Why did ESPN doctor a 3-year-old Damian Lillard interview to make it look like it came from his Bucks debut?

Running the social media accounts of ESPN has never sounded like an easy job, but it appears that 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 Thursday in Milwaukee, 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.

There were many moments during and after the game ripe for posting on social media, including his game-sealing 3-pointer and his postgame quotes breaking down the play.

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 background.

There are, however, some odd discrepancies in the video. Lillard’s Bucks jersey is not the jersey the team wore 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 in the clip.

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 made it clear what fans were looking at. In the absence of context, which this video needs much of, the average sports fans will think ESPN got a new interview with Lillard.

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - OCTOBER 26: Damian Lillard #0 of the Milwaukee Bucks is interviewed after the Bucks defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 118-117 at Fiserv Forum on October 26, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Here is Damian Lillard being interview by TNT, which actually aired the Bucks’ season opener. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

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 its 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, this is just weird and should leave fans with a bleak view of what’s to come if this is something ESPN wants to do. There is so much content out there to aggregate, but the biggest sports accounts on the internet taking real videos and reworking them to suit their own branding would blur the lines between real and fake in a way that many people are already concerned about due to the increasing use of AI and deepfakes.

The backlash to the video, complete with a community note on X, should at least give ESPN second thoughts before it tries something like this again.

Reference

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