As ESPN’s stable of NBA reporters covered the league’s offseason changes, the sports network went through its own offseason tumult.
When ESPN resumes coverage of the NBA, its two main programs will have different looks.
Gone is The Jump, the popular afternoon show that Rachel Nichols hosted, and in its place is NBA Today hosted by 26-year-old rising star Malika Andrews, who ESPN senior vice president of NBA and studio production David Roberts called “the present and future of our NBA coverage and programming.”
The show premieres Monday at 3 p.m. ET, and on Tuesday, Andrews will interview NBA Commissioner Adam Silver with Chicago Zach LaVine and Portland’s Damian Lillard scheduled to appear later in the week.
Once again, ESPN has overhauled its NBA Countdown program, inserting veteran Mike Greenberg as the host alongside Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon and Jalen Rose with occasional appearances from Magic Johnson. Later in the season, the Wednesday night edition of Countdown will include Michael Eaves as the host with analysts Richard Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins and Chiney Ogwumike. Andrews and NBA insiders Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc Spears will contribute regularly to Countdown.
Of both shows, Roberts said, “The vision is to meet the objectives of serving our sports fans and NBA fans which is a diverse group of people who are passionate about the sport … in terms of what that means coverage-wise, we’re going to strive to be a cohesive unit focused on being insightful, entertaining, fun and informative.”
Roberts is a busy man who makes his day even longer by making sure he’s up by 4:30 for morning exercise. He also oversees production for First Take, 6 p.m. SportsCenter, Get Up, PTI, Around the Horn, This Just In, ESPN Audio content and ESPN digital shows, including Stephen A’s World.
It’s his job to help both shows succeed.
Since 2008, as producers tried to find the right formula, Countdown has been a revolving door of personalities, including Hannah Storm, Stuart Scott, Maria Taylor, Doug Collins, Doris Burke, Bill Simmons, Sage Steele, Michelle Beadle, Jon Barry, Chauncey Billups, Avery Johnson, Paul Pierce and Jay Williams.
Smith, Wilbon, Magic Johnson and Rose previously have been on the show in various roles, and the new-look Countdown debuts Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET ahead of the New York-Boston game.
“In Greenie, you have one of the best hosts in the business,” Roberts said. “All you have to do is look at what he’s been able to do in terms of working with a host of talent on Get Up every morning.
“With the additions of Wilbon, Stephen A., Jalen Rose and appearances from Magic Johnson, what you have is big brand names (and) instant credibility — folks who enjoy talking about basketball and connect with the sport in a way that will resonate with not just the hardcore fans but the casual fans as well.”
WESTERN CONFERENCE CAPSULES: 2021-22 NBA Western Conference team-by-team preview capsules
EASTERN CONFERENCE CAPSULES: 2021-22 NBA Eastern Conference team-by-team preview capsules
Countdown’s problem has been its inability to develop an identity especially when juxtaposed against TNT’s Inside the NBA and that show’s brand of irreverence and humor.
As ESPN seeks to establish an identity for Countdown, executives will rely on Wojnarowski and Spears to bring news and player features.
“Marc is not only a strong reporter and storyteller, he’s relatable and approachable and as a result of that, he’s able to get players to talk about different stories perhaps they wouldn’t talk to anyone else about,” Roberts said.
If Wojnarowski barely sleeps now, rest will be in shorter supply with a greater presence.
“You don’t get any more connected to breaking news in the NBA than Woj,” Roberts said. “Woj will be a regular featured reporter on all our NBA shows in addition to the Get Up, SportsCenter, ESPN Radio, you name it. We will be well served by his expanded presence across the all our programs and platforms no matter what time of the day, days of the week.
Breaking news will be a major part of ESPN’s coverage, Roberts said, and Wojnarowski will be an essential figure in that, including a “constant presence on NBA Today.”
Nichols lost her job as host of The Jump after leaked video of her in her hotel room showed her criticizing ESPN’s diversity hiring practices at the expense of Taylor, who was given the plum assignment of hosting the pregame and halftime shows during the NBA Finals. Taylor left the network for NBC in the summer.
In September, ESPN announced the new program featuring Andrews, Perkins, Ogwumike, Vince Carter and Zach Lowe along with Wojnarowski and senior writer Ramona Shelburne among other reporters.
Roberts said those involved with NBA Today are looking forward, and while they are professionals, many behind camera and on-camera personnel are friends with Nichols. Any awkwardness is erased by the cutthroat nature and breakneck pace of TV.
ESPN is counting on Andrews to smooth the transition and make NBA Today not just another version of The Jump.
“Malika is an outstanding journalist. She is smart. She’s a hard worker,” Roberts said. “There’s nothing but upside and she’s the consummate team player who will help build this program from the ground up. Like many of us working on this project, her focus is on doing the best program day in and day out and we know that we’re not in a sprint. This is a marathon. Every single day we’re going to evaluate what worked, what didn’t work and we’ll be nimble enough to work on being better every single day.”
There will be an increased emphasis on using ESPN reporters on "NBA Today." “The one good thing about being on every single day is there’s always something new going on in the league,” Roberts said.
The "NBA Today" staff has been in Los Angeles in rehearsal and meetings the past week.
“Our report card,” Roberts said, “will be determined by what the fans think of what we’re doing.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ESPN tries new approach with NBA shows, NBA Today, Countdown