LeBron James and China isn’t a topic game broadcasters are eager to discuss
Load management carries an added weightiness when we attempt to monitor how many paragraphs and pronouncements can be piled onto the Lakers and Clippers with the arrival of the NBA regular season.
Buffering in the background is how we continue to unpack the ongoing LeBron James-steps-into-the-China narrative. How do the TV partners plan to address any of that?
An avalanche of avoidance, if we are to believe what we are already hearing.
Perhaps a studio show will cursorily address it in some pregame/postgame banter. But why would they? If any “Stand With Hong Kong” T-shirts sparked by a GoFundMe.com project end up dotting the Staples Center crowd during the opening-night game Tuesday between the Lakers and Clippers, expect a see-, hear- and speak-no-evil approach.
“Maybe (the James/China story) has added some international flair, but if you’re talking Xs and O’s, once you jump the ball, no one will be talking about LeBron and his comments,” said Reggie Miller, the analyst paired with Kevin Harlan working the game on TNT. The two also have the Clippers game at Golden State two nights later for TNT.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says the financial fallout stemming from the league’s fractured business relationship with China has been significant.
Stan Van Gundy, a year removed from his latest coaching and GM run at Detroit, has jumped onto the TNT payroll as an analyst for its new Tuesday night package.
The brother of ABC NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy already has the company line down.
“The best thing about the start of the regular season is all the stories and predictions go out the window,” Stan Van Gundy said, “and now we’ve got something to watch and judge things on. It’s the basketball.
“What happened with the China thing was in the preseason, when no one cares about basketball that time of year and it’s all about generating story lines. But I agree, when the ball goes up, it’ll be about the rivalry between the Lakers and Clippers because L.A. is now the basketball capital of the world.”
Aside from the Clippers’ and Lakers’ local TV partners, TNT and ABC/ESPN will certainly capitalize on this Hollywood remake. It’s already predetermined that all four regular-season head-to-head matchups between the two teams with fortified offseason rosters will be cherry-picked for the two major network partners, including a Christmas Day gift-wrap for ABC. The last two are Jan. 28 (TNT) and March 8 (ABC).
TNT has maxed out on 11 exclusive picks of Lakers and Clippers appearances. The ABC/ESPN schedule has 19 Lakers games and 15 Clippers games (only ABC and some of the ESPN nights are exclusive). NBATV adds 12 more for each team (blacked out in L.A.).
The Clippers’ first five games and nine of their first 11 are national telecasts on TNT, ESPN or NBATV. Same with six of the first eight Lakers games.
Also under the headline of how does the NBA generate more income, the league has decided that its NBATV channel can be distributed for $59.99 a year with an online subscription that doesn’t require the user to have a cable or satellite TV distributor.
All out-of-market games on NBATV can now come to those who have gone the route of Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, iOS or Android. The NBA continues its NBA League Pass ranging from $120 to $310 a year depending on the levels preferred.
But there is also the caveat: The Lakers games on Spectrum SportsNet don’t have a local streaming service, thus are not available to national feeds. The Clippers do stream on Prime Ticket.
For Tuesday’s opener, TNT’s celebrated NBA studio crew will uproot from Atlanta and set up across the street from Staples Center in L.A. Live to conduct an extended 2½-hour road show.
So, no, Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley won’t be in Toronto where an NBA championship banner will be raised. Instead, they’ll be joined by a performance from musical act Halsey as part of the L.A. trip. The gang will congregate at O’Neal’s new “upscale casual” restaurant at the L.A. Live complex, Shaquille’s, for a media after-party Wednesday.
Not to be muffled, ESPN will fly in its “First Take” crew of Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim Rose to the network’s L.A. Live digs all this week. That includes hamming it up for a live show Tuesday morning, planning on enough Lakers and Clippers fans will fill a studio audience for ambiance.
ESPN’s primary NBA studio show has been “reimagined,” according to the network, as a pre- and postgame crew headed up by “The Jump” host Rachel Nichols. It will be appropriately cranked up from the L.A. Live production facility for Friday’s Lakers-Jazz game from Staples Center prior to ESPN’s national coverage.
Imagine if TNT and ABC/ESPN could have an entire season of Lakers-Clippers telecasts.
“I’m also hoping they face each other when lights are at the hottest in the playoffs,” Miller confessed on a TNT conference call last week with other media members. “We’ll take four matchups. Are you petitioning for them to play 12?”
Why not? Just 15 years ago, then-NBA Commissioner David Stern once said that the ideal TV match for a league final would be “the Lakers versus the Lakers.”
In 2019, it’s more like whatever will distract from Chinese politics.
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