ESPN’s decision to take a sledgehammer to the network’s popular NBA broadcasting crew sent massive reverberations through the sports world.
Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson and Mike Breen certainly had their detractors, but for the most part, they were the only memorable thing as it pertains to the Worldwide Leader’s hoops coverage.
In every other aspect, ESPN’s basketball coverage was miles behind the magic TNT produces weekly with Charles Barkley, Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Ernie Johnson.
Shortly after Van Gundy was fired, Jackson was reportedly given the option of either being relegated to the NBA broadcasting B-Team or moving on. He opted for the latter.
Now ESPN’s broadcasting crew will be comprised of Breen, Doc Rivers and Doris Burke.
This week, clarity emerged on why precisely Van Gundy got the boot in such unceremonious fashion. Essentially, the network seemed worried he would ditch them for a coaching job, The New York Post reported.
“While Van Gundy was one of the best game analysts in sports, top ESPN executives were wary of his desire to coach again,” the Post cited.
It also didn’t help that Van Gundy was often critical of the NBA.
“Van Gundy was also critical of the NBA and its officiating, which the NBA has expressed disappointment with over the years and even this season, according to sources. However, there is no evidence of an edict from the NBA to make a change,” the report added.
Van Gundy’s exit proved to be a death knell for Jackson.
Whereas Van Gundy may or may not return to coaching, Jackson has essentially been blackballed from the league at this juncture.
Breen, understandably, is pretty upset about losing both his broadcasting partners and good friends.
“It’s sad because we really thought we had something special and … we were able to do it a lot longer than anybody ever did,” Breen told The New York Post. “It’s something we’ll all treasure, but we just wish it was a little bit longer.
It will be interesting to see how ESPN’s hoops coverage looks next year. The network lags behind TNT’s basketball broadcasts so much that it’s hard to see any move making much of a meaningful difference.
Of the network’s current stars, Malika Andrews is deeply controversial. Stephen A. Smith is Stephen A. Smith; there is a reason he makes so much more money than Andrews, but he also is more entertainment than anything else.
But that’s pretty much it. Richard Jefferson is obviously trying, but he has made more headlines for possibly smacking a co-worker’s butt than any of his actual basketball coverage.
— Game 7 (@game7__) August 2, 2023
ESPN just doesn’t really seem to understand basketball fans. At least not in the way you’d expect them to.
Will 2023 mark the year when ESPN’s NBA coverage finally takes a turn for the better? Time will tell.