ESPN’s NBA Halftime Show Remains An Unmitigated Disaster

As halftime arrived for Game 5 of the 2022 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors led the Boston Celtics by 12 and there was plenty to talk about, from the Warriors’ defensive brilliance, to the Celtics’ offensive ineptitude, to the adjustments needed from both sides to try and open things up offensively coming out of halftime.

On most sporting events on most networks, the halftime show would provide ample room for the analysts to make points, dive into highlights, and banter about what each team should be trying to do in the second half. However, ESPN’s halftime show for NBA games decidedly does not do that.

Instead, they spend the 15-minute break trying to see how many commercials they can squeeze in. Here is the honest to god breakdown of the halftime “show” viewers were treated to on ABC during Game 5:

  • A 30-second sponsored segment from DraftKings where Mike Greenberg asked Jalen Rose who would be the top third quarter performer
  • Two minutes of discussion of the first half in which Rose, Stephen A. Smith, and Michael Wilbon each got about 30 seconds each to fire off their takes
  • A 15-second bumper of Stephen A. talking over a slow-mo Jayson Tatum video followed by a Meta Quest ad read from Greeny.

At this point, the broadcast returned to courtside for a Wired segment and brief discussion from the broadcast booth about the half before the game resumed. As is oftentimes the case when I am when watching NBA games on ESPN, I was left wondering why they even bother having a halftime show.

For years, ESPN has shuffled the deck on its NBA studio show, trying in vain to make up ground on Turner’s beloved Inside the NBA crew. After the Rachel Nichols fiasco and Paul Pierce’s exit by way of a wild IG live, the network once again made sweeping changes by adding Stephen A. and Wilbon to the desk alongside Rose. Greenberg, a veteran broadcaster who knows how to set up his colleagues as well as anyone in the business, was essentially brought in to play point guard.

However, no combination of names stands a chance of finding success in the current format, in which ESPN and ABC try to extract as much ad revenue as humanly possible out of halftime and then kick it over to SportsCenter after the game in lieu of an actual postgame show.

The magic of Inside the NBA is not just the people — although, that’s the biggest piece of the puzzle — it’s that that they have room to breathe. You are given the opportunity to enjoy them as analysts, personalities, and everything else that comes from being, at the end of the day, a TV show. Kenny Smith’s halftime video breakdown at the big board in Studio J is given more time than anything on the entire ESPN halftime show, and that’s just the second segment of the program. It usually follows Shaq’s own video breakdown, and once Smith’s done, the floor is given to Chuck to rant about whatever he’d like.

Those back-and-forths that lead to the hysterical moments between Chuck and Shaq would be impossible if each were given just 30-45 seconds to talk. The same goes for the insight Kenny can give at the board, not to mention how they can really stretch out and get weird on the postgame show that goes for a full half-hour (or more, sometimes) after the final game ends and lets them dive deep on the topics that interest them. Yes, ESPN has a pregame show, but that is only part of the equation, and with how the network has decided to go in a very personality-driven direction with its NBA coverage, it feels like a gigantic waste of the talents of Rose, Smith, and Wilbon to take away their ability to react to things we just saw happen.

For ESPN to have the league’s biggest property in the Finals and to provide so little during their halftime show is rather pathetic. It’s not the fault of those on set, it is the fault of decision makers at the top who set them up to fail by selling four commercial breaks worth of ad space, plus two sponsored segments that take away any time to even attempt to provide real insight into the game we’re all watching. Until that changes, they stand no chance, and whoever they shuffle into those seats during their next shakeup will see the same results.