If there’s one thing you can count on with the NBA on TV, it’s turnover and instability in the ABC/ESPN studio.
Both networks keep tinkering and tinkering, hoping to create chemistry and dialogue to rival TNT’s rollicking studio show, which has won five Emmy awards thanks largely to Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith.
Despite annual changes to the cast, the results never seem to quite measure up to ABC’s expectations.
This season, gone are Magic Johnson (his choice, not ABC’s) and Michael Wilbon, who was removed from ABC’s studio so he could focus on co-hosting ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption and handling other assignments.
Doug Collins, who resigned last spring after three seasons as 76ers coach, will fill Wilbon’s chair on the ABC set.
And ESPN anchor Sage Steele was added this past week after Magic’s departure, as ESPN essentially replaced its most prominent analyst with a natural host who will serve as a traffic cop — a role handled awkwardly by Wilbon and Jalen Rose in recent years when they weren’t spewing opinions in their analyst role.
Steele and Collins will join Rose and Bill Simmons in ABC’s studio (beginning on Christmas) and on many of ESPN’s Friday night studio shows (beginning with Heat-Nets Friday).
The Johnson departure was unexpected; he called ESPN officials Oct. 9 and told them he wanted to focus on his Dodgers ownership and other business ventures and did not have to time for TV.• ESPN’s other big change: Doris Burke, who has capably handled sideline reporting and game analyst assignments, will join ESPN’s Wednesday night NBA Countdown in a hybrid host/analyst role, teamed with a variety of analysts including Rose, Simmons and new additions P.J. Carlesimo and Avery Johnson.
• Collins, who has done mostly game analyst work in previous stints as a broadcaster, will be a game analyst on 10 Wednesday games and a studio commentator on 10 Friday ESPN games and nine Sunday ABC games, then work in the studio throughout the playoffs.
“I’m through coaching,” Collins said by phone this week. He left the rebuilding 76ers because “at this stage of my life, I didn’t want to go through all those losses. Another big part of it is my son [Chris] becoming head coach at Northwestern.”
Collins spoke to TNT, his previous employer, but Turner didn’t have an opening.
FYI: He picks the Heat to return to the Finals.
“You have to try to punish them when they go small,” he said. “They don’t want to play LeBron James on a power forward; they want to put him on the opponent’s best player, like [Indiana’s] Paul George.
“Teams match down and go small against them, and their small team is better than your small team. So you have to try to stay big against them and hope your big guys are better than theirs.”
RAMSAY STEPS AWAY
For the first time since 1990, Hall of Fame coach and former Heat TV analyst Jack Ramsay won’t be calling games this season. Ramsay, 88, decided to step away from broadcasting, largely because of health reasons and also because he had grown weary of the travel.
Ramsay, who has battled cancer several times in the past decade, said he is “doing well” in dealing with his latest health scare, which he declined to disclose.
“I am doing well within the limits,” he said. “My doctors expect me to be around a while. But I can’t be confident of my medical situation. I wouldn’t want to start broadcasting and not be able to do it all the way through. I will miss it. But I will find things to do.”
Ramsay, who keeps himself in immaculate shape, has been riding his bicycle five to seven miles every day in Ocean City, N.J., and regularly swims 100 strokes.
On the Heat’s chances of a three-peat, Ramsay said: “I would still favor them, but Dwyane Wade needs to play at his best level” for that to happen. He said Chicago is best-equipped to beat Miami.
THIS AND THAT
• Will Manso, lead sportscaster at WPLG-Channel 10, will succeed Jorge Sedano as Sun Sports’ studio host on Heat road games. Sedano gave up the gig (and his WQAM-560 talk show) to join ESPN Radio.
Jason Jackson will continue to handle the studio gig for home games and sideline reporting for all games.• When Chris Mullin joined the Sacramento Kings as a consultant this summer, ESPN quickly ended his employment. But TNT sees no conflict in retaining Shaquille O’Neal, who purchased a minority interest in the team. TNT isn’t carrying any Kings games this season.