Hard to make sense of ESPN’s decision to dump top NBA voices Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson – Boston Herald
While recently going public with their new NBA broadcast teams, ESPN’s Bristol Faculty didn’t add laser beam focus on why they unceremoniously dumped Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson who teamed with Mike Breen for nearly two decades as the network’s No. 1 hoops trio.
During that time, the three voices authored a memorable partnership. Historically speaking, they will go down as one of the best microphone combinations in the industry and the best ESPN has presented in any sport.
It’s rare for a network to strike this brand of gold. Even rarer to strike gold than flush it down the toilet.
Under ESPN’s watch, Van Gundy became a star. Nonetheless, the suits decided their NBA product could do without his unique personality, something that can’t be taught or duplicated. Both JVG and Jax are genuine.
Yet the sum of this gang was greater than any individual part. It was a compelling team, in the truest sense. At any moment, the insight — or humor — could be delivered by any one of the three.
If there was any ego, it didn’t come across on the air. While JVG wasn’t averse to shining a light on NBA controversy, that might have not played well in the league office, the broadcasters never attempted to become bigger than the game or the stars that play it.
Chemistry is a word that gets blown around like feathers in the wind. Van Gundy, Jackson and Breen actually had it. Considering the way ESPN suits were kvelling about their performance throughout the NBA Finals, they never lost it.
During a recent conference call, David Roberts, ESPN’s head of event and studio production who is in charge of NBA coverage, mentioned the importance of “chemistry” as it applies to ESPN’s “new” No. 1 and No. 2 NBA broadcast teams.
“…When you find chemistry that actually matches with the quality of the product, meaning the NBA games, then it’s an opportunity I would not pass up,” Roberts said.
But ESPN already had unparalleled chemistry in its No. 1 NBA booth. So, is any “chemistry” talk at ESPN now just lip-service? Or was ESPN brass’ decision to dump Jax and JVG simply an unconscious decision made in a conscious state of mind?
The decision results in ESPN teaming Breen, with veteran analyst, Doris Burke and coach/broadcaster Glenn (Doc) Rivers. ESPN has also created a new No. 2 team featuring play-by-play mouth Ryan Ruocco, Richard Jefferson, and NBA gadfly JJ Redick. ESPN is positioning the No. 2 unit as its No. 1 team of the future.
Considering ESPN’s NBA rights contract expires following the 2024-25 season, and the status of the network’s future relationship with the NBA has yet to be determined, that “team of the future” characterization is presumptuous. It also isn’t great for the moral of Breen/Burke/Rivers to be shadowed by this No.-1-team-in- waiting.
The ultimate demise of JVG and Jax sends a signal to the Free World that at ESPN, excellence behind the ESPN microphone is no guarantee of keeping one’s gig. The suits have stuck to their mantra of JVG and Jax being part of company-wide layoffs; voices simply caught in a money crunch.
The spin has now been refined to position the transactions as a restructuring of ESPN’s total NBA team — from game voices to studio show personnel. Still, could the dismissals have anything to do with JVG, and his sometimes-controversial commentary, being perceived as an irritant to the NBA hierarchy? Was this a case of ESPN’s Faculty wanting nothing, no matter how small, serving as an impediment to its ongoing NBA negotiations?
“I need to emphasize that they [Adam Silver and Co.] were not involved in the decision-making process,” Roberts said. “….Like any good partnership, they’re aware of what’s going on and they offer their input.”
The extent of that “input” remains unknown. But from this outpost, there’s reason to believe no one in the league office attempted to convince the Bristol Faculty that jettisoning Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson was a dreadful decision.
MAD DOG LOSES HIS BITE
Christopher (Mad Dog) Russo, capable of playing tough guy, opened the door on Wednesday’s “First Take,” but weaseled out of walking through it.
The subject was Dalvin Cook. Dog said the new Jets running back comes with baggage. Anchor Molly Qerim asked: “What kind of baggage?”
Russo: “I’m not going to get into it here.”
Why not? Russo brought up the “baggage” subject. Perhaps Russo needs to go into the shop for a reality check.
Or in case Dog forgot, Cook has been connected to domestic violence allegations. Court documents revealed that he offered $1 million in hush money to a former girlfriend who claims Cook physically abused her.
SILLY KNOCK ON HBO
Since the Jets are involved, there was bound to be a more focused examination of HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
FAN’S Evan Roberts went the egocentric route. He actually was miffed that in “HK’s” first episode, HBO used video of Fox’s Colin Cowherd and Nick Wright on the show talking Jets.
Continuing on this trivial path, Roberts said the guy who was really stiffed by HBO is Pat McAfee. Rodgers is a regular on his show. Sounded like Roberts was auditioning for a guest appearance on McAfee’s soiree.
Throughout his media career, Norman Julius Esiason has accumulated a variety of personas, including football analyst, comedian and beauty pageant host.
NJE can now add international correspondent to his resume. In the recent edition of his syndicated “Game Time” show, Esiason interviews Vitali Klitschko, the Mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine and former heavyweight champion.
Esiason keeps the focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. His questions drain a lot of passion and emotion out of Klitschko. If Esiason’s interview-mission was to inform and inspire he accomplished it. At the end of the one-on-one, Esiason said he hopes to get the chance to meet Klitschko on Ukrainian soil.
AROUND THE DIAL
If you are not put to sleep by their stale play, the only reason to watch the Yankees on YES is to checkout Aaron Boone’s postgame press conference. Boone is great when it comes to testing how delusional HE thinks the fan base is. … The line of those with ideas about fixing the Yankees winds around the block — twice. On his YES podcast, Russ Salzberg says the Bombers organization needs to change the way it “thinks.” Of course, he’s assuming that anyone in the organization is capable of thinking. … With things looking up for the Jets and Giants, little room has been left for Gasbags to become doomsayers. Still, there’s always Met Life Stadium to complain about. On Monday, that’s what FAN’s Tiki Barber, Evan Roberts and Shaun Morash did. Not exactly scintillating radio. … The earth shook the other day when ESPN-98.7′s Michael Kay announced he’s finished engaging with the unwashed masses on X (formerly known as Twitter). Kay did this before but returned. Let’s see how long it takes him to break this “promise.”
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DUDE OF THE WEEK: GREGG POPOVICH
An extraordinary man with an equally extraordinary coaching career. His induction into basketball’s Hall of Fame was richly deserved. Popovich’s impact on the sport is undeniable.
DWEEB OF THE WEEK: PAC-12 PRESIDENTS
Now that it has been revealed these executives turned down a lucrative ESPN offer one year ago, the demise of this conference is on them. Next time, listen to your media consultant.
What Gerrit Cole said: “You just never know how baseball’s going to play out.”
What Gerrit Cole meant to say: “Who knew we would be under 500 at this point in the season?”
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