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“ESPN cheapens everything it touches” - Ethan Strauss rips his former employer

No one was spared - from LeBron James to his former ESPN colleagues Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson
ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, Ethan Strauss

Ethan Strauss went off on Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson as analysts

NBA TV ratings are on a steady, concerning decline. It’s not just the “everything is getting worse numbers nowadays” part of it - the Association has a problem, and it’s fixable. We often focus on game length, the number of games in the regular season, and similar causes for the decline in viewership.

Former ESPN reporter Ethan Strauss thinks all those shy in comparison to one aspect that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. You could sum up his position like this - ESPN sucks at what they do.

Jackson and Van Gundy

Most people will know Strauss for one of two things. Getting berated by Kevin Durant in a press conference and being the only ESPN “expert” to predict the Warriors winning the 2015 NBA title. 

As the Dubs beat writer, he was there to witness a dynasty being born. One little quirk of his job is that Strauss almost never watched Warriors games on TV. While rewatching the 2016 Finals, one thing shocked him. 

“I was completely dumbstruck by how this epic event that I had experienced in real life was drained by a lot of what made it feel interesting and exciting as a TV product. It was almost like they were trying to make it worse.” 

Ethan Strauss, DNVR Denver Nuggets Podcast

Strauss reminded us that there was no storytelling about this epic clash, giving us insight into the dynamics on the court. All we got were (cringy) Roots intros to games. But what really annoyed Strauss was the performance of his former colleagues.

“Then you watch the broadcast. Jeff Van Gundy totally distracted, all over the place. Mark Jackson rambling about “I dont want people to tell me good things about myself after I'm dead, I want them to tell me while I'm alive.” These are things that are happening in a close Game 6, an elimination game, sometime in the 4th quarter!”

Ethan Strauss, DNVR Denver Nuggets Podcast

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I have to agree with Strauss on this one. It’s not just the intelligence-insulting level of in-game commentary. If you compare ESPN’s halftime show with Inside the NBA, you quickly understand that there’s more to it than having Shaq, Chuck, and Kenny. ESPN’s halftime show is 12 minutes of commercials and a 20 second prepared fake soundbite by each analyst. 

The league’s main broadcast partner does everything it can to say nothing of substance, and Strauss believes it was predictable. “Perhaps it was a foolish move when they shocked everyone and left NBC in the early 00s. Because while it might have been an alluring option, those people don’t actually know how to do sports television.” Straus explained. “It seems like they don’t know how to build up a sense of gravitas and grandeur, and I think they have undermined the product at every step of the way - even when the league has been at its peak post-Jordan.

All roads lead to the NBA

One thing NFL does well is making sure their broadcast partners focus on the game and the players. They do a much better job of telling stories connected to the actual product - the reason we tuned in the first place. Adam Mares explained the different approach the NBA has and why he thinks it’s wrong. 

The NBA, they are selling cool as much as anything. And when you're trying to be cool, and then you have the Roots...hold on, we don't need to be cool right now. The game is cool. 

Adam Mares, DNVR Denver Nuggets Podcast

In addition to this, media has less and less access, as players want to control the narrative as much as possible, and that hasn’t helped the outcome. “We often don’t know what’s interesting about ourselves, or we want to hide interesting aspects because we want to portray ourselves as something else.

“You've got to take the reigns and do the storytelling. If you're gonna leave that to LeBron, as Nike does because he has so much influence within that company, he's going to do a really bad job of it, which is what he's done. He makes terrible ads for the most part and if anything, he's less popular despite maintaining an impossible level of excellence.”

Ethan Strauss, DNVR Denver Nuggets Podcast

I still think other things are bigger issues when it comes to the quality of the NBA TV product - an insane amount of game breaks being at the top of the list. That being said, a broadcast partner that would focus on the game and stories connected to the game would be nice. Maybe even an interview with players where they get asked more than “talk about how you feel” questions.

One can dream. 

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