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.’
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.
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 skills, Shaq 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.
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!”
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.
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.
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?!”
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.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.