ESPN selects Mike Greenberg, Stephen A. Smith and Magic Johnson to headline ‘NBA Countdown’, but can network fix show’s real problem?



ESPN’s most prominent NBA studio show is undergoing a shakeup — again.

The New York Post’s Andrew Marchand reported Tuesday that the network has tabbed Mike Greenberg to replace Maria Taylor, who left ESPN for NBC earlier this year, as the host of “NBA Countdown.” Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon, Jalen Rose and Magic Johnson will serve as analysts alongside Greenberg.

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Additionally, ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski will continue to play a major role in NBA coverage, though his segments will focus on breaking news rather than opinions, per Marchand. Malika Andrews and Marc Spears will also be featured reporters on “NBA Countdown.” Andrews was previously named the host of ESPN’s new daily show “NBA Today,” which will replace “The Jump,” a program that was canceled after ESPN took Rachel Nichols off the air. Nichols came under fire for her comments about Taylor and diversity at the company.

With these moves, ESPN is banking on some of its biggest names bringing in viewers ahead of its biggest games. There should also be improved chemistry among these analysts, as Smith pushed for the inclusion of Johnson and Wilbon. Given that Smith is raking in a whopping $12 million per year and could be considered the face of the company, ESPN likely consulted him before any final decisions.

And yet, shuffling chairs around doesn’t fix the main problem: No one on “NBA Countdown” has any time to talk. The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis pointed out the ridiculous nature of the show, timing exactly how long each member of the panel spoke during halftime of Game 4 of the 2021 NBA Finals:

Like an aging scout, I watched Wednesday’s halftime show with a timer. First, host Maria Taylor threw it to Jalen Rose. Rose’s spiel (saluting Devin Booker) lasted 9.86 seconds. [Jay] Williams went next. He talked for 9.38 seconds about Giannis Antetokounmpo. Adrian Wojnarowski chipped in 9.93 seconds about Chris Paul. There was some sponsored “brought to you by” stuff. Then the segment was over. The editorial part lasted less than one minute.

The “NBA on TNT” show featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith has been running laps around “NBA Countdown” for years not only because of its consistency, but also because it encourages interaction. There is time for Barkley to voice his opinion and time for O’Neal to tell Barkley that he’s an idiot for having that opinion. Not all basketball fans may enjoy TNT’s coverage — it would be nice if the guys who are paid a lot of money to watch NBA games knew the players’ names — but a discussion does take place.

ESPN doesn’t provide an opportunity for discussion. The words spoken on the set are merely a prelude to the next commercial break. As Curtis puts it, the show only gives its analysts a brief opening to deliver “mini opinions that vanish before your eyes.”

Maybe this combination of people could take “NBA Countdown” in a more interesting direction. If ESPN doesn’t change the format of the show, though, we’ll never find out.


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