED 4K cameras, Stardust captured those scripted crowd scenes in the Honda Center in Anaheim to cover different reactions, the wall angles, and clever wardrobe changes.
“It was all about the distance from the camera to the crowd matching the distance from the court to the LED screens,” says Stardust Managing Partner Dexton Deboree. “Just straight tripod shots. We did eight different scenes.”
Behind the walls of the 1,200-square-foot room, a group of video producers and editors pull some of the strings. Watching participants on video monitors, they play the appropriate crowd reaction when they make or miss a shot. They also edit each clip and send you a highlight video, which is emailed based on information stored on an RFID bracelet you get when you register.
The Last Shot didn’t fully come together until six or eight weeks ago, according to Brian Facchini, Global Communications Director for Jordan. But months before that, AKQA and Stardust began collaborating on the idea.
“We pitched it (to Jordan) around October,” says Eamonn Dixon, Associate Creative Director at AKQA. “We knew the 30th anniversary was coming up, and All-Star Weekend is a tentpole moment for the brand each year. Because it’s the 30th, it’s the time to do something truly innovative and historic.”
From there, AKQA contacted Stardust, Jordan’s content-production partner for the Jordan brand.
“The key was a really tight feedback loop,” says Deboree. “(AKQA) came to us with the initial idea, and we came in and further developed the narrative. Once we had the narrative set, we specced out the technology to pull it off.”
That technology includes thousands of 54-by-54 LED tiles on the walls and the floor, all combining to display 10 million pixels. The mesmerizing experience has certainly been popular. Jordan Global Digital Director Harshal Sisodia estimates more than 10,000 visitors will have come through the space by the end of All-Star Weekend.
Those visitors include All-Star Game competitors. L.A. Clippers point guard Chris Paul visited and coached a kid through a reenactment of one of his own game-winners. Facchini says Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia have also dropped by to check out the installation.
If you need any proof that Jordan was good, consider these numbers: According to AKQA’s Dixon, roughly one of every ten participants actually sink the shot.
Once the installation closes Sunday night, it’s a mystery as to what will happen next. There are no concrete plans to bring The Last Shot to other cities, but Facchini hints it’s probable. He wants to “find a way for everyone to experience the court.”
“The 30th anniversary is a look forward, to inspire the next generation,” says Dixon. “This installation was a way for us to educate people about the man behind the brand, to show the situations that made him who he was.”
And depending on your age, your definition of Jordan’s legacy may vary.
“We were playing in a game in Charlotte, and my (five-year-old) son was sitting court-side,” Chris Paul told the crowd during his visit. “He saw MJ and said ‘Daddy, that’s the guy from Space Jam.’ He relates more to Space Jam and the shoes.”