The NBA Finals Have Been a Total Disaster for ESPN

A terrible series, rough telecasts and the looming end of ‘Inside the NBA’ make this a postseason to forget for ESPN.
Jun 12, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) during the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Boston Celtics in game three of the 2024 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 12, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) during the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Boston Celtics in game three of the 2024 NBA Finals at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

1. Unless the Dallas Mavericks pull off three straight wins to get us a Game 7 in the NBA Finals, this is shaping up to be a postseason to forget for ABC/ESPN.

In addition to the Finals being awful (unless you’re a Boston Celtics fan), ABC’s telecasts have been picked apart and criticized for multiple reasons.

Here’s a summary of the issues.

• First and foremost, what any network airing a postseason series needs is length. The more games that are played, the more money they make. The more games, the bigger the ratings grow as you get deeper into a series. It’s bad enough the Finals could be a sweep, but it could also end on a Friday night, when viewership is already low. To say this is problematic from a business standpoint would be an understatement.

Here are the very ho-hum viewership numbers for the first three games of the Mavericks-Celtics series.

  • Game 1: 10.99 million viewers
  • Game 2: 12.31 million viewers
  • Game 3: 11.43 million viewers

• With TNT expected to lose the NBA after next season, there has been more talk during the postseason about the end of Inside the NBA than anything that has taken place on the court.

The outpouring of concern over Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal breaking up combined with the ongoing tributes to Inside the NBA inevitably lead to ESPN getting knocked for never getting its studio show right. There’s even been a steady demand from NBA fans that ESPN just hire the Inside the NBA crew. That can’t feel good for ESPN’s current studio hosts and can’t inspire confidence from ESPN management.

Basketball fans have never taken to any of ESPN’s studio shows. With the story line of Inside the NBA ending after next season getting so much coverage, ESPN’s studio shot has been taking stray after stray after stray for weeks.

Plus, in what has become an annual tradition during the NBA Finals, ESPN’s halftime show has been mocked for its lack of content and abundance of commercials.

• Because ESPN made one of the biggest mistakes in broadcasting over the last couple of decades in firing Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, who called 15 Finals with Mike Breen, the network’s current booth has no chemistry.

Breen is one of the greatest play-by-play voices of all time. Doris Burke is an excellent analyst. JJ Redick is an up-and-comer. But they have no chemistry. The broadcasts are often stiff, and the vibe during the games is that these are three people still trying to learn how to work with each other. That should not be going on during the NBA Finals.

To make matters even worse for ESPN, the reason the network gave for firing Van Gundy was that it was worried he wanted to go back into coaching. So ESPN hired Doc Rivers, who promptly went back into coaching. Then ESPN elevated Redick.

What’s been another major story line during the NBA Finals? Redick may end up becoming the Lakers head coach.

I said this on this week’s SI Media Podcast during an interview with Jim Miller and I’ll throw it out here now: If I’m ESPN, I give Charles Barkley a blank check and offer him the lead analyst job to work alongside Mike Breen.

Barkley told me on the SI Media Podcast a couple of weeks ago that he doesn’t want to work that hard, so ESPN might have to give him a limited regular-season schedule, but if Inside the NBA is going to break up, Barkley shouldn’t do another studio show.

2. As I said above, author, reporter and podcast host, Jim Miller is a guest onthis week’s SI Media Podcast.

Miller talked about the contract negotiations coming between Stephen A. Smith and ESPN and why he thinks it’s far from a lock that Smith remains with the network. He also revealed that he thinks UFC will leave ESPN for Netflix.

In addition to Miller, Tom Brady joined this week’s SI Media Podcast for a short interview about his transition into the broadcast booth.

The podcast closes with, Sal Licata from WFAN and SNY joins me for our weekly "Traina Thoughts" segment. This week's topics include the dumbest rule in sports, old school football video games, getting hacked on Twitter, Father's Day and much more.

You can listen to the SI Media With Jimmy Traina below or on Apple and Spotify.

You can also watch SI Media With Jimmy Traina on Sports Illustrated‘s YouTube channel.

3. The Minnesota Twins unveiled a new home run celebration after Carlos Correa went deep on Thursday that pays tribute to the one-and-only Prince and I’m here for it.

4. I saw so many tweets like this one Thursday after the Trevor Lawrence contract was announced.

I don’t understand the logic here. So because the Jaguars gave Lawrence a bad contract now the Cowboys have to give Dak Prescott a bad contract?

5. This took place before Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday. Can we please be more careful with a legend like Dirk Nowitzki?

6. The Chiefs had their latest Super Bowl ring at a ceremony Thursday night.

It seems there was one problem, though, with the inscription.

7. RANDOM VIDEO OF THE DAY: It was 37 years ago today, June 14, 1987, that the most famous spitting incident in American history took place.

Be sure to catch up on past editions of Traina Thoughts and check out the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina on AppleSpotify or Google. You can also follow Jimmy on Twitter and Instagram.


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Jimmy Traina

JIMMY TRAINA

Jimmy Traina is a staff writer and podcast host for Sports Illustrated. A 20-year veteran in the industry, he’s been covering the sports media landscape for seven years and writes a daily column, Traina Thoughts. Traina has hosted the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast since 2018, a show known for interviews with some of the most important and powerful people in sports media. He also was the creator and writer of SI’s Hot Clicks feature from 2007 to '13.