Of all the problems that the NBA might have faced in recent years, the quality of the flagship network’s broadcast team was certainly not one of them. A New York-heavy trio of Mike Breen, former Knicks (and Rockets) coach Jeff Van Gundy and legendary New York point guard (and former Warriors coach) Mark Jackson always provided entertaining, balanced and sometimes brutally honest coverage of the league’s marquee games and the Finals for ESPN and ABC.
But major machinations at the Worldwide Leader continue to creep forward this summer. First, there was a general purging of the network’s talent, in which Van Gundy was cut loose, back in late June. That round of cuts cost Jalen Rose, Max Kellerman, Suzy Kolber and other well-known employees their jobs.
Now, there is another twist—Jackson, too, has been let go.
The network’s plan is to bring in former Magic, Celtics, Clippers and Sixers coach Doc Rivers to replace Jackson, who had been with the network since he was fired by Golden State in 2014. Rivers, who had been employed as an analyst before he was hired by the Celtics in 2004, was fired by the Sixers this summer.
Jackson Thanks Van Gundy, Breen & Salters
In response to the firing, Jackson released a statement saying, “Unexpectedly, I was informed that my services were not longer needed at ESPN. Although shocked and dismayed with the suddenness of it all, would like to thank ESPN and all the staff of the NBA ESPN crew for allowing me to be a part of the organization for the past 15+ years.”
Jackson also graciously wished luck to his successor and acknowledged the team he worked with. “It has been an honor to sit beside two LEGENDS in the business, who are like brothers to me, Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy, and learn so much from them. Lisa Salters is a GOAT and like a sister to me and I’m so proud of the work she continues to do,” he wrote.
ESPN to Go With Doris Burke & Doc Rivers
While Jackson was shocked, others in the broadcasting world were less so. It had been rumored that Rivers could come aboard at ESPN following Van Gundy’s departure, and the network had sought to make Doris Burke its top analyst, a first for a woman on a major sports national broadcast team. It was clear that Burke and Rivers would eventually be paired for ESPN’s top games.
But it was expected that Jackson would still stick around as part of a different broadcast team at the network, even if it was not the marquee group. That explains Jackson’s surprise at being let go altogether.
One interesting parlor game among the NBA’s observer class has long been whether Van Gundy or Jackson would get back into coaching. The pair worked so well together in the broadcast booth that neither seemed all that eager to get back to the sideline.
Jackson had been interviewed for a few jobs, including the Bucks this year as well as the Kings and Lakers last year, but has not been able to get over the hump and return to a coaching gig.
Van Gundy has been loosely linked to a number of jobs in the past decade, including a return to the Rockets and an opportunity to coach Anthony Davis in New Orleans in 2015. But his interest has been only mild. That could change if his options to get back into broadcasting are limited.