Following its highest-rated NBA Playoff in two decades, ESPN decided to take a hatchet to its game coverage of the league. Gone from the network entirely are Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy. Replacing them on the No. 1 commentator team alongside Mike Breen are Doris Burke and Doc Rivers. Ryan Ruocco, Richard Jefferson, and J.J. Redick are now the team No. 2. Jalen Rose is gone from ESPN, he will be replaced on NBA Countdown by Bob Myers, and Malika Andrews is stepping into the host seat in place of Mike Greenberg. All of this change though, and legend Hubie Brown is signed on to call another season of NBA basketball games.
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Sports doesn’t have many heartstrings left to pull these days with the business of it being more naked than ever. Somehow Southern California and Central New Jersey are an ideal match (Editor’s note: Does Central Jersey exist?) for the same college conference. For any money to be made in this business that sells human feelings, at some point a pie has to be left cooling off on the window sill to make viewers of the sports feel good.
That apple pie smell that can take you back to the childhood kitchen is Brown talking about the painted area on an NBA broadcast. He may not have a video game franchise like John Madden, but Brown is the GOAT in-game analyst of the NBA. No disrespect to “The Czar” Mike Fratello, but at USA, CBS, Turner, and ESPN, Brown is the teacher who keeps the class hanging on his every word.
One of my favorite clips to revisit is that Game 3 fight between the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls in 1994. Most people’s favorite part of that fight is the concerned look on then NBA Commissioner David Stern’s face as he looked down at the brawl taking place a few rows in front of him. Mine is when Brown notices a Chicago Stadium guard security getting rough with John Starks. Both Brown and his broadcast partner yelled at the guard on live television to unhand Starks. What a time.
Real hoop fans know that no one can sherpa a viewer through a game like Brown. When that replay begins to run, you keep your eyes pinned on whatever part of the previous action he wants to talk about because it’s time to learn about some damn basketball. He’s going to break out the terms from your little league basketball teams like chest pass and jump shot, and use them in a Ph.D. lecture on the game.
As great as he is at explaining the game, sometimes he just says “wow,” like one of us. The beauty is even though he has had gray hair longer than I have been alive, he is not a grump like some old-school announcers. It comes through clearly that he enjoys watching basketball. He is not pinning for a different era or using what he believes is superior knowledge to talk down to the audience and about the players. Brown is just as amazed as the viewer at home when a player gets dunked on or Stephen Curry buries a 33-foot 3-pointer.
The man is the best, and thankfully the people at ESPN realize it. As long as he is healthy enough to do so, Brown needs to be calling NBA basketball games.
A great teacher is priceless. The knowledge gained can be used forever. For many of us NBA fans, no color commentator has a better course than the greatest basketball professor there is. Thank goodness ESPN decided to continue with his class.