Tuesday Pop Review- The 2011 NBA Finals

Hello all, and welcome to your Tuesday Pop Review!  I haven’t taken in any summer movies since Thor, so you will have to settle for my review of ABC/ESPN’s coverage of the 2011 NBA Finals.  I guess I have been a sports fan for so long that I focus on the broadcast itself every bit as much as the game being played.  Either that or I try to find distractions when my favorite team is literally giving away a championship!

As we mentioned in our NBA on TNT post a few weeks back, ABC has exclusive rights to the NBA Finals.  Disney-owned ABC also owns ESPN, so watching sports on ABC is basically the same as watching ESPN, so much so that about 3 years ago ABC Sports as an entity ceased to exist and sports on ABC was re-branded as “ESPN on ABC.”  Not sure how many board meetings it took to decide on that move but I am guessing it has not affected the viewing decisions of more than 10 people globally!

In terms of coverage, we were generally given basketball start times of 9 pm EST for most games with the exception of Sunday games, which started at 8 pm.  While east coasters like me are forced to stay up close to midnight to watch a game, we shouldn’t forget our west coast brethren who should also have the chance to watch a championship series without playing hooky from work!

Pre-game shows were anchored by the “love hate him or hate him” Stuart Scott, accompanied by NBA legend Magic Johnson, journalism legend Michael Wilbon . . .   and Jon Barry.  Scott has been irritating viewers for nearly two decades now with his uncomfortably forced use of urban slang, but thankfully he is better at conducting a roundtable type discussion than he is at delivering highlights.  The pre-game and halftime discussions were fairly competent, mostly due to Wilbon and JB, while Magic provided his usual dose of uber-obvious observations such as “whichever team executes better will win this game.”  (Thanks for comin’ out, Earvin). 

During the games, ESPN has assembled one of the better 3-man booths in television history.  The threesome of Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson called their fourth finals together, though regrettably their last (for at least a season) as Jax just scored his first coaching job in Golden State next year. 

Breen is reminiscent of NBA broadcasting legend Marv Albert, to the point where he actually sounds a lot like him, particularly during tense moments of the game.  The key distinction between the two are that while Marv is more prone to humorous banter with his partners (of which I’m a huge fan), Breen is more likely to challenge questionable opinions offered by his color commentators.  I think Marv tends to see that as beyond his role, particularly in a three-man booth. 

Van Gundy and Jax have been a fun combo to watch.  Formerly partnered as coach and player in Jackson’s return to the Knicks late in his career, the two have a personal fondness for each other that allows them to push each other’s buttons in an entertaining way.  They also come with a lot of credibility.  Van Gundy was a highly successful coach (he took the Knicks to their most recent Finals trip) and Jackson a longtime NBA veteran point guard who is in the Top 5 all time in assists.  Though whiny at times, Van Gundy’s points are always either rock solid or humorously off-base (intentionally so), and he is not afraid to call for much needed rule changes.  Jackson gives more of an old school player’s perspective, which comes up big in the playoffs.  I am interested to see how ESPN reacts to Jackson’s departure.  I currently predict that they will go after TNT broadcaster Reggie Miller as a replacement. 

Another thing I like about the broadcasts are the recurring homages to past NBA Finals moments, from the goosebump-worthy opening montage to the still photos of classic Finals moments shown as games go to commercial.  One pet peeve of mine aside from Stu Scott?  ABC’s player vignettes taken with the championship trophy.  They have done this for about 6-7 years for all sports coverage (I first remember it from the Steelers-Seahawks Super Bowl, about the only thing memorable from that crapfest).  You shouldn’t get to touch the trophy until you win it. 

An overall solid job by our friends at ESPN errr…. I mean ABC ….  er whatever! 

I will be missing my hoops until late October!!

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