NBA TV's Handling of Protest Coverage Was Extraordinary
By Liam McKeone
Wednesday, August 26 will forever be remembered as a pivotal day in sports history. The Milwaukee Bucks, in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake, went on strike for their Game 5 matchup against the Orlando Magic. It sparked a movement that transcended leagues, as other NBA, WNBA, MLS, and MLB teams followed suit and refused to play as a call for justice for Blake and systematic reform. NFL teams did the same in their own way as news rolls in today that various teams are canceling practices to discuss the ongoing events in the country and how players can be agents of reform.
When all six teams slated to play on Wednesday elected to protest, it left networks with a whole lot of airtime to fill. Each handled the situation in their own way. But what really stood out was NBA TV's coverage. They were the first network to be faced with three hours of empty air that was supposed to be filled by basketball, as Bucks-Magic was scheduled to air on NBA TV at 4 PM ET on Wednesday afternoon. It was an unprecedented situation for all parties involved, and there were a lot of different directions NBA TV could go.
The network chose to amplify the Black voices that help make up its coverage, and it was remarkable. First was Sam Mitchell, studio host for NBA TV. He spoke for a long time about his experiences as a Black man in America and what this means to the players protesting as a former player himself.
Brendan Haywood, a sideline reporter for the network and a former player himself, gave his thoughts on the matter and summed up the whole situation with one statement after LeBron James tweeted "F--K THIS MAN!!! WE DEMAND CHANGE. SICK OF IT."
NBA TV then brought in Jim Jackson and Bob Fitzgerald, who were slated to call the Bucks-Magic game. Jackson was given the floor and took advantage of the opportunity to talk about how none of it was about the game.
Chris Webber, who was supposed to call the Thunder-Rockets game after Bucks-Magic, gave a stirring speech when the lights were on him. "If not now, when?"
I would imagine that six or so hours of airtime that suddenly, at the very last second, needs to be filled is any TV exec's worst nightmare. But NBA TV (and TNT, too) should be applauded for how they chose to handle it. There were myriad different and probably easier options to choose. They could have stuck to pure news coverage about the developments and discussed how it might affect the current state of the season, what it would mean for the record books if the players left the bubble, anything directly basketball-related.
We're at a pivotal moment in this country. It would have been all too easy to "stick to sports" as the mantra goes. Instead, they gave a platform to the Black voices on their staff and let them speak from the heart. Yesterday presented a unique opportunity to broadcast the voices everybody absolutely needs to hear right now, and NBA TV did just that. It was important and it was right. It was what was needed.