Two of my favorite things are the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and NBA. So what happens when we combine the two? Which NBA players/coaches line up with the numerous characters across the MCU?
You can also see how all 30 NBA teams represent 30 different MCU scenes heading into the 2021-22 season.
Note – there is little connection from one character to another. For example, Thor and Loki are half-brothers, but those characters were assessed in isolation. Their father, Odin, has no connection to those two.
WARNING – may include spoilers if you haven’t seen every MCU movie
Captain America – Kevin Durant
Durant has won three Olympic Gold Medals (2012, 2016, 2020) and during the 2020 games passed Carmelo Anthony as the all-time leading scorer in USA men’s basketball Olympic history.
Steve Rogers is a controversial figure in some ways throughout the MCU. He doesn’t always go by the book and sometimes went against his friends. Durant can relate. He left Russell Westbrook and OKC, he left Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and the Warriors.
Rogers was stuck in ice for 70 years. It wasn’t 70 years, but Durant blew out his Achilles in June 2019 and did not return to the court until December 2020.
Like Rodgers, Durant is a well-respected leader, and to many NBA fans, he is certainly considered a hero.
Iron Man – Lebron James
Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, is known for a few things. One, is being a philanthropist and not many are more giving than James. Lebron famously opened a new school for Akron, “I Promise” school, worth $8 million.
Recently, James has been very outspoken in politics. Stark, given his role in the world of weapons also had some political involvement. For one, he worked directly with Secretary (of State) Ross, who helped broker a deal with the United Nations. He was also forced to meet with Senator Stern at the beginning of Iron Man 2 to discuss the controversy around the Iron Man suit.
Stark can attract almost any women he wants. Not exactly the same for James, but he can attract free agents and talent to play with him. Guys like Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook have all been attracted to James.
Iron Man wears a suit of armor that helps protect him from bullets. Lebron’s body is built like armor and he often doesn’t flinch when he drives to the basket and gets fouled.
Thor – Nikola Jokic
Both guys are from another world – Thor from Asgard and Jokic from Serbia. Both are physically strong, dominant, and often do battle with opposing giants.
Jokic’s career got off to a slow start, but he has really blossomed and won NBA MVP in 2021. Similar to Thor’s career. I liked the first Thor movie but some didn’t and the second one was terrible. It wasn’t until the third movie, that Thor really broke out and became more popular in the final two Avengers movies.
Others considered: Luka Doncic
Hulk – Giannis Antetokounmpo
Bruce Banner is a scrawny scientist. Very smart, but not fit for combat. Until he gets angry and turns into a big green beast.
When Giannis for entered the league in 2013, he too was a smart, but scrawny player. Not much meat on his bones and wasn’t close to fully developed. 2018 feels like the turning point, where Giannis turned into a big green beast and hasn’t looked back, dominating competition, winning 2 MVP awards and an NBA title.
More importantly – Hulk Smash. Giannis Smash.
Others considered: Anthony Davis
Spiderman – Donovan Mitchell
Well, Mitchell is a big fan of Spiderman, even releasing Adidas sneakers branded for the young hero. In 2017, Jazz traded up to #13 and took a chance on Mitchell, who wasn’t thought of as highly back than as he is today. Mitchell grew into his role as a superstar for the Jazz. Kind of like Spiderman, who was forced into the role of hero by Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War and when thrust into the spotlight with his own two movies and a major role in Avengers: Infinity War, he proved he was up for the challenge. Just like how Mitchell how proven to be up for the challenge in the NBA.
In his own words,
Mitchell said his nickname ‘Spida’ came from a former teammate’s father. “I had long arms and I was quick to getting a lot of steals,” he said in a Twitter post by the NBA. “I didn’t think it would correlate to where I am now. He never called me by my first name and to this day, he still doesn’t. He’ll text me, ‘Spida, how ya doing?’ Spiderman was one of my favorites growing up and it just stuck with me. That’s where it all came from.”From Sportscasting
Black Panther – Paul George
T’Challa took over the throne after his father’s death and was forced to lead the nation of Wakanda. Here, it’s a metaphorical death. but Clippers star Kawhi Leonard will miss most, if not all, of the 2022 season, forcing George to step up into the top spot to lead the Clippers.
There is also the scene at the end of the Black Panther movie, where T’Challa returns and screams “I am not dead!”. How many times has George been written off? Fans mock the “Playoff P” moniker, and at times that’s been fair, but he rose to the occasion in 2021 and there’s no reason to believe he can’t stay on top next season.
Dora Milaje – UConn Women
The Milaje are Wakandan warriors that protect the king. They are some of the fiercest, most dominant warriors in the world. Sounds like UConn women’s basketball team. Look around the WNBA – Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, Tina Charles, Kia Nurse, Crystal Dangerfield, Maya Moore (I know, she’s inactive)
Doctor Strange – Markelle Fultz
I had to make a reference to the Magic, with Doctor Strange but there is a story here. In the movie, Stephen Strange was in a car accident, that cost him the use of his hands. Fultz, wasn’t in a specific accident, but as he entered the NBA, he lost his confidence. Since joining Orlando, he has found the magic and become a very capable player which included a hefty $50 million contract in 2020.
Hawkeye – Steph Curry and Klay Thompson
Hawkeye (Clint Barton) is a bow-and-arrow specialist that never misses. Now, from a literal sense that’s not true of Curry and Thompson, but figuratively speaking, it is. These two are among the best in the game (now and all-time) at shooting and are as deadly behind the three point line as Agent Barton is with his weapon.
Others considered: Bradley Beal, Trae Young
Captain Marvel – Kawhi Leonard
At a young age, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) was exposed to energy from the Tesseract.
At a young age, Kawhi Leonard was exposed to energy and wisdom of 4 Hall of Famers (Greg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili).
Captain Marvel has involved herself in every battle, similar to Kawhi who likes to take days off, picking and choosing which battles to partake in.
Both are extremely powerful and conduct their business with a rather calm and quiet demeanor.
By the end of her solo movie, Danvers had traveled to a far away galaxy to complete her mission. Leonard, after growing up in San Antonio, traveled to a far away country to win a second NBA title.
Vision – Chris Paul
Taking vision at the literal definition, Paul is a leader on the court. He is 5th all-time in assists and was second in the league in 2021. Vision also possesses the mind stone on his head, which allows him to harm opponents from miles away. Paul doesn’t have a literal stone, but the way he processes scenarios on the court in real time, it’s pretty much like having the stone.
Wanda Maximoff – Rudy Gobert
Wanda is a mind reader. Gobert is a 3x Defensive Player of the Year, which implies that he knows their weaknesses and can read the minds of his opponents to stop them. Offensively, Gobert moves people out of the way, like Wanda and her abilities.
Also, Wanda was responsible for the destruction in Sokovia at the beginning of Captain America: Civil War. The damage she caused was major and is what tore the Avengers apart (at the time). You may recall, Gobert was the first player to officially test positive for COVID-19 last March. He recklessly touched every microphone and recorder at a press conference and could have caused major damage. He reportedly did cause a rift with fellow Jazz players and throughout the league. But like the Avengers, that rift was eventually resolved.
War Machine – Zach LaVine
War Machine, aka James Rhodes is ex-Military and has the same weapon system as Iron Man. Those weapons include the ability to fly and shoot.
Those are two strong qualities of the Bulls guard. LaVine has proven he can fly (2x dunk contest champion) and shoot (41.9% three point shooter in 2020).
Falcon – Aaron Gordon
Falcon, aka Sam Wilson, first appeared as The Falcon in the second Captain America movie, serving as Cap’s sidekick and flying around town to take out bad guys.
Aaron Gordon has yet to win a dunk contest, but is still considered one of the greatest dunking participants of all-time. He has participated 3 times and holds the record for most 50s. Gordon was traded to Denver during the 2021 season where he became a valuable sidekick to Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.
Maybe one day Gordon will become a solo star on another team (like Falcon) or perhaps he will be invited to the Olympics to represent America.
But for now, he will continue flying high, in the mile high, in a sidekick role.
Winter Soldier – Bradley Beal
Beal finished second in the NBA in scoring in 2021 (31.3 ppg). He has a magical arm (like Bucky Barnes) that helps him shoot help. But more importantly, Barnes was brainwashed which is what made him evil for a little while. It feels like Beal has been brainwashed. He has this weird sense of loyalty to Washington, despite a lack of team success throughout his tenure there.
Someone needs to free Beal from the spell these wizards have cast and get him out of Washington.
Justin Hammer – Steve Ballmer
Hammer was a bad guy (kind of) in Iron Man 2. I say kind of, because he was goofy and never really was portrayed as a threat. What stood out about Hammer though is he was resourceful, using his money to buy weapons or tech or even people (such as Vanko).
Steve Ballmer is the richest owner in the NBA. He too, is perceived as goofy and has yet to be a true threat in the Western Conference. 2021 was their best chance as the Clippers advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, but (short-handed) lost in 6 games to the Suns.
Seriously, who wouldn’t pay to watch a dance off between Hammer and Ballmer?
Ultron – Russell Westbrook
Ultron’s skills include intelligence, speed, agility, strength, flight. Westbrook possesses these same skills. What also makes both unique is their portrayal as villains. Many on NBA Twitter highly oppose Westbrook, labeling him as overrated and empty stats.
For 2021-22, he joined the Lakers who are widely perceived as villains entering the season given the amount of talent they have collected and they history that surrounds the franchise. People do not want to see the Lakers or Westbrook succeed, just like Ultron was not meant to succeed.
Loki – Joel Embiid
Loki is the God of Mischief. I would say Embiid’s social media trolling would put him in the mischief category. In 2017, Embiid is named Yahoo’s Troll of the Year.
Loki’s one desire in the world is to be a ruler, a king. Embiid, like Loki, came from another world (Cameroon) to midguard (Earth) to become a ruler (of the NBA). Embiid is willing to do whatever it takes to win, including killing off (trading) anyone that gets in his way (such as Ben Simmons).
Odin – Greg Popovich
The NBA’s longest tenured coach, Popovich has been with the Spurs since 1996. Like Odin, father of Thor and Loki, he has seen everything. Pop has been a successful ruler (5 NBA titles), produced some major stars (Duncan, Kawhi, Ginobili, Parker). Pop has had a long tenure, but it soon will end.
Thanos – Trae Young
So this one isn’t going to be a fair comparison for everyone. But I am a Knicks fan.
Thanos is the biggest villain in the MCU and Young is the biggest villain in NYC. It’s as simple as that. No correlation to victories and rings/stones. Just 1 villain, representing another.
Others considered: Lebron James
Guardians of the Galaxy – Mavs
I went back and forth on this one a lot. To me, the Guardians of the Galaxy are a group of misfits that don’t seem like they would work together, but yet somehow they do and they are successful. I see that team as the Mavs.
There’s a few reasons. For one, I’m not a huge fan of the Mavs roster. But I wasn’t in 2019 or 2020 and yet they still had success. Adding Reggie Bullock and keeping Tim Hardaway Jr is fine, but do those guys move the needle?
Luka Doncic moves the needle and fits the bill as being the leader from another galaxy. They have a solid core from beyond the galaxy (other countries) – Kristaps Porzingis, Max Kleber, Boban Marjanovic, Frank Ntilikina.
Groot – Knicks
While the Mavs team may represent the Guardians of the Galaxy, I think there is a direct correlation between Groot and the Knicks.
Groot started out small in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and during the opening scene , he is shown dancing around a planet whkle the rest of the guardians are fighting a monster. Groot is very entertaining but also pretty useless in the fight. That sounds like the 2014-2020 Knicks. Entertaining (dysfunction and misery can be fun for people to watch) and useless (7 year playoff drought).
But by Avengers: Infinity War, Groot had grown into a larger tree and was ready for battle. He was an active participant in the fight against Thanos in Wakanda. Like the Knicks in 2021. They finally grew up, emerging from the bottom and finally becoming an active participant in the playoffs.
By the end of Infinity War, Groot vanished and he was blipped by Thanos’ snap. Ironically, I noted above that Trae Young is Thanos, so this is the equivalent of the Hawks wiping out the Knicks in 5 games in the 2021 Playoffs.
The Collector (Tanaleer Tivan) – Sam Presti
Tivan appears in Guardians of the Galaxy and again in Avengers: Infinity War. He is known as the largest keeper of intergalactic relics and conducts his business on planet Knowhere.
Hi Sam Presti. The OKC Thunder GM is very similar to Tivan. He is a collector of draft picks, with over 30 total picks including18 future first rounders through 2027. He also has a history of collecting valuable assets to turn into trade commodities. For example, he traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul, knowing Paul would later return a nice bounty of future assets. He hoarded Al Horford and turned him into draft picks.
Between the draft picks, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, Josh Giddey and others, Presti does have control of a lot of valuable assets (like Tivan does). And like Tivan, he basically conducts his business in Knowhere, a metaphor for where the Thunder are headed in present times.
Ant-Man – Isaiah Thomas
I’m cheating here, because Thomas isn’t currently signed to a team, but I would expect he will be at some point during the season. Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, has the ability to shrink as a way to fight his opponents. Thomas, at 5’9, is the perfect Ant-Man.
Yellow Jacket (Darren Cross) – Thaddeus Young
This one is quite simple because I am being literal. The Ant Man movie #1 villain is a yellow jacket. Young played college ball for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and I chose to use him here over Derrick Favors and Josh Okogie.
Aldrich Killian – Utah Jazz
Going with a full team analogy. Killian was the bad guy in Iron Man 3. He had a tendency to get hot, before he ultimately failed to get the job done.
The last few years, this has described the Utah Jazz. In 2021, they finished with the best record in the West, but could not advance to the Western Conference Finals. They haven’t gotten past the second round since 2007.
Killmonger – Devin Booker
I don’t think Booker is a bad guy, but I think the way the 2021 season played out, is a similar story to Killmonger, aka N’Jadaka or Erik Stevens, and his temporary takeover as the villain of the Black Panther movie.
Killmonger came to Wakanda to fight for his birthright as a ruler of the nation. He has had an uphill battle against adversity his whole life.
Since Booker entered the NBA in 2015 the Suns have always been among the worst teams in the league (until the 2020 bubble). In 2021, they finally broke out and snapped a 10 year playoff drought, advancing all the way to the Finals.
Along the way, Booker slayed the King. In the movie, Killmonger took out T’Challa and got to rule Wakanda. For a minute. After slaying Lebron James and the Lakers (defending champs), imagine Booker standing over Lebron yelling “is this your king?!”.
After the Suns beat the Nuggets and Clippers, they took a 2-0 series lead against the Bucks in the Finals. It felt like Booker and the red-hot Suns, were about to be kings.
But then, the Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, came back from the dead (imagine Giannis yelling “I am not dead!” just like T’Challa when he returned to fight Killmonger at the end of the movie). Giannis and the Bucks overthrew Booker, winning 4 straight games, to knock out the Suns to become kings/champs.
Others considered: Jimmy Butler
Mysterio – Kelly Oubre
Mysterio, real name Quentin Beck, is a good guy, who turns to a bad guy by the end of Spiderman: Far From Home. He uses the power of illusion, as does Oubre.
There were rumors all off-season that Oubre was seeking a long term deal worth between $20-25 million. Nothing he has ever done warrants that type of money. Oubre projects these illusions that he is a good, potentially star basketball player, but beyond the truth is he’s nothing more than a 15 minutes per game bench player.
Others considered: Kyle Kuzma, Dion Waiters
Ego – Kyrie Irving
Ego, Peter Quill’s (Star Lord) father, appears in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. He has his own planet, in fact he IS the planet. This feels very much like Kyrie, who tends to do his own thing and basically lives in his own world, never worried about consequences to his occasionally odd behavior.
While there are some similarities, this comparison would be better if this planet was flat.
Frost Giants – Cavs
Led by Laufey, the Frost Giants were the villains of the first Thor movie. The height of these bad guys rival the height of the Cavs.
During the 2021 off-season, Cleveland drafted Evan Mobley (7’0), signed Lauri Markkanen (7’0), re-signed Jarrett Allen (6’11), and also added Tacko Fall (7’5).
The Ravagers are a group of criminals that are often after money. Recently, 18 former NBA players were arrested in an alleged health care scam. Among those players include Ruben Patterson, Glen Davis, Sebastian Telfair, Tony Allen.
Watcher – NBA Fans
If you watched the What If series, you would know the Watcher views events of the MCU from a distance without interfering. At the end of the series, Watcher gets involved in the action and it leads to chaos. That’s not unlike NBA fans. Did you watch the documentary on the Malice at the Palace? Or watch the NBA Playoffs in 2021? There were a number of incidents between fans and players in the first round.