Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson leaves ESPN’s NBA Countdown


I have to get my bias here out up front: Magic Johnson is my all-time favorite player. I think his combination of size, handles and passing skills were unique in the sport and let to the most entertaining basketball we’ve seen. Plus, he had cultural impacts far off the court that are even more important.

But he was a terrible analyst. Just awful. I just could not watch him on ESPN’s NBA pregame countdown shows.

So I didn’t shed a tear when it was announced by ESPN on Thursday that he is out of the NBA Countdown show this season. Johnson released a statement through ESPN:

“I love ESPN. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my schedule and other commitments, I don’t feel confident that I can continue to devote the time needed to thrive in my role. I will always feel a strong connection to the ESPN family and I enjoyed working with them very much.”

The timing of this, three weeks before the start of the season, is a surprise.

There were reports that Johnson feuded with Bill Simmons (who is tight with Jalen Rose, making up half of the pregame show), but Simmons disputed that and I know Johnson and Simmons were friendly off air. Mike Wilbon’s role is being reduced as well.

Who is in? Doug Collins for one, the former Sixer coach signed on and we knew he’d have a larger role. There also could be a role for Doris Burke who was going to be in the studio on Wednesday’s but could do more, reports the USA Today.

For my money, more Burke is good. She is smart, professional and knows the game. We’ll see how the chemistry shakes out between all of them, but this show may take a step forward this season.

Its biggest challenge is trying to match the incredible chemistry and just watchability of Inside the NBA on TNT Thursdays, with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal. That show is the gold standard.

Kings offer challenge after ESPN ranks the franchise worst in major sports


ESPN caused a stink in Sacramento recently when ESPN the Magazine released its franchise rankings across the four major sports.

The cover contains the headline, “#1: The Memphis Grizzlies are the best franchise in sports” followed by “No. 122: The Sacramento Kings are not.”

While this rating could have been somewhat explainable if the hapless Maloof family still owned the team, the firepower and momentum behind new ownership led by Vivek Ranadive — the group that successfully fought to keep the Kings in Sacramento and get a new stadium built — should have moved the franchise many, many spots up that list.

ESPN released a press release explaining their rationale:

“Every year, ESPN The Magazine compiles the results of fan surveys and financial analysis to determine which teams in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL offer the greatest rewards for all the emotion, money and time that fans invest in them. … In all, 122 teams from the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball were ranked in order, based on a weighted average of scores in eight areas ranging from the quantitative to the emotionally subjective:

• Fan relations (25.2%)
• Affordability (17.4%)
• “Bang for the buck” (16.8%)
• Stadium experience (12.4%)
• Players (11.30%)
• Ownership (10.2%)
• Title track (3.6%)
• Coaching (3.1%)”

The Sac Bee’s Jason Jones reported that the rankings were “based off last season’s ownership, coaching, etc.”

That makes ESPN’s decision not to adjust those rankings for easily predictable improvements a curious one.

Fast forward to Saturday night, the Kings issued their own press release challenging ESPN.  The team released advertisements saying, “Hey ESPN. Nice Airball. New Era. New Swagger. The Best Fans Await You. 11.15.13.”

The messaging references the Nov. 15 nationally televised home game between the Kings and the Detroit Pistons on ESPN.

“Under Vivek’s leadership, there is a lot happening in Sacramento: a new ambition, new investments in talent and arena infrastructure, and a new commitment to our wonderful community,” said Kings President and Chief Operating Officer Chris Granger. “We have the best fans in sports and we will work tirelessly until we give them the best franchise in the world.”

“We love ESPN, but think they could have given us the benefit of foresight in their rankings,” continued Granger. “They know what we have going here. And, if they don’t, we’re going to show them when they visit us on November 15.”

As we’ve seen when Kings fans rallied in unprecedented ways to save their team, ESPN may have a hard time finding a crowd shot representative of the worst franchise in sports.

ESPN expects to be ‘aggressive’ in remaining a broadcast partner of the NBA

nba espn logo

The NBA’s broadcast rights deals don’t expire until after the 2016 season has ended, but at least one of its current partners is already posturing for when it’s time to renew that very expensive commitment.

ESPN expects to retain its rights to televise NBA games, and that much isn’t a surprise.

But downplaying the rise of the Internet in terms of the percentage of fans that want to receive their content that way versus over traditional cable network channels could be a misstep ahead of the negotiations.

From Adam Harris of Sports Business Daily:

ESPN President John Skipper said the net is intent on remaining a broadcast partner with the NBA and he expects “to be aggressive in doing that.” Skipper said during ESPN’s Media Day yesterday, “There are plenty of live sports rights, but the ones that make a difference are scarce.” He called the NBA a “critical product” for ESPN and added there are “not many things that move the needle like that.” The net’s current rights deal expires after the ’15-16 season, and there have been rumors Fox will make a heavy play for the NBA to add content to the new FS1.

Skipper addressed speculation that web-based platforms are increasingly competing for major sports rights, saying, “It is incomprehensible to me that the NBA would decide to put their games on a digital platform, and that sports fans are going to make a transformation, saying, ‘I’m going to go to Yahoo to watch my games tonight.’ I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think they have any way to monetize those rights in the same way that traditional (networks can).”

This obviously doesn’t play into ESPN’s monetization strategy, but more and more people are looking to cut the cord from the bloated offerings they receive from their local cable companies in favor of paying for only the content they deem relevant, and consuming it over an Internet stream.

To be honest, I’ve been looking for a solution like this for quite some time. I literally never turn on my television (or the attached cable box) unless I’m trying to watch live sporting events in real time. All other content I’m interested in seeing I can get at a later time online, and I’m happy to pay for it if that option exists.

The future is going to involve networks like ESPN offering their content for an Internet-only price, much like the NBA already has available with its League Pass Broadband option, which is largely fantastic — save for the fact that games shown on NBA TV, TNT, or ABC have been historically excluded from the package.

But for ESPN and others, holding broadcast rights to the NBA will only make that a more appealing proposition to the network’s paying customers.

Report: ESPN considering Isiah Thomas as studio analyst

Isiah Thomas

You may not remember this, but before Isiah Thomas was a bad college coach or was ruining the Knicks, he was a pretty mediocre television analyst back when this network broadcast NBA games.

Now, ESPN/ABC may be bringing him back to the studio.

At least they are thinking about it, reports the New York Post.

Isiah Thomas , who had an undistinguished run as an NBA in-game analyst with NBC — and as a Knicks’ exec was successfully sued for sexual harassment — is a candidate for a studio position with ESPN.

Yes, we are talking the New York Post, so take this rumor with plenty of salt. Exactly what role in studio we don’t know, but you can imagine Thomas would jump at this kind of opportunity to keep himself in the limelight.

But the sexual harassment thing is a good point — if you are a corporation thinking about hiring Thomas your workplace culture and the risks have to be considered.

My guess is nothing comes of this. But I also think he will land a job somewhere in or around the NBA. If I had to guess where, I would imagine with a team on a very densely populated island in New York, but that would just be speculation.

Blake Griffin gets naked for ESPN, but in a good way

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Clippers
Leave a comment

ESPN the Magazine is coming out soon with its annual “body issue” where artistic photographs of athletes’ bodies — barely covered — show off the human form. And likely sells some copies, because isn’t the point of art to make money off of it?

Which leads us to Funny or Die intern — and someday again Los Angeles Clipper — Blake Griffin sending out this tweet (hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie).

In my darker days I did nude modeling for my local YMCA art class and @espnmagwas there #sorry #bodyissue

Attached was this photo of a nude Griffin going all Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man on the cover. Clearly, Griffin has not stopped working out during the lockout (Griffin has a ridiculously strong work ethic, for the record.) We bring this to you because… well, we like it better than Amar’e Stoudemire’s jump last year for the same issue.