ESPN Head of Event & Studio Production David Roberts answered questions on Monday to discuss ESPN’s NBA game and studio coverage plans for the 2023-24 season. ESPN’s season-opening coverage starts on Wednesday, October 25. For more on ESPN’s coverage of the 2023-24 NBA season, visit ESPN Press Room.
DAVID ROBERTS: Thank you all for joining the call. I know you’ve been given access to several new members of our NBA talent team. We’re looking forward to that team starting on Wednesday night; Malika [Andrews] hosting Countdown with Stephen A. [Smith], [Michael] Wilbon and Bob Myers.
As you’ve seen already, the new talent has been impressive in the preseason, and we look forward to the No. 1 team of Mike Breen, Doris Burke and Doc Rivers along with Lisa Salters in that first game, and then the second game with Ryan Ruocco, JJ Redick and Richard Jefferson and Cassidy Hubbarth in the second game.
We’re ready to go this season. This season is going to be a very interesting season just because of all the balance throughout the league, and we’re ready to document that story, which is going to be a season-long series of just great storytelling throughout the year.
With that, I can open it up to some questions.
But first, some of the news. We’ll have some new faces, new voices on our NBA analyst team. Among those will include former general manager of the New York Knicks, Scott Perry. He will be one of the new analysts on our team for studio on NBA Today, SportsCenter and other studio shows.
Austin Rivers will join the team, as well, and among the highlights of what Austin is going to do is he will at some point do a game with his father, Doc Rivers, but Austin is very opinionated and very well-read, has a very interesting podcast of his own, and he has something to say, which always makes for interesting documentation of the NBA.
The other new member of the team will include the guy who just announced his retirement on our air Thursday or Friday rather, Andre Iguodala. Andre will also appear on NBA Today and some of our other studio shows. He also has a very interesting podcast, as well.
We just completed a new deal to bring back Becky Hammon. Becky, who I truly believe one day will be a coach in the NBA, she is just an exceptional analyst when it comes to talking about the NBA as well as any basketball franchise. So, she will also be one of the voices.
Stephanie White, as well, will be one of our voices, as well.
We have, again, a good diverse makeup of NBA analysts and voices who will help document, which will be a truly great season.
With that, I can open it up to questions.
Q. The writers’ strike is over, but the actors’ strike is still going on, and the result is ABC has no programming, no Wednesday night shows at all. ABC obviously has added five NBA games for January, but as the actors’ strike goes on, if it goes on where there’s no programming into February, can we expect to see some more Wednesday night ABC games in that month, as well?
DAVID ROBERTS: Well, it would be premature for me to answer that question. We will remain nimble and make decisions that will be in the best interest of the Walt Disney Company. Having a property such as the NBA puts us in a very strong position because the NBA is one of the best dramas out there. We’re very fortunate to have the NBA product.
That’s a long-winded way of just saying, I’m not going to answer that question because it’s too premature to do so. But we’re in a good position if the call is necessary.
Q. On those five additional January games, will that be treated like Saturday primetime? You’ll have Breen, Doc, Doris, or will it be more like the regular ESPN Wednesday games?
DAVID ROBERTS: It will be the ABC team on those Wednesday games, so you’ll have Breen, Doc and Doris and Lisa Salters on those games in January.
Q. David, just wondering with Doc Rivers, what’s the expectations for the crew with him, Doris and Mike this year, and also, when you get somebody like Doc, the former GM of the Warriors and kind of these coaching candidates between jobs or transitions, what’s the expectation of maybe how long Doc will be with you guys?
DAVID ROBERTS: Doc will be a part of our NBA coverage for several years. I can assure you of that. There’s always a chance that someone is going to reach out and say, “Hey, Doc would be a great coach.” So, we’ll deal with that moment if it happens.
But right now, our focus is on Doc and Bob Myers doing the job, the best job possible in their respective roles, and we’re very confident that we have exceptional talent in both. We look forward to this season.
Q. With Bob and Doc coming back and Becky, also, how much of a delicate act is it with them kind of wanting to be critical but also may be looking at future prospects beyond network and everything?
DAVID ROBERTS: I’m not concerned about that, nor are they. I think they’re two pros. In fact, they’re all pros. They know that the expectations in documenting the stories of the NBA will require criticism as necessary, but it won’t be mean-spirited, it’ll be based and rooted in what happens on the court.
So, we’re not concerned about that at all.
Q. With these new additions to ESPN, Andre, Austin and Scott, how important is it for you to bring on people who are currently removed from the NBA and have a perspective, a monitored perspective on the league to enhance the viewership, especially two seasons out of the expiration of the media rights deal?
DAVID ROBERTS: Well, I think the currency factor is very relevant in the decision because I think that it serves the fans well when you have a coach just off the bench or you have someone like a Bob Myers who was the architect of four world championships, who just spent years, recent years, looking at the rosters and talking strategy about every one of his past competitors.
So, hey bring a sense of currency and makes it more relevant to the fan watching these games. In the case of a Becky Hammon, you have someone who is actually coaching in the WNBA, as is Stephanie White. What you have is you have someone who has that basketball acumen based on being right there, right on the scene in a more current way, and that’s going to be to the advantage of the fans watching the sport.
Q. Dave, in terms of Andre Iguodala, how did that come about, and would you characterize it at the moment as sort of like a one-year deal or for this season deal? I’d be interested in a little more details on that.
DAVID ROBERTS: I got to know Andre over the past year, and I’m impressed with his willingness to be candid in his own podcast, so this is something that is of mutual interest to both of us. We’ll just see how it goes.
Fortunately for Andre, he has interest not just in the media world, but he’s also an astute businessman. I think, again, he brings a sense of currency, and that should play well, especially as we are talking about that Western Conference and the Golden State Warriors and the potential of what happens next in the world of Draymond Green on the court with the Warriors’ former teammate.
Again, it brings a greater sense of relevancy to our analysis of these games.
Q. He’ll be mostly on studio shows, NBA Today, no game work for him at the moment?
DAVID ROBERTS: Right. He’ll be on studio shows such as NBA Today, First Take, Get Up and SportsCenter.
Q. One additional question on Becky Hammon. Same kind of thing for her, that that’s sort of a year-by-year thing, and her work will be studio work, or could we see her on any games?
DAVID ROBERTS: You’ll see her mainly in the studio, and we’ll just play it by ear. Fortunately for Becky, she’s in demand in a lot of places because, A, not only is she a championship coach, but she’s also a Hall of Famer, so she brings added credibility, along with the fact that her resume includes years as an assistant head coach with the San Antonio Spurs. We’re very fortunate that she will be back with us this season in more of an expanded role on our studio shows.
THE MODERATOR: I think one thing we wanted to talk about at the top of this was Hubie Brown.
DAVID ROBERTS: You know what, we just celebrated Hubie’s 90th birthday at the end of September, and he’s looking forward to getting going for his 50th year in the NBA. Thanks for reminding me of that, that Hubie doesn’t like a whole lot of attention, but we’re going to make sure we celebrate his outstanding and iconic career in broadcasting as he starts his 50th year in association with the NBA. Hubie Brown is the other part of what we want to highlight this upcoming season.
Q. I was wondering if there’s any new tech highlights for this season that we can expect.
DAVID ROBERTS: Well, you’ll see an expanded use of the three-point tracker, and you’ll see a lot more usage of players mic’d up during games to make sure that fans have even greater access in partnership with the NBA. Those two points for sure.
There will be some elements that we will announce at a later point when we get closer to the end of the in-season tournament in terms of technology and innovation, so stay tuned for that.
Q. A follow-up question is on the studio front, how guys are going to evolve for the 2023-24 season.
DAVID ROBERTS: You’re talking about the studio front, what do you mean?
Q. In regards to all aspects, production-wise, are you guys planning on doing any elevated graphic packages, anything on that front?
DAVID ROBERTS: There will be new elements of animation that we’ll launch throughout the season, but we just unveiled a new graphic look last year, so we’ll continue to build on what we started last season to further enhance the storytelling.
The first show, studio show, will be Live from Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. We’ll be really aggressive in how we are utilizing our Live resources to, again, bring fans closer to the game, whether we’re in studio, with the studio team, or of course with our event crew.
Q. Can you weigh in, please, on Doris making history this season, and also comments on what you’ve seen from your new No. 1 team. How is the chemistry? How are they working together?
DAVID ROBERTS: Well, Doris has always been a trailblazer, and not because she wanted to advertise as such. It’s just because that’s the reality.
But Doris has earned every opportunity that she has been assigned to. I don’t use the word “given” because she’s been assigned to it because she’s earned it, and I happened to think that Doris Burke is one of the best if not the best analyst talking NBA, period. It’s because she’s well-read. She does her homework. She works 24/7 to make sure that she’s in the best possible position to be on a team, the A team, if you will, and I have no doubt that she will take this role and run with it and win with it. That’s the bottom line.
Q. What have you seen from the No. 1 team so far in terms of them working together?
DAVID ROBERTS: You know, they only worked one game together in the preseason, but fortunately Doc and Doris are good friends, and Doc and Mike Breen are good friends, and Mike has already worked with Doris, so they’ve spent quite a few hours on the golf course this off-season, so the chemistry is going to be authentic, and it’s going to be natural, and as a result, the viewers will benefit from on-air chemistry of this new No. 1 team.
Q. I was wondering as far as Wemby, how has that forced you guys to adjust your coverage?
DAVID ROBERTS: You’re talking about [Victor] Wembanyama?
DAVID ROBERTS: Well, he’s the second game of that double-header on Wednesday night. From the draft lottery right through opening night on Wednesday, there’s a great deal of interest in Victor Wembanyama.
On draft night, we had our highest rated draft in terms of ratings, I believe, in the history of the draft, and it’s because of him, along with the great broadcast that we put on.
But you know what, he’s a great story. We’re talking about a possible transformational player as we saw with LeBron [James] 21 years ago.
We have high hopes that he will live up to those expectations as a result. I believe Malika Andrews has just completed an interview with Victor Wembanyama which she did at the end of last week, and that will be featured in our studio shows and within the game telecast or pregame show on Wednesday.
He will be a big deal, and he’s a big deal because the fans are interested in everything he’s doing and looking forward to seeing him on the court.
Q. I just want to ask you your approach to the in-season tournament. How is ESPN approaching it?
DAVID ROBERTS: We have comprehensive coverage plans. First, to make sure that the public understands what the in-season tournament is. You’ll see a series of vignettes or segments that Richard Jefferson will front, and he will update throughout the season. You will see elements and segments within every studio show. There will be an expanded pregame show on the day of the Finals where normally you have a half hour, it’s going to be 90 minutes.
We have other plans, as well, but you’ll see in-season tournament elements and coverage on digital, linear, radio, everywhere we have a platform that’s going to be talking about the NBA.
It’s something that we’re going to be behind all the way because it provides fans with another reason, once opening week is over, starting November 3, right through December 9th to really have a continued elevation of interest in the NBA.
We’re looking forward to it, and it’s something new. Just like the play-in was, it’s going to be something that fans will embrace, and we’ll make sure that they understand how important this is to the overall sport.
MODERATOR: David, one other point on that. In terms of commentator assignments in November for all of those in-season tournament games, we’ll have our two top established teams on those, right?
DAVID ROBERTS: Absolutely, and that’s just part of making sure it underscores the importance that you’ll see Breen, Doc and Doris and Ruocco, Jefferson and Redick on those big games every Friday night, right through the end of the tournament.
Q. My question is how have you seen broadcasting change since your start in Detroit up to now with your position at ESPN?
DAVID ROBERTS: Oh, my God, that’s over 40 years. I’ve seen a hell of a lot of changes, but all for the better. I’m just fortunate to have the opportunity to work with some of the most talented people in the business.
That started 40 years ago for me and continues as we head into opening week of the NBA season.
I’ve seen great changes in technology and innovation, but still working with quality people on air and behind the scenes. That part hasn’t changed.
Q. Dave, I know you guys mentioned Hubie Brown. He’s entering his 50th season calling NBA games. How much of a testament to his legacy and longevity is that for Hubie and just how special is it for ESPN to be able to highlight that, similar to what’s going on with Monday night football and how Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are highlighting their 20th season working together?
DAVID ROBERTS: Well, when you talk about Hubie, you’re talking about somebody who knows more about basketball than all of us on this call. When you watch a game that Hubie is on, you’re guaranteed to learn something about the game. It’s an honor and a privilege to be on the same team with Hubie, and we look forward to just watching him in action as he starts his 50th year with the NBA.
Q. Jimmy [Pitaro] just noted at a conference that negotiations have begun on the next NBA media rights deal. I was wondering if you can give us any update, and how important is it for ESPN to retain the NBA Finals?
DAVID ROBERTS: Well, I’ll just say this: The NBA rights conversations, I’ll leave at that level, and I’m not going to comment on anything regarding those NBA rights discussions other than to say that we all here at ESPN understand how important the NBA is, and we will continue to do our very best to showcase the best of the league, period.
As far as where we are, the discussions, I have absolutely no comment on that because it wouldn’t be appropriate, and I’m not involved in those discussions anyway.
Q. I had a graphics question. Last season there was no special music or special graphics in the Playoffs or Finals. I know there was some complaining about that on social media among the viewers. At one point you did put the Finals logo in the score bug. But is that something you’re going to move back in the direction of because for many years you come to the Playoffs, it’s different music, elevated graphics, et cetera.
DAVID ROBERTS: What do you mean when you say there was no music?
Q. Well, there’s music but no musical change. There were two different versions of the old theme, and when you’d get to the Playoffs there would be a different version that played, signaling that it was obviously bigger games.
DAVID ROBERTS: I believe that during the Playoffs, we had H.E.R. as the sound of the NBA Finals with her new release “Journey.” That’s a question that I probably have to get back to you on because, A, I’m more focused on the game and who’s playing and how we’re telling the stories of the game. But I’ll get back to you on that if you’d like.
Q. Just to clarify, I meant the actual theme music, not — the new theme music you debuted last year I’m talking about.
DAVID ROBERTS: Yeah. That theme music will be back throughout the season, but I still need to get back to you on the Finals. I don’t have any recollection of what was different or what wasn’t different during the Finals.