We’ve got an exclusive 32-page mini mag on Starting Lineup’s New NBA Action Figures.

Pat McInally has lost track of how many times he’s told the story, but he still has a lot of fun telling it. And why wouldn’t he? Not many people can claim to have inspired arguably the most enduring and iconic sports collectible line, well, ever.

Not long after he retired from a 10-year NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals, McInally was writing an advice column for parents of young athletes when he met then-Kenner executive Bruce Stein. When the toy executive asked McInally if he had any ideas for new products, McInally thought about the ubiquity of G.I. Joe figures and of the popularity of real-life athletes. Eventually, the idea evolved into a pitch: Why not something that combined the fame of the biggest sports stars with the coolness of an action figure? 

When the team at Kenner heard the idea, McInally remembers, “Everybody loved it. They were all asking, Why didn’t we think of this?” The Starting Lineup brand launched in 1988 and became an instant classic. Featuring NFL, MLB and NBA greats, the line was a hit with kids and collectors alike, building on what at the time was cutting-edge realism in design. Retired in 2001, it lived on as a cultural touchstone with legendary status among collectors.

And now, with a level of realism the original line couldn’t have imagined, Starting Lineup is back. McInally’s genius idea has been upgraded for the times, building on a few decades’ worth of advances in digital technology while maintaining the inspiration behind the original line. For fans and collectors of all ages and interests, it’s reason to celebrate.

The folks at Hasbro, which now oversees the Starting Lineup brand, are pretty excited about it as well. 

“I’ve lived this as a collector, so it’s incredible to now be a part of it,” says Justin Spagnuolo, Director, Global Brand Strategy & Marketing at Hasbro. “It’s been so cool seeing how deep the collection’s roots go—the Facebook groups that follow all the old-school stuff, collectors still buying, selling and trading. It’s a live thing, so it’s great seeing the interest in the new line.”

The new generation of Starting Lineup kicks off with eight current NBA All-Stars, a group that, from all-time greats like LeBron James and Stephen Curry to young stars like Ja Morant and Luka Dončić, harkens back to the legends of the original late ’80s run. McInally comes from football, of course, but he has great appreciation for the value the original NBA lineup played in the launch of the brand.

“Michael Jordan was the key, of course,” McInally says of the player whose career statistical peak coincided with the Starting Lineup launch. “I remember that first set had Jordan, Patrick Ewing, all those guys. Let’s face it, they were neat.”

From the head-to-toe, hyper-realistic detail of the players themselves to the NFT trading card included with each new figure, the 2022 relaunch is light years beyond the original run. But the history that aligns McInally’s perfect idea with the newest iteration of the line is what makes Starting Lineup special. And the best part? 

As Spagnuolo promises, “We’re just getting started.” 

The post The Evolution of Starting Lineup: How the Brand is Changing the Game of NBA Action Figures appeared first on SLAM.