Why did ESPN doctor a 3-year-old Damian Lillard interview to make it look like it came from his Bucks debut?October 28th, 2023
Running the social media accounts of ESPN has never sounded like an easy job, but it appears the Worldwide Leader in Sports went to bizarre lengths to churn out a video supposedly from Damian Lillard‘s debut with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Lillard made a strong first impression in Milwaukee on Thursday, scoring 39 points — a record for a Bucks debut — with eight rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers, one month after the three-team blockbuster trade that sent him over from the Portland Trail Blazers.
ESPN, which was not broadcasting the game, went in a different direction. The network’s SportsCenter accounts posted a video showing Lillard saying “Ain’t nothing I want more. I told you when I first came here, I said ‘I didn’t come here to waste my time,” with the all-caps caption of “DAME DIDN’T COME TO MILWAUKEE TO WASTE HIS TIME.” The same video and caption were posted on Instagram.
At first glance, the video makes it look like ESPN somehow got an interview with Lillard, who is wearing a Bucks jersey and speaking into an ESPN microphone, with the Bucks logo on the court in the back.
There are, however, some odd discrepancies in the video. Lillard’s Bucks jersey is not the jersey the team wore on Friday. The Fiserv Forum does not have an NBA logo at center court like the one in the video. No one uses the elongated microphones like the one ESPN is using.
And, if you look very closely at that video — specifically at the jersey strap on Lillard’s right shoulder — you can see some odd interaction with the court background.
All of that is because the video was doctored by ESPN. Or deepfaked, to use a harsher term.
The original video can be seen here, in which TNT’s Chris Haynes interviews Lilliard in 2020 during the NBA’s time in the Disney World bubble.
The oddness was pointed out by Portland radio host Danny Marang, and the video soon started gaining traction in a way ESPN probably wasn’t envisioning. The network eventually released a statement to Sports Media Watch, claiming the video was an attempt to combine notable sports moments:
“We occasionally look to connect sports moments of the past with contemporary imagery and storylines as part of our social content. While it was never our intention to misrepresent anything for fans, we completely recognize how this instance caused confusion.”
The explanation sounds innocent enough, but it doesn’t address some of the major issues.
ESPN claims it didn’t intend to misrepresent anything to fans, but they in no way make it clear what fans are looking at. In the absence of context, which this video needs much of, the average sports fans will just think ESPN got an interview with Lillard.
It’s also bizarre, with potential ethical and legal ramifications, that ESPN is taking a video from a competitor, TNT, and editing out its logo for it’s own. Yahoo Sports has reached out to TNT for comment.
Given that ESPN is a branch of The Walt Disney Company, employers of perhaps the most infamously aggressive intellectual property attorneys on Earth, you have to wonder if the network would welcome an account using its own interviews for similar purposes.
Above all, though, this is just weird and should leave fans with a bleak view of what’s to come if this truly is something ESPN wants to do. There is so much content out there to aggregate, but the biggest sports accounts on the internet taking actual videos and reworking them to suit their own branding would blur the lines between what’s real and fake in a way that many people are already concerned due to the increasing use of AI and deepfakes.
The backlash to the video, complete with community note on X, should hopefully at least given ESPN second thoughts if it wants to try something like this again.