Rating the NBA Broadcast Talent: ABC/ESPN
By Paul Benedict
Everyone’s been coming out with articles on the playoff races, and while I’m supposed to be covering the West, I decided I have nothing new to offer anyone that they don’t already know. So I’ve decided to ditch that piece in favor of one I’ve been preparing for and wanting to write for a very long time– an evaluation of all the talent that covers the NBA for ABC, ESPN, and TNT. I was going to deliver this as one mega-piece, but decided to split it up into separate articles: the first will cover all of the ABC/ESPN talent, and the second to come early next week will cover everyone on TNT. I figure this way you don’t have to spend an afternoon reading it and I don’t have to spend days at a time writing it. It’s the weekend baby– I want to spend as much time watching basketball as I do writing about it. Feel free to comment and offer up some of your own grades.
Greg Anthony- Studio Analyst/Game Analyst
-Greg Anthony is the lone bright spot among ESPN’s studio analysts, although he needs to stick to his analyst role and ditch the sorry comedic schtick he sometimes brings out when Stephen A. Smith is around. Informative, knowledgeable, and a genuinely cool guy, Anthony is at his best when he’s either alone in the studio or accompanied by Tim Legler with whom he works very well with. ESPN has also recently been teaming him up with Brent Musburger for Sunday night broadcasts and Anthony is showing that he has what it takes to be a regular at the scorer’s table. Musburger is a nice complement to Anthony because he allows him to loosen up and have fun while calling the game, which is essential to a lazy Sunday evening broadcast. If ESPN can find a respectable replacement for Anthony in the studio (NOT Matt Bullard, please spare us), I would not be surprised to see him call games on a more regular basis next season.
Grade: Studio- B, Game- B+
Greg Anthony’s future as a broadcaster is about as bright as the light beaming off of his bald head (that’s a good thing).
-”There’s a scary look in Ron Artest’s eyes right now.” “Ron Artest is going into the stands!” These two phrases will forever be embedded in the minds of sports fans and because of that, Mike Breen will never be forgotten in the sports world. However, Mike Breen will likely be remembered for more than just these calls during the Pacers/Pistons melee on November 19, 2004. Over the past few years, Breen has launched himself into the upper echelon of sports broadcasters and deservedly so. He has the versatility to work well alongside anyone, paces himself so well by knowing when to pick up the excitement and when to get in chill mode, and also has developed enough credibility so that he can invoke his own insight from time to time. Breen and Clyde even sometimes make the Knicks worth watching and THAT says a helluva lot.
Mike Breen- Play By Play
Hubie Brown- Game Analyst
-Though he may be getting up there in age and tends to drone on and on at times, Hubie is a brilliant basketball mind and always makes several points during a game that most analysts just don’t see. His knowledge for the game of basketball is obvious and that makes his ability to break down key plays, analyze coaching strategies, and talk basketball history rise above just about anyone else.
Hubie’s can still rock the mic, but I want to see him rock these jive suits again!
Ric Bucher- Studio Analyst
-If you’ve never seen Ric Bucher, then you have never watched NBA Nation or NBA Fastbreak and maybe it’s better that way. Stein writes for ESPN the Magazine and does a nice job covering the NBA, but as an analyst he doesn’t quite have the presence on camera that merits him a spot on either show. His voice is, to be blunt, annoying and he just doesn’t have the look of someone that should be telling us why Antoine Walker’s physical presence will lead the Celtics to the Atlantic Division title, or how Yao Ming’s inability to guard the pick and roll will doom the Rockets in the stretch of crucial playoff games.
Colleen Dominguez- Courtside Reporter
-Another recent addition who’s getting her first NBA experience under her belt. Unfortunately Dominguez does nothing for me– she dresses well, but should be a lot more attractive with a name like that and I find that bothering me every time she comes on screen. She also knows practically nothing about basketball and if Lisa Guerrero couldn’t make it as a MNF reporter, then how in the world can we expect Dominguez to make her mark if she’s at least 10 years older and easily 10 times less attractive.
Jim Durham- Play By Play
-Durham is an ideal radio play-by-play guy and that’s why ESPN has used him as their top radio guy for the past few years. He’s great at describing what happens, knows when to talk and when not to, and has a low-key delivery that clearly distinguishes him from his respective partner. On TV, it doesn’t quite work as well for him as his games often seem to come to a drag, especially during blowouts when you rely on the announcers to offer up something that will keep your attention. But while he may lack creativity and flair, Durham can be relied upon to call an accurate and smooth game.
Jim Gray- Courtside Reporter
-I’ve never EVER liked Jim Gray. His arrogance puts Stephen A’s to shame, he’s a total jerk and everyone around the league knows it- players and personnel included, and what really irks me is this is how he believes a good reporter should be. He’ll always ask the super tough questions, even if he knows the person being interviewed would rather throw themselves in front of a train than answer them. To me, that’s just unethical and believe me, as a communications major who has studied very closely the media and more specifically broadcasting, I know that in many ways, this is what you’re taught to do. But Gray has no style or grace– he never cares to be gentle with his wording, he doesn’t give a damn about it being the right time or place, and he would intentionally make an interviewee look bad if it meant him looking good. At the same time, you have to give the prick credit for having cajones the size of Jupiter? Would anyone else have asked Pete Rose questions like those? Would you constantly stare Latrell Sprewell in the face and ask him brutal questions that you know piss the biggest asshole in the NBA off? Would you follow Tim Duncan into the locker room after a serious injury and bombard the nicest guy in the NBA with questions you know he’s not in the mood to answer right now? I wouldn’t– I believe there’s a code of ethics in everything we do and the public does NOT have a right to know everything. Jim Gray, however, is a machine sent out to seek answers and he will find them whether people like it or not.
Grade: No grade
Jim Gray wore out his welcome in baseball, so now he’s ruthlessly chastizing players in the NBA.
Dana Jacobsen- Courtside Reporter
-She’s only covered a few games, and while she does have talent, she just seems happy to be there. And in one of the games she was yelping like a cheerleader because Brent Musburger kept bringing up the University of Michigan, where she went to school. I mean really, leave the cheerleading to Mateen Cleaves and Mark Madsen.
Mark Jones- Courtside Reporter
-Plain and simple– Mark Jones is a total dweeb that ALWAYS tries to make some sort of joke during an interview or voiceover and 9 times out of 10 fails miserably. What’s worse is that I can’t remember ever seeing a player responding well to his corny demeanor and so you’re left almost feeling bad for the guy because he is trying awfully hard. ESPN needs to continue to stick him to women’s games because A) His personality probably comes off as charming and even mildly funny to women and B) I don’t watch women’s games.
Steve Jones- Studio Analyst/Game Analyst
-Steve “Snapper” Jones, the long-time Portland Trail Blazer announcer, has seen his duties shift this year from both the scorer’s table (as opposed to the booth in baseball and football– just making that clear) to the studio desk and has done a respectable job with each duty. He’s never been a prime-time voice for a game– not someone you turn to for a big playoff game or a dramatic Shaq vs Kobe battle, but more as an analyst that can be relied upon to get the most out of a weak back-end of a doubleheader. He always has fun when calling games and knows that his viewers need to see this if they’re supposed to be enjoying a 10:30 Memphis/Golden State matchup. In the studio, he works well with Bill Walton, but I’m not quite sure he could pull this off opposite anyone else. Often times Snapper appears genuinely befuddled by Walton’s comments, but Walton knows just how to get his friend to crack a smile that Snapper is saved from appearing a bit too serious.
Grade: Studio- C+, Game- B
Even at the scorer’s table Walton aggravated Snapper.
Tim Legler- Studio Analyst/Game Analyst
-”Legs” is not a studio guy– his personality is a bit too stale and too many of his rants and comments appear to be rehearsed. He’s at his best when he goes back and forth with Greg Anthony because the two constantly disagree and both have the basketball experience and intelligence to be able to back their opinions up and give viewers two sides to an argument. The feature ESPN runs during Kia NBA Shootaround, “The Spotlight”, in which Anthony and Legler break down the upcoming game from both team’s perspectives is excellent because very seldom do we see analysts (Doug Collins is the best at it) go to that depth to pick apart a game that hasn’t happened yet. I think Legler’s eventual future is at the scorer’s table where he can utilize his basketball I.Q. and solid delivery to call a pretty good game. As it stands, I think ESPN holds Anthony in a higher regard than Legs, and though they have done play-by-play for roughly the same amount of games, Anthony may get the chance to bolt from the studio before Legler does.
Grade: Studio- C, Game- B
Al Michaels- Play By Play
-Michaels doesn’t have an extensive resume covering the NBA, but because he’s Al Michaels, he’s able to get away with it. Classy, articulate, and with a brilliant voice, Al Michaels today arguably sets the bar for play-by-play announcers, yet because he doesn’t cover games on a full-time basis like many announcers, he is not able to provide the insight and knowledge that separates the best from the rest.
Brent Musburger- Play By Play
-There was a time, about 20 to 30 years ago, when Brent Musburger was considered THE voice of the NBA, calling games during the Magic/Bird glory days for CBS, but that era ended before I received my diploma– from elementary school, thus I’m grading Brent based on what I know now. It’s still clear that Musburger loves to call NBA games, but it’s also very evident that he’s not quite as “with it” as he once was. An example: “Hey Greg, did you know if you go on to NBA.com that you can actually check the standings with the current seedings in parentheses? ESPN.com should do the same thing!”. Greg Anthony: “……….Oh……thanks, Brent.” Brent also botches facts, mispronounces players’ names (though not as bad as Hubie Brown), and has the attention span of my roommate’s two-year old black lab, Dakota. Seriously– listen to him do Sunday’s game and time how long out of the entire broadcast he actually talks about the game being played right in front of him–I guarantee the ratio is less than 40%. Listening to him Wednesday Night with Bill Walton, they could have just as soon been calling the Rutgers/Temple women’s game and I wouldn’t have known the difference. Okay, I’m being a little harsh on ‘ole Brent because he still does make some great calls and the fun he has can be very contagious, but it is apparent his better days are behind him.
Brent Musburger has called some of the greatest games in NBA history, but his glory days are far behind him.
Jack Ramsay- Game Analyst
-Dr. Jack is another guy who’s been around forever and has earned an immense amount of respect over the years due to his outstanding contributions to the NBA. That said, he’s also 80 years old, that’s right– 80 years old and well, not quite as quick and perceptive as he once was. I almost feel bad giving the Doc a crappy grade, but when I watch a game, I’m not looking to take a nap or wonder why the analyst said anything for the last five minutes.
John Saunders- Studio Host
-Saunders returned last night from a month-long lay-off while recovering from a car accident in which he seriously injured his back and the big fella didn’t miss a beat. He is as good as there is at shifting from being a mild-mannered, fun-loving guy to a serious, cut- the-crap man. The face he made when Kobe Bryant gave one of his pre- recorded bullshit answers to a question on Shaq earlier this season was absolutely priceless (picture the face you make when somebody at Burger King puts mayonnaise on your burger when you repeated clearly 3 times, “NO MAYO!”) and emblematic of Saunders as an honest, informed broadcaster.
Stephen A. Smith- Studio Analyst
-Screamin’ Stephen– I’m not a fan. He’s loud, he’s obnoxious, he takes himself too seriously, he’s frighteningly arrogant, he’s been known to touch up his “facts” here or there, and he’s just not funny at all. Sure he tells it how it is, or how he thinks it is, but don’t you get the feeling that he intentionally makes emphatic points just because he thinks he can? I will give him some props because he has made some impressive calls this season, including the firing of Paul Silas which he said could happen last Friday, and that should earn him some credibility. But what about the Vince Carter to Portland trade that he reporterd earlier in the season? Bottom line- I’ll pay attention when he’s discussing what’s going on around the league if only because his clout is growing at an alarmingly high rate, but his on-screen demeanor makes my eyes bleed and his constant shouting makes me ears bleed– just give me the facts bro, cut out all the bullshit.
Marc Stein- Studio Analyst
-See Ric Bucher above and substitute ESPN the Magazine with ESPN.com.
Would you take this guy seriously?!
Michelle Tafoya- Courtside Reporter
-Tafoya is the ideal choice as the courtside reporter that teams up with Al and Hubie- an experienced vet that viewers can count on to perform her job respectably. Like Michaels, her basketball resume doesn’t jump out at you, but she knows how to do an interview, how to gather reliable information, and most importantly, has an ego small enough to realize that people don’t tune in to NBA games to see her, thus her air time is exactly what other courtside reporters should follow.
Mike Tirico- Studio Host/Play-By-Play
-Mike calls games for ESPN and works as the studio host for ABC on Sundays and performs both duties effortlessly, yet tirelessly– if that makes any sense. What I mean– is that Tirico makes his job look so easy, yet it’s quite clear that he is one of the hardest working people in the business. As a play-by-play man, he constantly bombards viewers with intruiging facts and always seems to be on top of what’s going in with both the game at hand and the sport as a whole. As studio host, he knows exactly how to work Bill Walton and finds a way to subtely invoke his own opinion into the discussion. To me, it’s important that broadcasters provide some insight into the game and don’t just leave all analysis to their sidekicks. Tirico, Marv Albert, and Mike Breen all obviously know the game well and so I trust what they say when they occasionally give an opinion or make an observation.
Grade: Studio- A, Play-By-Play- A-
Tom Tolbert- Game Analyst
-I’m not sure if I’ve ever meet anyone who actually likes Tolbert and I’m not really sure it’s possible how anyone could. He’s extremely cocky as an announcer and acts as though he was once a dominant player in the NBA (at least Walton actually was). Every time I listen to him, I find myself thinking in my head at least a handful of times–”Dude, you were a freaking journeyman who was known as the most posterized player of your era, SHUT UP!”. Tolbert’s not funny either, yet he seems to think he’s Rodney Dangerfield. I have no idea how he supposedly has one of the best radio shows in the country (according to S.I.) because I’d rather listen to pigs f*cking than this guy. Somehow, Mike Tirico is able to make that broadcast team bearable and that says an awful lot about Tirico because Tolbert is to broadcasting what Keanu Reeves is to “The Matrix”– tremendously terrible unless there’s a surplus of excellence around him. What makes matters worse is that all of Tolbert’s downfalls overshadow the fact that he actually has some interesting things to say when his head isn’t so far up his ass. And I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that he really just doesn’t work very hard. A telling incident– Once I caught a glimpse of a backfeed from after a game in which Tirico and Tolbert called. Tirico was seen digging through his stat sheets and notes, seemingly delighted as he commented to Tolbert about what he found. Tolbert was right next to him, either scrolling through his text messages or deciding which chick he would meet up with after the game, and not even acknowledging what Tirico was saying to him.
Ahahahhhahahahah! Wait, no seriously…..HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!
Stan Verrett- Studio Host
-Try and think of what Mark Jones would be like as a studio host and boom- you got Stan Verrett. Just a complete dork with one of the most pathetic senses of humor I’ve ever heard on TV. Here’s a sample from Wednesday night- “And just like Andre 3000, Reggie Miller is now Reggie 25,000 after Reggie Miller scored his 25,000th point last night.” Are you serious?! I’m not sure if he actually thought that was funny, but my goodness, I haven’t heard anyone hit the floor that hard after telling a joke since Jerry’s cancer joke when he purposely bombed so Kenny Bania would stop riding his coattails. Verrett also appears to have little knowledge about basketball, but I’m going to give him a better grade than Winer because he does have an ideal studio host name. “And now with your host– Stan Verrett!”
Bill Walton- Studio Analyst/Game Analyst
-You either love him or hate him, or you’re like me where you constantly go back and forth between both. One thing I will say to Walton’s credit– he loves the game of basketball, isn’t afraid to show it, and often times can make that love contagious for a viewer– similar to Dick Vitale, though more in-control. Now his voice might not be the easiest to listen to and sometimes his ego gets a little carried away, but in the past few years, he appears to have shunned away the negativity that he constantly brought to his analysis and that makes him much more enjoyable to listen to. I personally think Walton and Snapper are a solid duo in the studio because of their experience and offsetting personalites. Walton loves to branch out and make bold predictions, while Snapper is more of an reallist who makes observations based on facts.
Grade: Studio- B+, Game- B
Damn right Bill once blazed–err, was a helluva Blazer.
Matt Winer- Studio Host
-I’m not sure if ESPN finally gave up on Winer, but Saunders made his return last night and Stan Verrett replaced him later in the night and also was there on Wednesday. If ESPN did indeed can Winer from the NBA studio, they made a very wise decision. Winer knew very little about basketball and it showed, often fumbling the pronunciation on players’ names and never providing any sort of insight whatsoever. ESPN actually had Winer in the studio the night they did a special edition of “NBA Nation” during ‘Rivalry Week’ and had Magic, Kareem, Parrish, and Laimbeer talking throughout via satellite, but Winer acted like he was calling the opening round of the LPGA Deutsche Bank Classic by showing no excitement or interest whatsoever. Furthermore, his rapport with his fellow talent was laughable– could you actually see Stephen A. having a good conversation with Winer outside of the studio?! Get this guy a gig on ESPNews or something, but please don’t let him come close to covering the NBA ever again.