Michelle Beadle Thinks ESPN’s Basketball Coverage Now Embraces ‘Talk,’ Not Debate

05.26.17 11 months ago

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The media landscape is shifting in every area, and sports coverage is no exception. When ESPN underwent massive, very public layoffs, the network lost a number of its most prominent NBA reporters and contributors.

What’s left, though, is a very different ESPN than in recent years. And with the Adrian Wojnarowski hiring looming, there’s a lot to discuss when it comes to ESPN’s basketball coverage.

For the Win published a lengthy profile of the network’s basketball shakeup on Friday, and it’s loaded with details about the changes its coverage of the NBA has seen in recent years. One major aspect: the network is shifting away from its “Embrace Debate” model and to a more simple, less shouty alternative.

“I love the idea that we ‘Embrace Talk,’” Beadle said in the piece.

Beadle’s role on NBA Countdown came in 2014 after the show went through a tumultuous period full of strife between Bill Simmons, Magic Johnson, Michael Wilbon and Sage Steele. Beadle’s version, with Jalen Rose and Chauncy Billups, has been a much more stable, hour-long version of the programming that ESPN has featured with its NBA coverage since 2002.

Much of the piece focus on how the network’s massive television contract allowed ESPN to start a new basketball show—The Jump—which is now a year-round forum for discussion that features some of the NBA’s most interesting characters. Rachel Nichols hosts The Jump and said she was clear when the show started that it would not be a passive role.

“I made it very clear to (ESPN executives) that I did not want to be Vanna White in this situation, sort of just asking, ‘What do you think? What do you think?’” Nichols says. “I wanted to make sure that me being an opinionated part of the conversation and having it be a conversation and not sort of serving up pontification topics was the style of show that I was interested in.”

The Jump has been covered here many times, but not for its shouting matches. It’s because of genuine opinions from unique sources like Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, and Stephen Jackson, who are given a more casual setting to talk about the league in different ways. The show also features lesser-known but perhaps more varied voices like Zach Lowe, Amin Elhassan and other media types not often shown on television but that have distinct NBA knowledge that creates a more complete picture of the league.

The stress here is that they’re not always debating to the point of shouting at one anther. They’re just talking—giving their opinions and having a discussion about topics where everyone on camera is allowed to participate, including the host. And a lot of this makes sense: basketball is fun! Not everything has to be a fight about who is better. ESPN still can’t match the Inside the NBA crew, but it doesn’t have to if it can create a unique setting for basketball that works in its own regard.

The juciest part of the feature is perhaps the looming presence of Wojnarowski, who has not officially broken his own signing to ESPN just yet. But all signs point to that happening, and many feel his acquisition is what spurred the more serious blowup of ESPN’s NBA reporting.

Though other areas including college sports took more substantial cuts, the NBA team lost seven reporters, Stein most prominently. But four people with knowledge of the situation reiterated to For The Win that those NBA cuts were “different.” The NBA cuts, which had little to do with the TV side of the operation, were the direct result of a bigger plan to bring in Yahoo star reporter Adrian Wojnarowski and some members of his team at The Vertical.

The people requested anonymity because the Wojnarowski move has yet to be announced publicly or internally, though USA TODAY Sports confirmed that the deal is finalized earlier this month. Any savings from the layoffs — which still involved paying out the contracts of the former employees, as Deadspin first reported in a more detailed look at the layoffs — will in theory be reinvested in that move and in furthered NBA coverage, according to the people.

ESPN continues to shuffle its programming, so it looks like the changes will continue through the summer. Woj to ESPN, though, is still just rumor until Woj tweets the bomb himself.

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