We were pretty excited about the news — ESPN was reportedly going to spice up its pregame show by bringing in writer Bill Simmons and former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. They were still going to keep Magic Johnson, but nothing’s perfect. But that would have been a big improvement, we might have watched.
But that plan has fallen apart. Which makes us a little sad, but negotiations fall apart all the time. It happens.
Then The Big Lead suggested the reason everything blew up is David Stern stepped in and told ESPN not to hire the other Van Gundy (they still employ Jeff).
And then, according to sources, NBA commissioner David Stern allegedly stepped in and prevented ESPN from hiring Van Gundy, who he has been at odds with for over a year.
I called ESPN and asked about Stern blocking the Van Gundy hire, and the network confirmed Van Gundy was a candidate. A spokesman said, “We had discussions with Stan Van Gundy and were interested in a role for him at ESPN. Ultimately, we differed on potential assignments and we moved in another direction.”
ESPN says it was just ESPN. Of course, that’s what they would say whether it was or wasn’t true. No official comment from the league yet.
Understand how broadcast deals work: A company doesn’t just pay a league a fee then get to cover said league however they wish. Leagues use the phrase “broadcast partners” to explain it as more symbiotic, but the league’s have leverage and use it to influence broadcasts (“listen to us or you may not win the bidding war next time”). Leagues are very concerned about image and that their broadcast partners are not negative to the point of undermining the league’s image and credibility. This is not just the NBA, this is every sports league. The leagues get a say in who broadcasts games.
So the idea that Stern would try and veto Van Gundy, who can be a loose cannon, is not out of the question. Van Gundy was ripping Stern on a radio podcast last month and hasn’t been on great terms with the Commissioner during the Dwight Howard trade debacle.
Either way, it sucks for us fans, because more Stan Van Gundy on that show would make it watchable.