TNT is prepping the biggest NBA marketing campaign in its 20-year partnership with the league in tandem with one of the highest-profile names in cable these days: Spike Lee. The director and hard-core Knicks fan made headlines this summer during his legal battle to stop TNN from rebranding as Spike TV. That standoff resulted in a settlement between TNN owner Viacom and Lee, who dropped his suit in a deal that included a development deal for the director across Viacom’s cable networks. Although in the midst of postproduction on a pilot for one of those networks, the yet-to-be-scheduled multiracial gang drama SFC for Showtime, Lee last week began shooting the first of six NBA spots for TNT in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s also developing a drama based on his 1998 basketball-centered feature, He Got Game, for ESPN. TNT’s new NBA marketing campaign, dubbed Let the Truth Be Told, extends the network’s “We Know Drama” tag line into the unscripted, unpredictable drama that is pro basketball. “Right after the playoffs ended and we had such a successful NBA season, we sat down and said we’ve invested a lot in this property, we’ve been with this for over 20 years, and what can we do to continue this incredible success story?” notes David Levy, president of Turner Sports. “We thought, why don’t we come out and do a full marketing campaign, so we put it out to some agencies and Spike came back and just knocked our socks off.” His concept mixes well-known nursery rhymes, as sung by a group of children 8 to 11 to NBA All-Stars. In a spot filmed Thursday, the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick LeBron James dangles, infant-like, out of a crib while a circle of kids croon “Rock-a-Bye Baby” to him in a nursery setting. Footage of James on the court will be added in postproduction. The spots, which also feature Shaquille O’Neal, Ben Wallace, Jason Kidd and TNT’s NBA studio team, are being produced and directed by Lee under the auspices of SpikeDDB, an ad agency formed by Lee and DDB Worldwide. Lee’s shop was chosen over six other firms by TNT, which will run the campaign this fall; the campaign will also get heavy cross-channel support across the AOL Time Warner family, including TNT’s sister networks TBS and CNN. The first Lee/NBA spot will break on TNT Sept. 29, building momentum for TNT’s NBA opener on Oct. 28. Its NBA games averaged 3.6 million viewers last year. TNT last week also tapped Grammy Award-winning singer (and Warner Bros. artist) Seal for a campaign to promote its off-network drama, Law & Order. His single, “Waiting For You,” will serve as the backdrop for 30-second spots slated for TNT, cross-channel, spot cable, major market radio and a 60-second spot hitting Regal Cinemas nationwide.

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