By JOE REEDY
Dave Roberts received one of the NBA’s biggest rebuilding jobs last August. Instead of being tasked with turning around a team, it was getting ESPN’s studio shows and coverage back on track.
As the league comes out of the All-Star break and the push toward the playoffs intensifies, Roberts is pleased with the early results. Game viewership on ESPN is up 10%, and the new “NBA Today” studio show has seen a 35% increase.
“I think that we’re on the right track,” Roberts said. “We’re not all the way there but the teams, both in the studio and on the game side, have done a good job of working together and being a cohesive group. And I think that the early results are pretty positive.”
Last August, Roberts was named ESPN’s senior vice president for NBA and studio production. The move came one month after it was reported Rachel Nichols was accidentally recorded while in the Orlando bubble suggesting colleague Maria Taylor’s promotion to host the 2020 NBA Finals was diversity-related.
The New York Times report came two days before last year’s NBA Finals and detailed the comments. It also came less than three weeks before Taylor’s contract was set to expire with ESPN and after she rejected an extension.
Nichols was pulled from NBA Finals game coverage. After the championship series concluded, Taylor signed with NBC.
Nichols’ “The Jump” also ended its run and Roberts replaced it with “NBA Today.”
Roberts met with the network’s NBA unit during the Vegas Summer League with a simple message — he would be accessible and involved, but wouldn’t micromanage. Roberts’ goal with “NBA Today” was to make sure it wasn’t “The Jump 2.0.”
“NBA Today” has thrived with Malika Andrews as host. Andrews has been one of ESPN’s rising stars for the past two years and took over as the sideline reporter for the Finals last year in place of Nichols.
Andrews — who also does sideline reporting during some games — has been a quick study in getting commentators on set involved in conversations and quickly pivot when news develops. Roberts lauded Andrews’ performance during the Feb. 10 trade deadline special. That was the most-watched “NBA Today” episode with 544,000 viewers.
“NBA Today” overall is averaging 334,000 viewers.
“She’s poised, she’s prepared, and she’s committed to the journalism part of what we’re doing,” Roberts said. “She can operate as an excellent point guard, if you will, to make everyone else on that set better. That commodity is central to doing those types of ensemble programs. It also has to be insightful, fun and entertaining.”
Roberts turned to familiar faces for “NBA Countdown.” After Taylor’s departure, Mike Greenberg took over as host, and Stephen A. Smith received a more prominent role with Michael Wilbon and Jalen Rose.
Besides working with them on NBA, Roberts oversees Greenberg and Smith’s morning shows and ESPN’s Audio Network.
“We wanted to get the biggest brand names that we have covering the NBA together,” Roberts said. “And then you have Mike, who I believe is one of the best hosts of any content in the industry who can corral all of those big personalities to make a cohesive high-impact program.”
Roberts has also been pleased with the development of analysts JJ Reddick and Vince Carter, and getting most of the network’s key announcers and analysts signed to long-term contracts.
“I’m proud of our team’s efforts to reimagine NBA coverage this season under Dave’s strong leadership,” said Jimmy Pitaro, the chairman of ESPN and sports content. “We have built upon our solid foundation by adding distinctive content and dynamic personalities, and it’s resonating with fans.”
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