10 Thoughts on NBA Opening Night Media Coverage

From Gordon Hayward's injury to Kyrie Irving and LeBon James embracing on the court, there were plenty of positives to go around on the first night of NBA coverage.
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Ten NBA media items following the opening night of the 2017-18 season.

• When a sports television broadcaster is presented with the kind of gruesome injury Celtics forward Gordon Hayward suffered in the first quarter of Tuesday’s Cavs-Celtics game, the goal above all is to cover the injury with accuracy, reporting thoughtfulness. Last night was not an easy situation for TNT but I thought they did very well, especially the announcers laying out (not talking) after the injury.

Immediately after Hayward went down, announcer Kevin Harlan knew it was bad. Said Harlan: “Oh my goodness, Hayward came down so hard, Hayward broke his leg, Hayward has broken his leg, Hayward has broken his leg. Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. And that is how quickly a season can change.”

That was followed by analyst Reggie Miller saying soberly, “This is unbelievable.”

Both then went quiet.

Producer Jeff Randolph and director Lonnie Dale then had to make quick decisions on the images around Quicken Loans Arena and they did it very well. There were quick cuts to players and fans in disbelief, including (in order) Cavs center Tristan Thompson, Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, Cavs forward Jae Crowder, Cavs guard Derrick Rose, Boston players huddling up, LeBron James with his head down and various shots of crestfallen Cavs and Celtics players.

Then Harlan came back to say, “About as gruesome an injury as you will see in sports.” Miller’s reserved tone after the injury was also appreciated.

The Disastrous Gordon Hayward Injury and How the Celtics Might Respond

Randolph then showed a replay from afar, followed by a top down shot of Hayward. TNT showed the medical team taking care of Hayward but the cameras did not get too close. Viewers saw Hayward coming off court on a stretcher shaking his head and then another camera gave a brief shot of him being wheeled into the locker room. Over the next three quarters, reporter Kristen Ledlow provided updates on Hayward’s condition and possible transfer points from the arena. (The Celtics announced that Hayward fractured his left ankle.)

“In the moment, it reminded us of what happened during the NCAA Final Four a few years ago and the [Louisville] Kevin Ware injury,” Randolph said in an email after the game. “We knew it was extremely serious and we wanted to avoid any close-up shots of the injury. Collectively, along with Kevin and Lonnie, we held on doing an immediate replay and instead let the pictures tell the story by showing the emotions and reactions from the players’ perspective. When we did show a replay, we provided a look at what happened, but from the farthest possible angle. That one replay was meant to give our audience a sense of the magnitude of what had transpired and we then returned to live action.”

Well done.

• Sometimes you get lucky. Turner’s first NBA game of the season ended on a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer by Kyrie Irving with James guarding him. That gave the cameras the perfect angle to capture James and Irving embracing after the buzzer following Cleveland’s 102-99 win. Great TV.  

Gordon Hayward's Injury Casts Dark Cloud Over NBA Opening Night

• The NBA viewership story is an interesting one. The league’s national average audience across ABC, ESPN, NBA TV and TNT was down six percent last year during the regular season, per Sports Business Daily. TNT had its lowest regular-season average since 2007-08, with an average of 1.54 million. ABC posted its lowest regular-season viewership season (3.3 million viewers) since 2007-08. ESPN games (1.565 million average) were down five percent from the previous year (1.652 million). NBA TV was also down from 2015-16 (312,000, from 345,000). The NBA’s local TV ratings fell 14% during the 2016-17 regular season, per Sports Business Daily.

Now, there are significant and legit factors that the league can point to including a very slow start to the season because of the fervor of the Presidential Election coverage. Late-season regular games, especially in the Western Conference, did not carry as much weight as they had in previous years. This is a big year for the league when it comes to regular season ratings given the amazing offseason transactions, and especially given ESPN just ponied up $1.4 billion per year to extend the league rights through the 2024-25 season.

On Rollercoaster Opening Night, Rockets Eclipse Celtics as NBA's Most Intriguing Team

Now the good rating news: Star teams remain a huge draw for the league in the NBA Finals. Despite a five-game series, Warriors-Cavs II averaged 20.4 million viewers on ABC, up one percent in viewership from 2016’s seven-game finals between the same teams. It was the most-watched NBA Finals since Bulls-Jazz in 1998 (29.0 million) and the third year in a row that viewership has hit a post-Jordan high. Per Sports Media Watch, it was also the most-watched NBA Finals to last five or fewer games since Bulls-Lakers averaged 23.9 million in 1991. ESPN said the NBA Finals averaged a streaming audience of 434,000 on the WatchESPN app, up 20% from last year (363,000). On key demos, per Sports Media Watch, the NBA Finals averaged a 7.4 rating in adults 18-49, down slightly from last year (7.5) and down 3% from 2015 (7.6). The 7.4 is the sixth-highest for the NBA Finals since 1998.

• ESPN’s Doris Burke will work a full season as a national television analyst. Her first regular season assignment comes Friday with the Warriors-Pelicans at 9:30 p.m. ET. She’ll work alongside gamecaller Ryan Ruocco and reporter Israel Gutierrez. Burke will serve as an analyst for ESPN regular-season NBA telecasts as well as the NBA playoffs, making her the first woman at the national level to be assigned a full season rotation of games as an NBA game analyst. Over the last couple of years Burke has worked selected NBA games as a color commentator but now gets cemented as a regular. Burke said she will keep her role as lead ESPN NBA sideline reporter for the NBA Conference Finals and NBA Finals.

"The NBA, and more importantly, the entire sport of basketball, has always been an inclusive environment," Burke said. "To me, whether we are talking about the players, coaches, team management or anyone involved with the sport, it is about your game so to speak. Do you have the work habits and skills to be successful? I believe if the players and coaches respect my viewpoint of the game, then fans will as well. And full credit there goes to the NBA and to ESPN. They are willing to put people like me in a position to do this. It's pretty cool to have a greater role and the chance to continue to cover a sport that I love with the best players and coaches in the world."

• The only consistency with ESPN’s NBA Countdown pregame show is change. The pregame show has historically undergone musical chairs with staffers. This offseason was relatively stable. Michelle Beadle returns as a host, joined by analyst Paul Pierce (now fulltime), Jalen Rose, Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady. As we’ve said repeatedly—and was also the case when Sage Steele hosted, too—ESPN devalues this show by not letting it host the majority of post-game airtime during the Conference Finals and NBA Finals. We’ll see what they do this year.

• ESPN/ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy thinks that if center Joel Embiid is able to remain healthy for 70 games, the Sixers will make the playoffs. “He’s that good. He’s that dominant. He’s talented. And what I love about him is he’s got a competitive mean streak about him, too, that I think when you’re trying to break through a historic amount of losing that they’ve done, you need that one star that has a competitive streak to him.”

• TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal on Carmelo Anthony joining the Thunder: “I think at this point in Carmelo Anthony’s career he should look at teams like Golden State and San Antonio. The key ingredient there is moving the ball. Carmelo has been a guy the past 10 years where the ball comes to him and it sticks. He now has a team where he has Paul George, [Russell] Westbrook and Steven Adams at center. If things are done the right way these guys can make a lot of noise. At some point of your career, especially when you are older, you have to say, 'Do I still want to get my mine or do I want to win? How to I want to be remembered? As a winner, or a guy who put up big numbers?'”

• I’ve long been impressed with SiriusXM’s commitment to the NBA. The satellite service has live play-by-play of every game from Opening Night through The Finals, along with daily talk and analysis on SiriusXM NBA Radio (XM channel 86, Sirius channel 207). Former players and coaches on the channel include Greg Anthony, Antonio Daniels, Brendan Haywood, Eddie Johnson, Tim Legler, Rick Mahorn, Sam Mitchell and Brian Scalabrine. On-air hosts include Mark Boyle, Gerald Brown, Ric Bucher, Tom Byrne, Noah Coslov, Howie Cowart, Brian Geltzeiler, Jared Greenberg, Jonathan Hood, Frank Isola, Jason Jackson, Mitch Lawrence, Joel Meyers, Mark Morgan, Jeff Rickard, Chris Spatola and Justin Termine.

• Some excellent NBA reading:

GQ’s Mark Anthony Green interviewed LeBron James

SI’s Lee Jenkins had two sensational profiles last week: Timberwolves forward Jimmy Butler and Cavs guard Isaiah Thomas

ESPN's Zach Lowe had 32 crazy predictions

SI’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney offered 72 reasons to watch the NBA in 2017-18

Sportsnet’s Dave Zrum on the 30 NBA figures who will define the 2017-18 season

ESPN’s Jackie McMullan on how the Rockets landed Chris Paul

SB Nation's Tom Ziller's 99 NBA predictions for the season.