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CHAD FINN I SPORTS MEDIA

ESPN’s “Hoop Streams” is really gaining steam

(From left) Kendrick Perkins, Cassidy Hubbarth, and Gary Striewski of ESPN’s “Hoop Streams.”
(From left) Kendrick Perkins, Cassidy Hubbarth, and Gary Striewski of ESPN’s “Hoop Streams.”ESPN photo

The thing about effortless chemistry on television is that it’s not often effortless at all. In most cases, a relationship — ideally, a friendship — has to be built away from the camera in order for a genuine connection among personalities to convey through the lens.

No conventional sports studio show has ever done this better than TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” You don’t have to watch for long to just know that Shaq, Chuck, Kenny, and Ernie are the same way to each other off camera as they are when the red light is on, though their language is presumably quite a bit more colorful behind the scenes.

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Other sports studio shows strive for what “Inside the NBA’’ has. Most fail to even come close. But ESPN has an up-and-coming program — one that is anything but traditional — in which its hosts have mastered the camaraderie/chemistry aspect and built a quick and fun connection. Not surprisingly, they’ve connected with viewers, too.

In just its second year — and its first full season — ESPN’s digital program “Hoop Streams’’ has become an important and welcome part of the NBA media landscape. The show, hosted by Cassidy Hubbarth and featuring former Celtic Kendrick Perkins, former NESN Red Sox reporter Gary Striewski, and commentator Amin Elhassan, among others, can be found on the ESPN app as well as ESPN’s main Twitter and YouTube channels.

Its fundamental purpose is to serve as the digital on-site half-hour pregame show for ESPN’s televised NBA coverage, and it does air ahead of all of the primary ESPN and ABC broadcasts, including the Christmas games. The show will expand to an hour during the playoffs and NBA Finals.

But it’s day-to-day purpose? To be a fun way for NBA fans — especially a younger demographic that is naturally drawn to digital content — to enjoy the league. In that regard, it already is a great success, because of Hubbarth and a cast that genuinely seems to enjoy each other’s company.

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“I think anyone can attest that chemistry is not something that always comes easy,’’ said Hubbarth, who also serves as the NBA sideline reporter on ESPN’s television broadcasts. “You work on it and initiate it and work on getting to know each other.

“[Chemistry] has been a huge part of the show’s success. Because it’s not a traditional show. It’s 30 minutes, we don’t have commercials, it’s nonstop talking. We’re just a couple of people happily talking about basketball and feeding off the energy of the arena.”

Hubbarth, who has been with ESPN for 10 years and remains one of its savviest and most accessible personalities on social media, worked with Elhassan in the past on ESPN’s NBA programming.

Like Hubbarth, Striewski had found his niche on ESPN’s digital side, but the novice Perkins was the wild card when the show was put together last fall.

“He’s grown so much even since last fall when he started doing this stuff,’’ said Hubbarth of Perkins, a starter on the Celtics’ 2008 NBA champions and still a popular figure among Boston fans in retirement. “There was a line from a Sports Illustrated article about how he’s the ultimate teammate, and that’s really what he is. We’ve clicked from the get-go because of his passion and his desire for this show to be successful and his desire to follow the NBA day in and day out. You just gravitate toward his lovable demeanor.

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“It’s so funny because NBA Twitter named him one of the top ‘back alley’ guys, the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to run into in a back alley, a tough guy. And then when you meet him in person and he is just this big teddy bear, so nice and thoughtful. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had in broadcasting.

“Gary is such a digital media star, and he and Perk have a great relationship because they do so many man-on-the-street pieces, which have been really great. That’s chemistry, what they have in those pieces.”

The NBA, for assorted reasons (LeBron James on the West Coast, the irrelevance of the Warriors, the Rockets/China controversy), has taken a hit in its television ratings this season. Through the All-Star break, regular-season games averaged 1.64 million viewers on ESPN/ABC and TNT, down 13 percent from the same point last season.

Yet “Hoop Streams” has gained steam, averaging 1.6 million streams per show, including a high of 2.4 million on Feb. 3.

“People can focus on the ratings, but that’s not telling the full story of the NBA’s popularity,’’ said Hubbarth. “If you look at how popular it is on social media sites, on Instagram, on Twitter, how well its highlights do, how much it is a part of pop culture, especially among younger people, I think that is a great indicator of how people consume the NBA in different ways.

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“That’s a big part of what our show does. People aren’t having to find us. We find them, on their timeline, on YouTube, or when they’re on the ESPN app, and that’s kind of the whole point of ‘Hoop Streams’ is to kind of seep into those areas of people’s habits that have changed. You may see us in your timeline, with Anthony Davis in the background interacting with Perk or something like that, and maybe you’ll click in and watch for a few seconds and remember, ‘Cool, it’s Clippers-Lakers tonight, I’m going to tune in.’ ”

Hubbarth, Perkins, and Striewski, along with Dave Jacoby, were live from TD Garden on Saturday night when the Celtics hosted the Rockets on ABC.

“The point of the show is to spread the excitement and story lines of the league in areas where habits have changed,’’ said Hubbarth. “We can remind them about what they might want to be viewing, and our job is to find them and let them know, because the best way to find NBA fans is on digital media.

“There are some people that say digital media is important, but when you come from a linear background or a traditional background it can be a hard thing to grasp. Because we don’t know what’s next. It’s boundless. Are we going to start watching full basketball games on TikTok? That’s not going to happen, but you never know what’s going to happen in two years. That’s part of the fun of it.”

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Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.