Jeff Van Gundy has been the lead analyst on ESPN and ABC's NBA telecasts since 2007, beginning shortly after he was fired as coach of the Houston Rockets. It was not long after he began the gig that he proved more than worthy of the high profile and platform.
Van Gundy is what viewers desire but don't always receive on a national sports broadcast: He has the biggest job, and he also happens to be the best person for it. What a concept.
Van Gundy is funny, informed, self-deprecating, opinionated, and blunt. It's when he is putting that last adjective to good use that he's at his absolute best, as he reminded us Wednesday night during ESPN's broadcast of the Mavericks-Clippers matchup.
The game marked the first time Clippers center DeAndre Jordan played at Dallas since jilting the Mavericks in the offseason. He agreed to join the team as a free agent only to have second thoughts and return to the Clippers, breaking a verbal agreement. Jordan was booed relentlessly by the Dallas crowd, which led Van Gundy to call out the fans during the first quarter.
Asked by play-by-play voice Mike Breen for his thoughts on the intensity of Mavericks fans' hostility toward Jordan, Van Gundy replied:
"I would also like the Dallas fans to acknowledge the sheer lunacy and absurdity that they're booing DeAndre Jordan tonight, and they'll be cheering someone like Greg Hardy on Sunday. That, to me, is absurd. All this guy did was change his mind."
Perhaps Van Gundy's point wasn't entirely fair to Dallas fans. Certain hypocrisies are part of the bargain of being a sports fan, but it's hard to believe even the most ardent I-support-our-guy-no-matter-what Dallas fanatic finds any satisfaction in rooting for Hardy.
Still, such hypocrisy is there to be acknowledged, and most Dallas fans likely will root for Hardy, if begrudgingly, come Sunday. Hardy actually had the nerve to change his Twitter profile to "innocent until proven guilty" briefly on Wednesday, days after photos surfaced on Deadspin showing the horrific injuries he allegedly inflicted on a former girlfriend, a crime for which he was convicted only to have the case dismissed when he reached a settlement.
Given the phony "embrace debate" culture that still permeates ESPN too often (hello, Steven A.), it was satisfying to hear Van Gundy use his platform and high profile to point out the intrinsic silliness of booing or cheering a player depending on the uniform he is wearing rather than basing it on the magnitude of his actions.
No debate on popularity
Spent a few words in this space last week sorting through the NFL's massive ratings across all of its television platforms as the season hit the midpoint. The NFL sent out a little bit more data on the Nielsen numbers Thursday. A couple of updates: NFL games account for 27 of the top 30 most-watched programs since the season kickoff Sept. 10. Only the Republican Primary Debate on CNN Sept. 16 (the 13th-most-watched show) and the season premieres of "The Big Bang Theory" and "NCIS" on CBS were non-football shows to crack the top 30. The three most-watched games of the season so far are the Seahawks-Cowboys matchup Nov. 1 on Fox (29.4 million viewers); the Patriots-Steelers season opener Sept. 10 on NBC (27.4 million); and the Cowboys-Eagles game on Sept. 13 on Fox (27.2 million).
A veteran presence
Fenway Sports Group announced the hiring of Gordon Edes as its strategic communications adviser and Red Sox team historian Tuesday. Edes has been a reporter for 35 years, spending the last 18 primarily covering the Red Sox, first at the Globe beginning in 1996, then after a brief interlude at Yahoo! Sports, at ESPNBoston.com until accepting his new position recently. The move is a wise one for the Red Sox, who theoretically will use Edes as a media liaison in times of potential controversy, something they needed dearly during the mishandling of the decision to replace the popular Don Orsillo with Dave O'Brien on NESN telecasts. The timing would seem to be prudent for Edes, too, given the significant budget cuts ESPN had to endure recently. It would be a surprise if ESPN made a hire specifically to cover the Red Sox for ESPNBoston. Joe McDonald, who covers the Bruins and Red Sox, is already on staff and does quality work on both beats. And the regional sites, which launched to much fanfare and with their own accomplished staffs in September 2009, have become neglected outposts used to aggregate region-specific ESPN.com content.
Fox announced its broadcast teams and coverage plans for the upcoming college basketball season, which will include 15 games on the primary network and at least 150 men's and women's telecasts on Fox Sports 1. Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery return for their third season as the lead announcing team, but another broadcaster who is part of their coverage probably will get the most notice around here. Orsillo, who is now with the Padres and Fox Sports San Diego, will call some college basketball games this season. The network did not reveal which games Orsillo will call or who his partner will be. I'm presuming it's not Jerry Remy.