Jeff Van Gundy dismissed a brutal call from ESPN and a major shakeup for the NBA media

Jeff Van Gundy had opinions because of course he had opinions. This was late last month, on the eve of the NBA Finals, and when I chatted with Van Gundy for an enjoyable catch-up, a number of things came up. One that got a lot of attention was Van Gundy, who said he would eliminate free throws until the final four minutes as a way to speed up NBA games because of Major League Baseball’s success with its new time-saving rules. He stated that he would also rule out the break.

“I think halftime is the biggest waste of time,” Van Gundy said, laughing. “Or I would cut it down to five minutes so you could go to the bathroom and come back out.”

When the subject came up that the Heat-Nuggets series would be his 17th NBA Finals as an analyst, the most NBA Finals claimed for any television analyst in history, he became introspective.

“It catches up with you real quick,” Van Gundy said. “What started out as kind of a stopover because of some family stuff and kids and all that between coaching stops, now it’s turned into this secondary profession. Sometimes you just have to be eternally grateful for the opportunity. (Play-by-play- voice) Mike Breen and (co-commentator) Mark Jackson took me on a long time ago, and I’ve had the same boss in (vice president of production) Tim Corrigan the whole time. You’re surrounded by friends and you get to play with people, who are good at their jobs. But for me it didn’t really matter as I just needed a job and I needed it to be where I had flexibility. You know it’s hard too in this profession to keep a job. Change happens all the time in any sport. You have to be thankful for what you have at that moment because it can change at any time. At some point it will change for me. So I is just incredibly grateful for this opportunity.”

The change came far sooner than he expected. On Friday morning, Van Gundy was informed by ESPN management that he was being let go, even though he still had time on his contract. He confirmed the news to Athletics; New York Post was first with the report. He didn’t see it coming, and neither did the millions of basketball viewers who have watched him over the years.

Van Gundy is part of a round of layoffs that will include familiar names across ESPN, including its NFL staff. You have already seen news about beloved anchor Neil Everett and NHL analyst Chris Chelios. NBA analyst Jalen Rose is also part of the layoffs, Athletics confirmed. Suzy Kolber announced that she was also a part of it. More names will come out, about 20 front facing talent names in all, including from the NFL group.

“Given the current environment, ESPN has determined that it is necessary to identify some additional cost savings in the area of ​​public-facing commentator salaries, and that process has begun,” the company said in a statement. “This exercise will include a small group of job cuts in the short term and an ongoing focus on managing costs as we negotiate individual contract renewals over the coming months. This is an extremely challenging process involving people who have had a huge impact on our business. These difficult decisions, based more on overall efficiency than profit, will help us achieve our financial goals and ensure future growth.”

Disney has put enormous pressure on ESPN to cut costs, and the thinking from management is that cutting high-profile salaries via layoffs or not re-signing talent (which will happen over the next six months) will save many behind-the-scenes jobs.

You can understand that logic, but someone made a decision on Van Gundy and it was a terrible one. I will clarify why I think so.

ESPN’s NBA game broadcast production has long been considered one of the company’s strongest units. The production is sound, and even if you don’t like Jackson or Van Gundy — I’m not sure how anyone could criticize Breen — you have to respect how functionally they produce a game. It feels big. Where Turner Sports always boasted “Inside The NBA” over the various editions of ESPN’s pre- and postgame shows, ESPN boasted its NBA game production, and a big part of that was Van Gundy combining a brilliant view of game with real humor and showmanship. He has his old saws, like banging on the refs, but he educated people on the game like Hubie Brown did in his prime.

The likely replacement will come from a group of Doris Burke, JJ Reddick or a recently fired coach like Doc Rivers. They are all accomplished broadcasters and it would be great to see Burke continue to make history as a seminal NBA voice. But this decision is brutal.

If you’re a Van Gundy fan, I have good news: The current media rights deal with ESPN and (Warner Bros. Discovery) expires at the end of the 2024-25 season, and Van Gundy’s contract was timed to sign the new deal. The NBA will almost certainly bring a new media partner into its orbit, regardless of what happens with incumbents ESPN and WBD.

The equation for that media company changed today: The top NBA television analyst is now a free agent. Get him when the time comes.


Jeff Van Gundy’s big idea on shortening games and more ahead of his 17th NBA Finals

(Photo: Greg Nelson / Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

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