Bill Simmons posted this photo of the 2012-13 NBA Countdown crew on Instagram over the weekend, joking that this was 17 NBA Countdowns ago. He’s barely exaggerating. After Richard Deitsch and Sports By Brooks have reported on the departures of Michelle Beadle and Chauncey Billups and the apparent limbo of Paul Pierce, Jalen Rose is again the sole survivor.
In six years, Jalen has outlasted seven analysts (Simmons, Billups, Pierce, Michael Wilbon, Magic Johnson twice, Doug Collins, and Avery Johnson) and three hosts (Beadle, Sage Steele, and Doris Burke). It frankly hasn’t mattered who’s been on the show or who’s been running it behind the scenes: ESPN hasn’t been able to get it right, especially compared to Inside the NBA but also even The Jump.
It’s interesting and in some ways instructive that Jalen has been the one to survive all these wreckages. In his playing career, he did not make any All-Star Games or win any championships. Billups, who is transitioning from the studio to color commentary, was a five-time All-Star and an NBA Finals MVP. Pierce was a 10-time All-Star and an NBA Finals MVP. Avery Johnson played on a championship team and also had the perspective of being a head coach. Magic was one of the greatest players of all-time.
To be sure, this is not to say that he was a schlub as a player. He made over $100 million in his career and has now been famous for over 25 years, having come onto the scene as part of the Fab Five at Michigan, but he’s not as accomplished as many of those players that he’s run laps around on TV. He’s done that because he has interesting insights, always brings high energy, and shares the proverbial ball with his teammates. (On the flip side, Pierce as an analyst was late-era Carmelo Anthony chucking up a deep two with a hand in his face.)
Somewhat ironically, in my opinion that show with Jalen, Simmons, Wilbon, and Magic was the best version it’s been in the time period we’re discussing. It wasn’t smoothand there have been conflicting reports about why it imploded — John Koblin, then of Deadspin who now covers big media for the New York Times, reported that Magic left the show in solidarity with Wilbon and in conflict with Simmons. Simmons has repeatedly disputed this characterization, and inferred not that it was made up but that it was planted by Bristol foes.
Nonetheless, the fact that it wasn’t perfectly manicured was, to me, an asset, because it had an air of unpredictability. There was a tension between Simmons and Wilbon and their respective sensibilities that actually made it compelling.
Anyways, that’s besides the point now because those days are never coming back. ESPN will start over, again, with Rachel Nichols and Maria Taylor splitting the hosting duties, they’ll add another former player or two, and quite conceivably find space in the mix for Stephen A. Smith. Jalen will still be there too, having survived a bevy of people who had more successful NBA careers.