It takes three men to replace Steve Kerr.
So says Turner Sports, which will soon make the official announcement that Greg Anthony, Grant Hill and Chris Webber will form a three-person rotation as TNT’s top NBA analyst alongside game announcer Marv Albert. That job had been Kerr’s for the past four seasons but Kerr has since moved on to the head coaching position of the Golden State Warriors.
Why the decision to form a rotation as opposed to replacing Kerr with a single broadcaster?
“We have a really deep talent roster and we plan to dig into it and use everybody,” Turner Sports senior vice president Craig Barry told Sports Illustrated last week. “We are in a unique position to be able to work through a rotation with A-grade talent. We are looking at it from a perspective that each guy brings something to the table.”
Barry said that Reggie Miller will continue to pair up with Kevin Harlan on a second announcing team, but Miller could occasionally do games with Albert. Hill and Webber could also work with Harlan in a mix-and-match scenario. Inside The NBA host Charles Barkley will also call some games with Albert and Harlan as well. Barry said the plan is to match analysts based on geography and the matchups of individual games. Turner executives will also make weekly decisions on when a booth should be two or three people.
“This will be a little bit unique because we have time to try out different scenarios and different formulas to see what works,” Barry said. “Marv is a consummate professional and he will have the opportunity to work with different people who have different strengths.”
Barry said he does not consider the three main analysts in a tryout competition for the job next season.
“In the past we had Doug Collins and Steve and they were earmarked for that role,” Barry said. “Now if three months into the season we feel like there is a great chemistry forming with one team or something comes to the surface, we will definitely look at it. But we also will leave the door open for players and coaches next year that might want an opportunity. It keeps us in a place for options, but we are not starving for analysts.”
Regarding the sideline assignments, Barry would not say if Craig Sager would return at the start of the season or at a later date. Sager received treatment for adult acute myeloid leukemia earlier this year and is recuperating at home. (David Aldridge and Rachel Nichols are Turner’s current NBA sideline reporters.). “He’s been through it all,” said Craig Sager Jr., who works as a Falcons beat writer for the Score Atlanta. “Energy level's come back. Things change fast but I have all the confidence he's just a few months away.”
“Craig has a place here when he feels better and he is ready to come back to work,” Barry said. “The door is wide open for Craig when he is ready whether it is opening day, three months or six months from now. We support him 100 percent.”
The Noise Report
SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week:
1. Jay Bilas has entered a long-term marriage with ESPN. The network announced last week that Bilas had signed a contact extension through the 2022-23 men’s college basketball season. As part of that extension, Bilas will now serve as the top analyst on ESPN’s Saturday night game of the week. He’ll also continue to be part of the College GameDay show and ESPN’s coverage of the NBA draft.
Why did Bilas want to re-sign with ESPN for such an extended period?
“I've been with ESPN for 20 years, and the company has been committed to me from the beginning,” Bilas said in an email. “I like to think I've been equally committed, and when ESPN made it clear it was willing to commit to me long term, I didn't hesitate. In my experience, we have great games, we're committed to basketball and we have great people. It was a no-brainer for me, and I'm thrilled.”
I asked Bilas what he saw as his next evolution as a broadcaster?
“That's an interesting question,” he said. “Maybe I should, but I don't really think about it. My main interest is in basketball, and I'm willing to do anything in and around the game. Maybe I should have loftier career ambition, but I really just love basketball, and I love studying it, watching it, and learning about the game and those that play it.”
One of the more interesting things about Bilas as a broadcaster -- and a big reason why he’s been praised by viewers and writers of the game -- is his willingness to challenge the sport’s establishment. He’s been a big advocate for student-athletes, the latest being the University of Alabama’s (specifically, the athletic department and women’s basketball staff) shameful handling of women’s basketball player Daisha Simmons.
Said Bilas, "Am I an activist? No. I have thoughts and positions on the policies and rules of the game, both on and off the court, but I consider myself an informed [I hope] commentator on important policy issues in and around the game rather than an activist. I love the game and when you love something, you advocate necessary change to maintain or improve the quality of the game. As a commentator, I believe I'd be doing a disservice to our viewers and listeners if I failed to provide my perspective. If I differ with NCAA policy or an on-court rule, that's okay. But, if the policy is so good, then those in favor of those positions should be able to justify it. Policy differences are healthy. You can love the game intensely, yet still differ with its policies and rules.”
1a. ESPN college basketball analysts Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams have joined the cast of ESPN College GameDay. Bilas and host Rece Davis are the only holdovers.
2. Through four games and including three blowouts, CBS’s Thursday Night Football is averaging 16.2 million viewers -- a healthy number. More importantly for CBS, when compared to last year’s CBS primetime programming, TNF is up 33 percent in viewers (15.8 million from 11.9 million).
2a. Via Sports Business Daily and ratings analyst Douglas Pucci, here’s a snapshot of the NFL pregame show ratings. The data is from Sept. 28:
Fox NFL Sunday: 4.76 million viewers.
The NFL Today 2.755 million.
Sunday NFL Countdown: 1.629 million
Game Day Morning (NFL Network): 535,000 viewers.
2b.The Rich Eisen Show -- a daily, three-hour talk show -- debuts Monday at noon ET on DirecTV and NFL Now.
2c. Fox NFL analyst Randy Moss, on 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh: “When I came to San Francisco, one of the questions that I had pertaining to that locker room and coach Harbaugh being the head coach was, ‘He’s treating us like college guys, like we’re still at Stanford?’ And that was one of the things I couldn’t let go. I know it has been a couple of years since I’ve been in that locker room, but is that still his approach to treating these men like college kids? I think it’s a big concern for anyone because if you’re a veteran and you’ve been in the league for 10-plus years and you have to do this a certain way, my concern for them is that this could still be a problem two or three weeks from now.”
2d. CBS NFL analyst Amy Trask -- the former CEO of the Raiders -- on the team’s coaching search: "Being a Raider is special. It is my hope that the organization doesn’t again hire someone who does not want to embrace being a Raider … [Jon] Gruden is one of the names that would be very, very attractive. Not only to the organization, but the fan base would embrace him. There are other names as well, but certainly Gruden would embrace [the team]. If they get him a strong personnel person as well, that could be exciting."
2e. NBC Sports’s Josh Elliott fronted an excellent feature on Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, whose four-year-old daughter Leah is battling cancer.
3. The NBA is expected to announce on Monday that it has agreed on new long-term media deals with the current television rights-holders ESPN and Turner Sports. Sports Business Journal reporters John Lombardo and John Ourand reported last month that the league’s annual rights fee will more than double, with ESPN and Turner combining to pay more than $2 billion per year on average. Both networks had made retaining the NBA a significant priority and you can expect added multi-platform hires and content additions from both places.
Sources told the SBJ reporters last month that talks with ESPN and Turner were advanced enough that there was little chance the NBA would carve out a third package for another network, like Fox Sports or NBC Sports. Lombardo and Ourand reported that ESPN, in particular, has been adamant during negotiations that the NBA not develop a new package to sell to a competitive sports network. The SBJ story is here.
4. Turner Sports' Barry would not reveal the announcers assigned to the Knicks at Cleveland game on Oct. 30 -- the first regular-season game for LeBron James back in a Cavaliers uniform -- but said it would feature the network’s biggest talent and the pregame show will be one-hour long. If you want a guess here, I’d bet Barkley is one of the game analysts.
“We will approach that game with our biggest event capacity,” Barry said. “We’ll have the biggest production both pregame and postgame, with our biggest talent.”
5. “I never had a lump,” says ESPN Los Angeles-based reporter Shelley Smith. “My breast tissue just looked funny -- crooked almost -- and a good friend of my from my gym in San Pedro had just had a double mastectomy and in her honor and because I Googled 'crooked breast,' I went in for a mammogram. Three days later, I got a call. My doctor is a huge Lakers fan and the call came during the middle of the NBA draft lottery."
Smith said she has been diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma -- estrogen positive -- in her left breast. It has spread to at least one lymph node.
“We won't know until surgery if it has spread to more, but we do know it hasn't gone to any of my organs or bones,” she said. “I am taking Arimidex, an anti-estrogen pill, to shrink the tumors and my doctor says it’s working. The side effects are basically waking up every morning feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck, but yoga and walking and my gym people make it tolerable.”
Smith said she waited until Oct. 1 to announce her diagnosis publicly because it coincided with the start of breast cancer awareness month. She also needed time to process things. She said the response to her announcement has been overwhelming via texts, Facebook and Twitter messages.
“What was really cool was the Oregon football fans and the sign they posted at last Thursday night's game,” she said. “People have been so extraordinarily nice about so many things. Truly humbling.”
Smith praised ESPN management for allowing her to take extra trips home for her medical appointments -- the company is exceptional with employees who need medical care -- and praised other cancer survivors at ESPN for reaching out.
“If the tumors have shrunk I will have a large lumpectomy in January, and then we will decide on course of treatment,” Smith said. “There is a minimum of three months of chemo and five weeks of radiation. It could be six months of chemo. We just won't know until then, and that's when it will be 'staged.' I know I will lose my hair, which will be tough. My hair pretty much has defined me my entire life. It’s the same color as my mother and my daughter. I will get a good wig.A friend says get a blonde one, I'll have more fun! The chemo, well, it’s generally really tough to go through, but it’s different for everyone. I'll just have to see and take it from there.”
6. The St. Louis Cardinals' 10-9 comeback win Friday over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS was the most-watched broadcast in the 14-month history of Fox Sports 1 with 3.595 million viewers. FS1's coverage of the 18-inning game between the Giants-Nationals on Saturday night averaged 3,160,000 viewers, the fifth most-watched telecast in network history.
6a. TBS had averaged 3,875,000 total viewers through Saturday afternoon for its five American League games, up 15 percent from last year.
6b. The Dodgers’ Game 2 win over the Cardinals on Saturday was the most-watched and highest-rated program in MLB Network's history. The game drew 1.8 million viewers and peaked with 2.2 million viewers from 12:45-1 a.m. ET.
7. Sports pieces of note:
• SB Nation’s Jeremy Collins wrote a brilliant memoir on friendship and loss through the prism of watching Greg Maddux.
• ESPN’s Seth Wickersham profiled 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.
• The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas on whether the NFL should have a team in London.
• Newsday debuted a comprehensive college football coaches salary database.
• Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel on why no one wants to host the 2022 Olympics.
• The tragedy and triumphs of Dick Enberg. Well-done profile by Matt Calkins.
•The MMQB’s Robert Klemko on the baffling death of Rob Bironas.
• Terrific story by Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe on Celtics rookie Marcus Smart, and the dark places that drive him.
• Grantland’s Jordan Ritter Conn profiles Keyon Dooling, who suffered sexual abuse as a child.
Non-sports pieces of note:
• A boy was accused of taking a backpack. The courts took the next three years of his life. Brilliant work from The New Yorker.
• Long, terrifying and highly recommended. Vanity Fair’s William Langewiesche on the anatomy of an airliner crash.
• Via The New York Times Magazine: A photographer shoots a quartet of sisters every year for 40 years.
• The Halifax website The Coast had a remarkable piece on two women who are being relentlessly harassed online.
• How the world’s health organizations failed to stop the Ebola disaster.
• Dear future son-in-law ...
8. In this week’s magazine, I have a media column on CNN Sports reporter Rachel Nichols, slayer of Roger Goodell, and the promising debut of We Need To Talk, an all-female, hour-long, once-a-week sports show, airing Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.
Nichols’ show -- Unguarded With Rachel Nichols -- has gotten traction for her compelling interviews with Floyd Mayweather and the first TV sitdown with LeBron James since he joined the Cavaliers. While the viewership numbers are not high (for CNN) given the Friday 10:30 p.m. ET time slot (The Sept. 19 edition of the show drew 240,000 viewers; a 1:30am ET encore drew 290,000), Nichols said she did not feel ratings pressure given the time slot the show airs, a sentiment echoed by CNN president Jeff Zucker in an interview with Sports Illustrated. The show also airs on CNN International, which is seen in 212 countries and broadcast in 300 million households. “Once they decided on the time slot everyone's expectations were set in terms,” Nichols said. "It would never be a ratings leader and no one expected it to.”
Nichols is one of the number of women in sports -- ESPN’s Kate Fagan and Jane McManus should also be included -- who have seen their profile rise with strong opinions and reporting on the NFL’s domestic violence issue.
“I am not ready to declare any great step forward until we see what happens a few months from now,” Nichols said. “Yes, women have a lot to say about the issues of domestic violence but women have diverse opinions on all kinds of subjects. The point of diversity whether it is racial or gender or anything else is that you have people on the air who are coming from different perspectives who add different colors and layers to a discussion.”
9. The annual Awful Announcing list of rising stars in sports broadcasting.
10. The University of Maryland’s Povich Center for Sports Journalism has a first-person piece from Hall of Fame tennis journalist Bud Collins on his career.
10a. TSN NHL hockey insider Bob McKenzie has an excellent new book out, Hockey Confidential, which includes a section where McKenzie has a long and candid Q&A with Canadiens forward Brandon Prust on fighting in the NHL. Really interesting, honest stuff, and recommended for NHL fans.
10b. Stop what you are doing now and click on this interview with Collins and John McEnroe from a Maui tournament in 1978.
10c. The Village Voice continued its assault on the socioeconomic mumbo-jumbo that ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd too often delivers.