As the NBA playoffs proceed into the second round, all games will be produced and carried by the networks. From round two right through the title series, Turner, NBA TV, ESPN and ABC TV will share the telecasts. There will be no more local productions by team regional rightsholders.
That’s it for the local announcers. In the Eastern Conference, the Nets’ Ian Eagle, Sixers’ Mark Zumoff, Bill Plaschke of the Bucks and Bob Rathbun of the Hawks are done for the season. After pouring their hearts into the broadcasts of the teams they call, the fun ended unceremoniously. All, while the playoff party is still a major center of attention and hopes are still running high for the nine teams still in the championship mix.
In the Western Conference, the Clippers and Mavs are still going at it in the opening round. Either Brian Sieman of Los Angeles or Mark Followill of Dallas will miss future telecasts should the teams they cover advance. The Mavs lead the series 3-2. But Craig Bolerjack of the Jazz, Kevin Ray of the Suns and Chris Marlowe of the Nuggets will be carpenters with no tools going forward in these playoffs.
It has to be emotionally eviscerating. Their teams are going strong but their TV voices, are sidelined.
In one case in particular, the TV announcer would take over the radio voice’s job and as such continue deeper into the playoffs. Local and regional radio announcers stick with the teams they cover right through a potential championship or elimination. By contract, the Pistons’ George Blaha, 76, moves from television to radio when Pistons games are carried by the networks. That isn’t the case this year of course because Detroit didn’t make the playoffs.
For years, Chick Hearn broadcast a simulcast. His call was available on both radio and television. During the playoffs, he was exclusively on radio. The only NBA simulcast today is done by the Orlando Magic so David Steele would work all playoff games should the teams advance.
In Miami in the past, the team’s longtime TV announcer, Eric Reid, actually voices key games in the catacombs of American Airlines Arena. Eric’s voice and tendentious play-by-play call are recorded for posterity, highlight films, parties and for whom he calls the Heat Nation. So at least Eric has a sense of engagement beyond the first round.
A few regional rightsholders will run pre and post game shows of games, including during the second round and beyond. Fans know that they’ll get more depth of team news locally than on the networks. Once tip-off approaches, the regionals end their shows and return after the game with team focused programs.
This is the hand that the announcers and fans are dealt. There’s not much anyone can do. No complaints from the teams. They love the dough they get from the league’s TV rightsholders. It’s their prime bread and butter. While loyal fans will miss their familiar announcers, some popular local voices stay involved in other ways. Voices occasionally write for the teams’ digital websites or are guests on local sports talk radio stations. Upon occasion, one of the voices becomes a correspondent for a local TV affiliate, reporting from game sites during the early evening and late night news.
Voices will engage in social media too, communicating with the team’s fans.
I asked six local television broadcasters how they feel about having their broadcast assignments limited during the playoffs They were all asked these three questions:
1.Do you feel emotionally distanced once the national broadcasts mute local telecasts after the opening round of the NBA playoffs?
2.Do you compensate for the lack of a TV forum by writing for the team website, appearing on talk-shows or partaking on the team’s radio broadcasts?
3.Does the television station or regional cable rightsholder that carries your team’s games all year do pre-game or post-game shows during the playoffs? If so, do you engage?
Craig Bolerjack- TV Voice, Utah Jazz:
As much as I would like to call every game during the postseason, I understand the network exclusivity agreement that’s in place. I stay connected by doing several radio insider segments on our flagship station, social media, podcasts and on occasion make appearances on local TV sports shows.
We provide a half hour pre and post game show on our regional carrier. I’m involved with both with a game-by-game coaches show along with other features, and when needed, I join our post game crew for comment.
Michael Gorman- TV Voice, Boston Celtics:
Yes. I have always felt it was terribly unfair to knock out the locals after the first round. We have been with the team every game through the dog days of late January and February. Just let us go head-to-head with the ESPNs of the world for as long as our team is alive. I like our chances with the ratings. I don’t do any writing for the team’s website. I do pre and post game shows until the Celtics are eliminated.
Bob Rathbun- TV Voice, Atlanta Hawks:
No, I do not. I stay with the team as long as it is alive and as we are allowed as rights holders, to continue on with our pre-and post-game shows on Bally Sports Southeast.
As an aside, I’ve always felt that TNT/ESPN should provide an audio subcarrier to allow fans to enjoy the local announcers calling the games off of their feeds. Allow TNT/ESPN to benefit from a ratings stand point, but give fans a choice, much like they get with League Pass during the regular season.
Eric Reid- TV Voice, Miami Heat
Not being able to broadcast past the first round of the playoffs is the only downside of having one of the best play-by-play jobs in professional sports. You wait and work all season, sometimes many seasons, for the opportunity and privilege of calling playoff games.
I do not feel emotionally distant from my team when we do advance past round one. I learned long ago not to be selfish, especially at playoff time. You always want your team to have post season success.
We wind up doing many talk show appearances during the playoffs both locally and nationally. I have in the past written for heat.com. We stay active on social media covering our team for Heat Nation.
We always do pre and post game shows on heat.com and for our TV partner, Bally Sports Sun.
Since the late 90’s, once we pass the first round, I have done a game call that is recorded and often used for highlights and saved in the Miami Heat archives. I have grown to enjoy and embrace these “broadcasts.” They keep me connected to each game in the way I’m most accustomed to. I do them as if it was on the air. No difference!
Last summer when Bam Adebayo blocked Jayson Tatum’s game tying dunk at the end of game one of the Eastern Conference playoffs, I JUMPED RIGHT OUT OF MY SEAT during a fake broadcast. On my drive home I felt thankful that after over 40 years of broadcasting basketball that the game and those special moments still move me like that.
Brian Sieman- TV Voice, LA Clippers
Yes, I miss calling the games and in some way not. I love telling the story of the Los Angeles Clippers. But being cut off right when the story reaches its apex is tough. Having been with the Clippers a while, I have a lot of emotion invested, inside stories that I think fit perfectly in the biggest moments, but never get to tell them.
The no part of my answer is the fans. I love them and truly watch the game from that point on through their eyes, and I feel the same emotions that they do. We’ve been through a lot together, so I know that just because I’m not calling the game doesn’t mean I don’t feel emotions. They are just for the fans and front office, coaches, etc.
When asked, I happily talk about the playoffs in any forum, but I do not go out of my way to appear on any talk shows, or anything like that. I may use social media a little more, but the thrill, desire, excitement for me is to be the narrator. I’m not saying this in a spiteful way (taking my ball and going home), it’s just that my dreams have always been calling the games.
Fox Sports West (now Bally’s) did cover past round #1 last year, I am not sure we are this year. I was a part of the coverage, and was thankful to be included as the host of the pre/post shows. Although, after we lost a 3-1 lead, I’m not sure how happy I was about being the host (kidding, kidding). I enjoyed the opportunity, but there is nothing like covering the game in real time. The emotion you share after the plays/wins/etc. are what it’s all about for us as announcers. But, it’s still a thrill to be working in the playoffs in any capacity.
Marc Zumoff- TV Voice, Philadelphia 76ers
Just because I’m not calling the game doesn’t mean I’m not engaged. To the contrary, I’m even more emotionally involved…as a fan.
I do whatever NBC Sports Philadelphia or the 76ers ask and yes, I’ve done all of the above in my career, appearing on talk shows, writing for the website or appearing on talk shows as the TV play-by-play voice of the team.
And, yes our regional carrier does pre and post game shows in the playoffs when the team advances and the game is on the network.