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The BSM Staff Select the Best NBA Broadcasters

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Morning has broken on a new NBA season. It’s what makes October one of the best months on the sports calendar (to us anyway). You get college football’s murder weeks, the NFL in full bloom, post season baseball, and with tonight’s season opener between the Celtics and the 76ers, the NBA joins the NHL in the sport’s annual honeymoon period where the Carolina Hurricanes can win a Stanley Cup and the Sacramento Kings can hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

If you haven’t checked out our preseason NFL and NHL features, take some time and do that. For those pieces, we relied on the expertise of broadcasters and PDs in cities around those leagues. For the NBA, we are keeping things in house.

We decided to simply tell you who and what we like when it comes to NBA broadcasts. There are seven of us, so we each picked the best show or personality from a different specialty and wrote about what makes them unique and worth listening to, reading, or watching. Matt Fishman picked our radio broadcast team, Jason Barrett picked our TV studio show, Demetri Ravanos picked our TV studio host, David Greene picked our studio analyst, Tyler McComas picked our reporter, Brian Noe picked our TV play-by-play man, and Brandon Contes picked our TV color commentator. Enjoy!

BEST RADIO BROADCAST – THE MILWAUKEE BUCKS by Matt Fishman

Here’s a quick look at the best radio broadcast in the NBA. Whether they’ve been in the league for 46 years like the Phoenix Suns’ Al McCoy or haven’t been alive for 46 years like the Knicks’ Ed Cohen or Charlotte’s Chris Kroeger, the league is full of exciting and interesting radio broadcasters. Growing up in Chicago I was lucky to listen to one of the all-time best NBA radio play-by-play announcers—the late, great Jim Durham. 

My choice for the best radio broadcast is the Milwaukee Bucks broadcast. Play by Play Man Ted Davis is entering his 22nd season behind the mic for Bucks games which can be heard on flagship WTMJ in Milwaukee. For those who haven’t heard the Bucks broadcasts, Davis has some great nicknames for players. This includes the nickname “The Alphabet” for Bucks Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. Davis told On Milwaukee, “I’m at draft night, and I’ve never heard of him. And so we have the 15th pick…and it comes up on the screen that we picked him and look at that name that just goes on forever and I thought, ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to have to learn how to say this name.’  I said, ‘it looks like the alphabet.’ 

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Ted Davis also is the “point guard” for two very different broadcasts. He works solo for the road games but is joined by Dennis Krause for color commentary during the Bucks home games. He captures the movement and excitement of the game while seamlessly weaving in all the ticket promos, cross promos and live ads. 

Davis first hit the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks in 1988 and left for the Bucks in the Summer of 1997. 

Honorable Mention:  Dallas Mavericks/ESPN Dallas 103.3: Chuck Cooperstein, Brad Davis; LA Clippers/570AM LA: Brian Sieman; Chicago Bulls/670 the Score: Chuck Swirsky, Bill Wennington; NY Knicks/98.7 ESPN NY: Ed Cohen, Brendan Brown

BEST STUDIO SHOW – INSIDE THE NBA by Jason Barrett

With apologies to The Jump, NBA Countdown, and NBA Gametime Live, TNT’s ‘Inside The NBA’ is the best NBA program on television. Ernie Johnson does an incredible job keeping an out of control freight train on the tracks, while allowing organic discussions, debates, humor and chaos to ensue.

As smooth as Johnson is as the conductor, Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal offer unrivaled credibility, and appear to understand their roles and embrace them. They come across like three family members who respect each other and enjoy laughing together, yet won’t hesitate to bite back if they disagree.

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In many ways, ‘Inside The NBA’ feels like a morning show that just so happens to air after NBA games on television. It’s intelligent, funny, candid, credible, and the on-air chemistry is outstanding.

Not to be forgotten is the production team’s work on this broadcast. They’ve done a fantastic job of highlighting humor on this show. Whether it’s seeing Barkley test his donut eating skillsShaq crashing into a tree, or Kenny going inside the screen, viewers are entertained because there’s a lot of thought put into the presentation.

Rather than serving up the traditional recap style show, these guys have created something special. It’s not only the best NBA program on TV, it’s one of the best sports television shows period!

BEST STUDIO HOST – RACHEL NICHOLS by Demetri Ravanos

This was a tough choice, because I like all of what I would consider the “Big 3” of NBA studio hosts (Nichols, Michelle Beadle, and Ernie Johnson). Nichols gets the nod here though because she is the only one that I watch and think “she could carry a show by herself.” She proves that nearly every afternoon as ESPN all too often saddles her with a vanilla co-host or analyst on The Jump.

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Nichols has proven on the show that she can have fun and get great stories out of former players. Just last month she showcased her second-to-none interviewing skills when she held Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s feet to the fire about the culture inside the team’s front office.

Her comments and questions always have an air of strategy to them. She is a terrific reactor to what her interview subject or co-host just said. Nichols never gives off the impression that she is just waiting for someone else’s lips to stop moving so she can spit out her next pre-plotted question or point.

Given that she is the only one of “The Big 3” to be on a daily show, you could be forgiven for thinking Rachel Nichols would be the most apt to phone in her performance occasionally. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a field crowded with talent, no one brings it with more consistency than Rachel Nichols!

BEST STUDIO ANALYST – CHARLES BARKLEY by David Greene

It isn’t even close. “Sir Charles,” is the only analyst who is always willing to say what others would never say. He doesn’t spend his time riding the fence that too many analysts (and hosts) believe they have to in order to keep their jobs. If a team is terrible, or “turrible” as Charles would say, he’ll say it (he once said about the Bulls: “We better not be doing the Bulls this year. Man, they suck! Bunch of high school kids with $70 million contracts.”).

TNT’s Inside the NBA is a terrific watch, mostly because of the overall chemistry, but Barkley is the one that makes it must-watch television. I will never forget when EJ was doing a promo for fans to pay $6.99 to watch a Lakers-Bucks game on NBA.com’s League Pass and Barkley commented, “$6.99?! That game should be more like $1.99, please don’t pay six dollars for that, that game should be sold at the dollar store, c’mon man!”

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Honest to a fault, funny as hell, and an incredible passion for the game. That’s what makes Charles Barkley the Best NBA Studio Analyst.

BEST NBA REPORTER – ADRIAN WOJNAROWSKI by Tyler McComas

I tried to come up with any reason not to choose Adrian Wojnarowski. To be fair, only because I thought it was right to give every other reporter a chance to make this list. However, I couldn’t come up with one reason as to why ‘Woj” shouldn’t be the obvious selection.

Not only is he the best when it comes to breaking news, his on-camera and on-air abilities have significantly improved. He’s asserted himself as a true threat in all facets of media and continues to be the most trusted source in the NBA.

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Living that lifestyle can’t be easy, seeing as your always one text message or phone call away from being dragged from dinner and into breaking the biggest news in the sport. The sacrifices are high, but the rewards have been even higher for Wojnarowski.

With ESPN’s commitment to the NBA, it’s been a blessing for the network that they were able to secure the best in the business. Heck, he’s often the most mentioned name during the NBA Free Agency period. The great ones are often referred to simple by a nickname and Woj definitely belongs in that category.

BEST TV PLAY-BY-PLAY MAN – MIKE BREEN by Brian Noe

There are plenty of talented NBA play-by-play broadcasters these days. However, the premiere TV commentator is currently ABC’s Mike Breen. Possibly the greatest compliment I can give Breen is that he actually makes New York Knicks games on MSG Network better. Each game — whether it’s on ABC, ESPN, or MSG — simply sounds bigger when Breen is on the call.

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Another one of Breen’s great strengths is that he doesn’t take himself seriously to a fault. You can hear Breen’s passion during his trademark “bang” calls following big shots, but he allows color commentators like Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and Walt Frazier to showcase their unique humor and style without getting in the way.

Breen is similar to TNT’s Ernie Johnson on Inside the NBA in that regard. Ernie doesn’t get miffed when Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal stray way off topic to say something hilarious. Breen, too, doesn’t get upset when Van Gundy and Jackson start randomly talking about their favorite finishing moves in wrestling history. Breen laughs and sometimes even contributes to the humor.

That awareness and approach, coupled with Breen’s smooth delivery, make him the best NBA play-by-play voice in TV today.

BEST COLOR COMMENTATOR – BILL WALTON by Brandon Contes

If we’re building a fantasy broadcast in a keeper league, Brian Scalabrine, Reggie Miller, Doris Burke and Sean Elliott are all near the top of the list for TV analysts, but for one season? I’m listening to Bill Walton.

Maybe nostalgia is kicking in, hearing Walton and the late Steve “Snapper” Jones call a Sunday afternoon Knick game as my basketball fandom was built in the 90’s, but his eccentric style of analysis will forever be unmatched.  During any game the viewer is bound to laugh, say “good point” and yell “what?!”

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As analytics will undoubtedly continue taking over the sport, analyst roles will adjust. Already his patented “throw it down big man!” will be heard less as 7-footers convert into perimeter players.

In terms of keeping the listener entertained, there is no one better on a broadcast than Walton. Known for being a versatile player, I have no doubt his innovative and colorful style behind the mic would make him a successful broadcaster during any generation of basketball.

Recently, Walton has worked a toned down schedule focused on college basketball, but he’ll return to the NBA this year to join Ralph Lawler for select games in Lawler’s final season as the play-by-play voice of the Clippers.

BSM Writers

The Chiefs & Eagles Have Super Bowl Game Plans, How About You?

“The Super Bowl is the biggest event in sports, no team would go in without a solid plan, your show shouldn’t either.”

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When it comes to preparation, I usually hold off. I’m a procrastinator’s procrastinator. It sounds better if I say; “I’m driven by deadlines,” but the truth is, I just generally put things off until they absolutely have to be checked off the list. If your goal as a producer is to have a great post-Super Bowl show, don’t be me, you best start working now.

There are many things that complicate booking guests for a Super Bowl reaction show. The obvious is that you have no idea who is winning the game. But, beyond that, you have no way of predicting what will be the biggest story coming out of the game. It could be anything from overtime to a blowout, halftime show debacle, officiating blunder, or even a surprise retirement announcement.

With that in mind, there are some strategies for targeting guests. With these, though, working ahead is paramount. Most anyone that is going to have enough insight to improve your show will be slammed in the hours following the end of the game.

Strategy 1: The Game Participant

This is a big risk, big reward strategy. It is also one that is only available to a select group of shows. If your show is nationally syndicated, in a very large market, or home market for one of the teams, you have a shot here. If not, the odds are not in your favor. The team’s media departments are as busy as anyone during a Super Bowl run. They aren’t likely to help a show they’ve never dealt with during that whirlwind of action.

I am reminded of a friend of mine who worked as the media relations director for a mid-major basketball team that sprung a huge round two upset and advanced to the Sweet 16. Needless to say, he was swamped overnight with interview requests for his coach. He told me every station led with “ESPN Radio” then mumbled the part about being in Puyallup, Washington. It never hurts to ask, but understand it is a long shot.

Strategy Two: Local Player Not In The Game

This can be a really solid idea for both previewing the Super Bowl and the Monday after the game. If you are in a local NFL market, or if a local college or high school star is in the NFL, consider him as an analyst. Who better knows what happens in an NFL game than an NFL player? Bonus points if he has been a Super Bowl participant in the past.

Don’t underestimate how many NFL players are thinking about life after football. One of the dozens of roles as NFL analyst at a major network is an excellent retirement plan. You don’t have to have a Hall of Fame jacket for those gigs, but you do need to be good on air. You might be surprised by how many players will agree to an interview with that in mind.

Strategy Three: The Trusted Analyst

Every network has all their biggest voices either In Phoenix or in the studio for the game. These are people that know the interview game and have plenty of experience. This strategy comes with some obvious hurdles; it turns out the networks paying the analysts to be on site keep them rather busy. While they might have been happy to join your show the Monday after Week Three, this is a different animal.

One other factor you should consider in this strategy is the fact that Sky Harbor airport will be one of the busiest in the world Monday morning. Many of the analysts will be scrambling home to start their off season as well. If your analyst is on the move, travel delays can wreck your whole plan.

Strategy Four: The Pop Culture Angle

Oftentimes the biggest talking point coming out of the game is one of the things happening outside the actual play on the field. If you watch Super Bowl Twitter, the biggest traffic moments are people joking about a slow starting Star Spangled Banner “hitting the over” or how bad the halftime show is. Regardless of the act, it has become the default position that the halftime show is awful, even when we all think they are pretty good. 50 Cent hanging upside down will forever be a meme.

Commercials are going to be a massive talking point after a game, especially if the game doesn’t quite deliver. Who is the voice that can talk to your audience about everything from Rihanna to a Taco Bell commercial? There is the inherent risk of alienating the “talk more sports” guy with this type of guest so, as you should with any guest, make certain they are entertaining.

The Super Bowl is the biggest event in sports, no team would go in without a solid plan, your show shouldn’t either. Communication between hosts and producers is critical. Have a plan, work ahead and be on the same page.

Most of all, try to enjoy the game – and take the Chiefs and the points.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Burying ‘Outside the Lines’ Shows Little Regard for Respected Brand

Continuing to use the ‘OTL’ brand is likely a nod to the great work of Bob Ley, Ryan Smith, and Jeremy Schaap.

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With the end of college football season and the Super Bowl marking the conclusion of the NFL season, ESPN has air time to fill on Saturday and Sunday mornings for the next six months. In past years, that opened up a window for the network to bring back its prestige news magazine program, Outside the Lines.

However, late last week, Sports Business Journal‘s John Ourand reported that ESPN has decided not to bring back the standalone OTL show. The program most recently aired Saturday mornings during football’s offseason, typically from mid-February through August. That timeslot essentially buried a show that was once an important part of ESPN’s Sunday morning programming.

Outside the Lines provided substantive, in-depth sports features, interviews, and discussions on Sunday mornings, when viewers were conditioned to expect important dialogue and commentary with weekly public affairs programs and political talk shows like Meet the Press and Face the Nation.

Originally anchored by Bob Ley, OTL was a departure from the highlights, analysis, and quips that made up most of the network’s programming. This was ESPN doing journalism with a capital “J,” reporting and investigating longer-form stories on pertinent issues in sports, usually off the field, and examining trends that developed through a news cycle.

Eventually, the number of stories the OTL staff worked on — and presumably, the appetite for such content from ESPN viewers — necessitated expanding the show to a daily schedule airing in mid-afternoons. After Ley retired in 2019, Ryan Smith and Jeremy Schaap hosted the show and continued its deeper look into topical sports stories.

Producing for a daily schedule probably spread the show too thin, however. Finding important stories that warranted the stronger coverage promised by the OTL brand became difficult, forcing the show to include panel discussions that resembled the sort of debate programming seen throughout the day on ESPN. As a result, OTL content was whittled down and integrated into the noon edition of SportsCenter each day.

OTL also suffered amid the inherent conflict at ESPN from having a news-gathering, journalistic operation while entering partnerships with the sports leagues it was covering. Hard-hitting reports on domestic violence issues in the NFL, particularly in light of the Ray Rice assault scandal, and player safety concerns with the rise in traumatic brain injuries gave the network’s producers and reporters credibility. But such stories also rankled league officials and team owners who sought more positive promotion for their sport.

ESPN would surely balk at the idea that it throttled back on in-depth reporting and scrutinization. But the network’s relationship with the NFL is obviously better than it once was, best demonstrated by getting better match-ups on the Monday Night Football schedule, Wild Card playoff games, and Super Bowl telecasts for ESPN/ABC in 2027 and 2031. Meanwhile, Outside the Lines has been effectively buried among ESPN programming.

Yet ratings ultimately decide what stays on a broadcast schedule and what doesn’t. And OTL hasn’t drawn a good number of viewers in quite some time. Some of that is likely influenced by an early Saturday morning timeslot that drew an average audience of 303,000. But SportsCenter AM attracts 572,000 viewers in the same timeslot, so it’s apparent that fans want quicker, breezier content as they begin the weekend.

Outside the Lines simply may not stand apart in the current sports media landscape, either. Longer-form storytelling and reporting are often found in documentaries now, and we’re living in the golden age of sports nonfiction films. That includes ESPN’s own documentary brands E:60, 30 For 30, and ESPN Films. (E:60, in particular, seems to have replaced news magazine programming or special reports, which were once reserved for monthly specials early in OTL‘s life, at ESPN.)

Shuttering the Saturday OTL fortunately won’t result in anyone losing a job. According to SBJ‘s Ourand, some staffers will be reassigned to other studio programs. And others will continue to work on OTL-branded content that runs on SportsCenter throughout the day, not just at noon, under the “OTL on SC” banner. Additionally, OTL content will run on ESPN’s digital platforms such as the network’s YouTube channel. So the show will go on… sort of.

ESPN obviously values the OTL brand and realizes that it carries respect among fans and media. (The show also penetrated pop culture enough to warrant a parody on Saturday Night Live.) Otherwise, the network might shelve the title entirely. Yet perhaps that’s really a nod to the work of Ley, an ESPN institution, and Schaap, one of the network’s best reporters (with ties to sports media royalty in Dick Schaap).

That may be Outside the Lines‘ true legacy. Ley created a brand (continued by Smith and Schaap) taken seriously enough that viewers knew it meant bolder sports journalism unafraid to explore stories and questions that warranted such attention. The OTL name carries enough weight that ESPN can’t bear to get rid of it entirely, even if it doesn’t hold the place at the network that it once did.

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Chris Broussard Is No Longer Just A ‘Basketball Guy’

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great.”

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After embarking on a career in sports, Chris Broussard made a name for himself as a writer, specifically as it pertains to covering the NBA. Whether it was covering the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Akron Beacon Journal, covering the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets for The New York Times, or doing television hits for ESPN, Broussard had always, whether it was justified or not, been pigeon-holed as a “basketball guy”.

That was the perception then, but today, the reality is different.

“There’s no doubt that gets attached to you and that can be good because you’re seen as an ‘expert’ in one sport which is great,” said Broussard, the co-host of First Things First on FS1 and the co-host of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio. 

“But what was good for me was that at ESPN, I had done First Take with Skip Bayless a lot.  There were a few years where it was a rotation and I was in that rotation. That enabled me to at least do the other sports.” 

Broussard has certainly made a seamless transition from print to electronic media.

After joining The New York Times in 1998, Broussard started to get television exposure doing local hits and then appearances on the various ESPN platforms would soon follow. He joined ESPN full-time in 2004 as a writer for ESPN The Magazine, but that also included regular guest appearances and fill-in hosting opportunities on shows like First Take and the opportunity to be a co-host for NBA Countdown for the 2010-11 season.

With that gig came the opportunity to work with Michael Wilbon, Jon Barry, and his childhood hero Magic Johnson.

“I think that may be have been the pinnacle because Magic is Magic,” said Broussard. “He was my favorite player until Jordan came along and (with Wilbon and Barry), we just had great chemistry.”

After one season, Broussard and Barry were replaced by Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. A few years later, Broussard would make the move that would bring him to the next chapter of his career.

In 2016, Broussard left what amounted to being just a reporters role at ESPN for a new opportunity at FS1 where he would also be an analyst as well as a regular panelist for shows like Undisputed, The Herd with Colin Cowherd, First Things First and Lock It In.  In 2018, he began co-hosting The Odd Couple radio show with Rob Parker on FOX Sports Radio.

And then in August of 2021, Broussard was named the full-time co-host of First Things First, something that almost had happened when the network first launched.

“When they asked me to come on as a full-time co-host, it was great and maybe a long time coming,” said Broussard. “I know when Jamie Horowitz first brought all the people over from ESPN to be on FS1 in 2016, he was considering doing a show where Nick Wright and I were the co-hosts.”

Broussard now co-hosts the show with Wright and Kevin Wildes.

“I thought that I really just fit right in with the chemistry and it’s just been a great trio,” said Broussard. 

Born in Baton Rouge, Broussard and his family also lived in Cincinnati, Indiana, Syracuse, Iowa, and Cleveland.  He was a star football and basketball player for Holy Name High School in Parma Heights, Ohio and went on to play basketball for Oberlin College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio.

Believe it or not, his first love was not basketball.

“My favorite sport growing up was football,” said Broussard. “I played football through high school. I played basketball at Oberlin College but they recruited for me football and basketball. I even played baseball up until I was about 16 years old.” 

So much for being just a basketball guy, right?

After college, Broussard had a decision to make. He knew he wanted to be a sports reporter but wasn’t sure if it was going to be print or electronic media. When he was an intern at The Indianapolis Star, he spoke to people in the know about which direction to go.

“I was told that it’s just easier and there are more spots in print journalism than there are in television and radio,” said Broussard. “I chose print because I thought I had more opportunities.”

Broussard’s first taste of covering pro sports was in 1995 at the Akron Beacon Journal when he was a backup writer covering the Cleveland Indians who would go to the World Series for the first time since 1954. He shifted to covering the Cavaliers and then it was off to New York and a bit of culture shock for Broussard.

During his 2 ½ years covering the Cavaliers, Broussard typically wore a rugby shirt, jeans and sneakers at games. But he noticed that when the Knicks and Nets would come to Cleveland or when Broussard travelled to New York and New Jersey when the Cavaliers visited the Knicks and Nets, that the New York writers would typically wear suits and ties when covering the games.

So, when he interviewed for the job with The New York Times, Broussard had an important question for his future editor.

“I asked him when I was being interviewed for the job do they require that your writers dress up,” said Broussard. “He said no but they do generally in New York because they know television opportunities are there. So, when I started working at The New York Times, I started dressing up wearing a suit and tie or sportscoat and tie whenever I would cover games.  Ultimately that led to television.”

And the rest is history.

This coming week, Broussard will be busy co-hosting his shows from the Super Bowl in Arizona. It’s one thing to host a radio show or a television show from a studio but it’s really something special to do it from a live event, especially on the giant stage of the Super Bowl.

And this week, Broussard will be center stage in front of a lot of ears and eyeballs.

“It’s always great,” said Broussard. “FOX Sports Radio always has one of the biggest and best platforms on radio row. It’s always fun when you’re doing these live shows at the big events and you’ve got an audience, it really can kind of bring out the best in you. I’m excited about it both for TV and radio.”

Chris Broussard has certainly come a long way in his career in sports. 

From his days as an athlete in high school in college to getting his start as a write to a transformation into a radio and television personality, Broussard has worked hard to get to where he is today.

“I haven’t written a word since I went to Fox,” said Broussard. “I do feel fortunate that I’ve been able from morph from a writer into TV and radio. What you want to do in this business is stay relevant and you want an audience and a platform. There’s not that many people who get that opportunity to do it.”

He’s no longer just a “basketball guy”. He’s a “sports guy”.

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