NBA commissioner Adam Silver disputed the notion that the NBA has a heavy hand in broadcast partner personnel decisions.
When ESPN layoffs this past summer included top analyst Jeff Van Gundy, rumors flew that the NBA league office did not enjoy his commentary and perhaps had input in the axing.
Silver appeared on JJ Redick’s “Old Man and the Three” podcast on Wednesday and was asked about what the league could do to get talk programming — on ESPN and elsewhere — to cast a wider net in terms of players and teams that are discussed rather than fixating on a relatively small group.
“We have very little influence on ancillary programming, and you [Redick] can speak to that because you know, now that you’re part of that, I’ve never called you and said that I can’t believe you’re talking about this or that.”
Silver continued, “Despite what was written about some talent changes at ESPN, the league does not have a say there. Where we do have a say is in the schedule itself. There is a back-and-forth between the networks and league office on scheduling, determining which teams to max out on … Often the push from the league is, ‘Let’s feature more teams.’”
The idea that the NBA called a ‘code red’ on Van Gundy percolated throughout inside-sports-media circles and was broadcast by Chris “Mad Dog” Russo on his SiriusXM show.
“I can’t fathom the idea that ESPN in these layoffs… would fire Jeff Van Gundy,” Russo said in July.
“You’re not going to convince me that ESPN (and Disney boss Bob Iger) woke up in the last two weeks, looked at the budget sheet, and said, ‘We gotta fire Van Gundy because we gotta save some money — if that’s the case, fire Mark Jackson.’”
ESPN did ultimately also part ways with Jackson, replacing Jackson and Van Gundy with Doc Rivers and Doris Burke alongside Mike Breen on their top NBA broadcast team.
“ESPN will never admit it. They’re gonna say it’s our call. Nonsense. Why would they get rid of a great team?” Russo asked. “That team is a great team with [Mike Breen]…You’re not going to convince me that that team, that everybody likes. Nobody doesn’t like that team.”
Russo continued to harp on the idea that Silver made the call.
“That leads me to the conclusion that someone in the league office must’ve told ESPN, ‘I want Van Gundy out,’ ” he said.
“We all know he’s biting. We all know he gets on the officials. We all know he doesn’t hold back with his NBA opinions. So, if you’re asking me, little talk show host, who may not know a thing, this is just my opinion, Silver is the one who fired Van Gundy. Silver told ESPN, ‘I want him out.’”