With a super-team in Miami fronted by the league's most polarizing figure in LeBron James, the league's television partners are thrilled for the upcoming season, which begins Tuesday night. James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are featured on most nights, and the interest in the Heat could result in another epic playoff rating for broadcasters. Last season's Finals-clinching, Game 7 win by the Lakers over the Celtics was seen by 28.2 million viewers, the most-watched NBA game since Michael Jordan won his sixth and final championship in 1998.
Traditionally, teams with a rooting interest against them (the Yankees, Cowboys, Duke basketball) draw big numbers.
"TNT and ESPN will probably have the highest ratings they have ever had in the months of the November and December," said TNT play-by-play announcer Marv Albert, who lives part-time in Miami and called the Heat's first preseason game. "Usually, you have a lot of competition during those months, but Miami will be appointment television every night. Then there's Boston, Orlando, the Lakers and Oklahoma City. LeBron had every right to move, but the way it was done was misguided. But I think you always need teams like that. People will be interested in the Heat, even if they are rooting against them."
While the focus will be on the those on the court, we're here to offer the scouting report on those who will bring you the games. Here's SI.com's NBA broadcasting guide to the 2010-11 season:
ESPN will air 90 games this season, including 15 exclusive broadcasts on ABC (all ESPN telecasts also available via ESPN3.com). ESPN Radio will broadcast 26 games, while ESPN Deportes (ESPN's Spanish-language U.S. sports network) will televise 22 games. The Lakers (16), Heat (15), Celtics (13) and Magic (13) have the most appearances. ESPN will air the Western Conference finals and ABC will broadcast the NBA Finals.
Stuart Scott (host), Hannah Storm (host), Jon Barry (analyst), Chris Mullin (analyst), Jalen Rose (analyst), Mike Wilbon (analyst), Magic Johnson (analyst), J.A. Adande (reporter), Chris Broussard (reporter), Ric Bucher (reporter) and Marc Stein (reporter).
1. Mike Breen (play-by-play), Mark Jackson (analyst), Jeff Van Gundy (analyst), Doris Burke (reporter).
Mike Tirico, Terry Gannon, Mark Jones and Dave Pasch will also call games during the year. Tim Legler will serve as an analyst on select broadcasts.
In the ever-changing world that is ESPN's studio show -- who can forget former classics such as Kevin Frazier, Tim Hardaway, Stephen A. Smith and Fred Hickman? -- Storm joins the group (she hosted the Finals studio show last year) and will share hosting responsibilities with Scott. The
Breen, Jackson and Van Gundy form the top three-man booth in any sport, a fun and exceptionally enjoyable listen. We've repeatedly praised Shulman and Brown for professionalism and preparedness. For those who like basketball on the radio, Jim Durham and Jack Ramsay are fantastic. This column would urge any ESPN executive to use the NBA game broadcasting group as a template for what should be the goal across the network: a group of professional and entertaining men and women who don't have to go Chris Berman on the audience in order to get attention.
Obviously, you can't duplicate Charles Barkley and the chemistry of TNT's studio show, but ESPN's studio show has improved over the years. Barry and Rose come prepared and speak their mind. Wilbon offers thoughtfulness and smarts, though he's much more genuflecting of the league in this forum than
Something to watch will be whether ESPN can be critical of LeBron, the network's business partner for
"Our guys call it the way they see it," ESPN senior VP and executive producer Mark Gross said. "That's what they are being paid to do. If they want to be critical of LeBron James, or if they want to be critical of Kobe Bryant, they will be critical of them. There is nothing taking place behind the scenes. We want our guys serving NBA fans and telling it like they see it."
Dec. 25, Heat at Lakers 5 p.m., ABC
"I think we offer really smart, analytical, inside X's-and-O's information that you can't get anywhere else. I also think we offer features that you cannot get anywhere else. The other thing we offer is that our coverage is not just in a pregame show; it's across all of our shows and all of our platforms. We cover the NBA 12 months out of the year on
"Don't get me wrong:
TNT will air 52 games in prime time, with 44 being part of its exclusive doubleheader on Thursday night. The network will feature 10 appearances each by the Celtics and Heat and nine by the Lakers, Nuggets and Magic. It will also air All-Star weekend, including the All-Star Game on Sunday, Feb. 20, from Los Angeles. As part of a rotation with ESPN, TNT has the Eastern Conference finals this year.
Ernie Johnson (host), Charles Barkley (analyst), Kenny Smith (analyst). Chris Webber (analyst) and Kevin McHale (analyst) will occasionally sit in as guest analysts. When Johnson, Barkley and Smith go on the road, Matt Winer (host), McHale and Webber will handle
1. Marv Albert (play-by-play), Steve Kerr (analyst), Craig Sager (reporter)
Mike Fratello (analyst), Webber and McHale will also appear as analysts throughout the season.
Plenty. Kerr, who worked for TNT from 2003 to 2007, joins Albert to make up a terrific top team. The former Suns GM signed a four-year deal, so he'll be around for some time. The studio show, which normally travels during the conference finals, will make trips during the regular season, including opening night for Heat-Celtics in Boston Heat-Cavs in Cleveland on Dec. 2 in what could be one of the most memorable nights this season. Turner will have a new studio for the first time in five years, as well as new graphics and new music.
TNT does basketball very well, but there's always room for improvement. The network would be wise to employ a former ref for part-time duty when the officiating becomes newsworthy, especially given the NBA's new crackdown on player complaints.
Nov. 11, Celtics at Heat, 8 p.m.
"We don't have a lot of rules. We let our guys be who they are and let their expertise come out on its own. We let the game on the floor be the story and our announcers have never wanted or intended to be the story. I'm not insinuating that anyone else's announcers do, but we let the game take care of itself. We have lots of championships among all of our announcers, so I think our depth and our ability to let the game happen on its own is something that sets us apart."
The league-owned network (now in 53 million homes) will air more than 200 live games this season.The Heat are scheduled to make four appearances and the Lakers are listed twice, but with NBA TV's Fan Night -- each week fans vote on NBA.com for the matchup they want to see televised nationally the following Tuesday -- expect the Heat and Lakers to be on NBA TV nine times. The Bulls and Thunder are scheduled nine times, followed by the Celtics, Mavericks and Rockets with eight apiece.
The network has plenty of programming, some of it very good, and some of it hosted by Ahmad Rashad. The hiring of former ESPN host Matt Winer last January was an excellent move. While we appreciate Rick Kamla's enthusiasm for the league, there is a fine line between passion and a screaming, over-the-top, shtick-filled highlight reader who makes us want to change the dial.
(NBA TV is part of NBA Digital, the NBA's digital assets jointly managed by the NBA and Turner Sports.)
Anchors: Ernie Johnson, Matt Winer, Ahmad Rashad, Rick Kamla, Marc Fein, Kyle Montgomery
Analysts: Kevin McHale, Chris Webber, Steve Smith, Rick Fox, Dennis Scott, Brent Barry. David Aldridge serves as studio and game analyst and reporter.
TNT talent: Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Mike Fratello, Craig Sager.
"I'm never mentioning [LeBron] and [Michael] Jordan in the same sentence ever again. There is no more discussion; Kobe is the last heir to Jordan. I think LeBron is starting a new era of basketball that is not led by a dominant 2-guard. [Backcourt combinations such as] Magic and Michael Cooper, Magic and Byron Scott, it's not that type of thing [with James and Wade]. I mean, who would be MVP if they both average 18 points?"