NEW ORLEANS – On July 11, 2014, LeBron James stunned the basketball world by announcing that he was returning to the Cavaliers, breaking up the budding dynasty of the Miami Heat and shifting power in the Eastern Conference from South Beach to the shores of Lake Erie. That decision sent shockwaves around the NBA and changed the dynamic for the Heat, Cavaliers, and truly the rest of the NBA.
James’ announcement also proved to be a turning point for The Starters, who had just completed their first season on NBA TV and were preparing to host their first ever 30-minute long live show from the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, where the 2014 NBA Summer League was starting. Hours of planning for their inaugural voyage into the uncharted waters of live television were thrown out and suddenly Tas Melas, J.E. Skeets (real name Phil Elder), Leigh Ellis, and Trey Kerby were tasked with the challenge of breaking down the biggest free agent change in four years — since James left Cleveland for Miami — and had to stretch their 30-minute show to an hour.
After a year of doing hour-long taped shows, The Starters were going to be live as the show of record on the biggest news story of the year for NBA TV. The quartet that had come together in full three years prior found themselves feeling oddly comfortable within the chaos that was LeBron coming home and rolled through their hour-long trial by fire, coming to a realization that this was the type of thing that their show is built for.
“There’s no script with our show, no one’s reading anything, at its best, its guys talking to each other and asking questions and bringing up certain points,” Skeets said during 2017’s NBA All-Star Weekend. “It was frustrating because all that work thrown out the window, but then super exciting because we know we can do this and we’re actually perfectly built for something like that happening. You can throw us out something that happens and we can talk about it right away.”
It was also a moment of realization for executives at Turner, who watched their gamble of bringing in six people that had never done a television show find their stride in the exact moment that they needed them to.