The 2020 NBA Draft may not ultimately be remembered for its star-power or pizzazz. Yet, I will remember it for its intricate production and seamless execution. For the first-time, this event was not only held virtually, but also telecast live from ESPN’s main campus, thus, making Bristol, Connecticut the epicenter of the basketball universe for a night.
The on-site presence of NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, as well as Deputy Commissioner, Mark Tatum, was a welcomed surprise, and signaled the league’s willingness to do everything it could to make this virtual experience as personal and inviting as the technology would allow for the nearly 60 draftees.
Although this marked the 18th consecutive draft for the network, which also aired the selections via ESPN Radio and the ESPN App, how would the media titan outdo itself from past years? How would they effectively be able to raise the bar from its previous virtual production standard, the 2020 NFL Draft?
The coverage team of Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Jay Williams, and Mike Schmitz did an excellent job weaving analysis and commentary into the background and identity of each selection. All the angles were covered by this group from their performances in college, to their development overseas, as well as the historical significance of the individual draftees to their new franchise. Sure, some might desire more theatrics and humor from the cast. However, I found their interaction to be sufficient, and their discourse most appropriate, given the vast amount of information discussed pertaining to these relatively unfamiliar high-end prospects.
Senior NBA Insider, Adrian Wojnarowski, along with NBA Front Office Insider, Bobby Marks, also provided pertinent league news and analysis without disrupting the flow and chemistry of the crew on the main set.
Only two observations here. First, why did Woj appear to be tweeting the selections seconds prior to Mr. Silver’s announcement? Lastly, what’s up with Woj, or other ESPN production staff, not providing a heads-up to Rece prior to the John Calipari interview, to inform him that a trade involving one of Cal’s players had just taken place? Definitely an awkward moment in the production. Other than that, a typical bang-up job by Woj and Bobby.
Another bright spot of the evening, was the performance by NBA Reporter, Malika Andrews, in her first time serving as an NBA Draft Telecast Reporter. Her poise, timing, tone, and line of questioning was fantastic; even more impressive given the technological restraints and inconveniences to conduct these interviews. Malika’s role was all the more critical, as her position embodied the gateway for the broadcast to accomplish one of ESPN’s foundational elements…vivid storytelling.
It was clear the network was trying to leverage the global platform and unique positioning of the finite number of draft slots, in comparison to the other pro sports leagues, as a means to delve deeper into player backgrounds and interests. That’s the beauty of being an NBA media partner! The league embraces and encourages individuality, diversity, and progressiveness, which lead to an abundance of the unique and compelling content we viewed last night.
Many of the player testimonials were moving and somber. Yet, I didn’t think those stories overshadowed their moment of triumph. Life stimulates a range of emotions, and I was there to witness the full gambit, as I empathized and celebrated with each and every pick.
I can’t necessarily explain why I was drawn to last night’s telecast more so than April’s NFL Draft. We all know the NFL is king, and presents more rounds and opportunity to engage its product. Yet, there was a connectivity I experienced to the overall NBA production that hit much different than ever before.
It’s like I got to know these youngins better than I had the NFL draftees of which I’d been following much longer and more intently. Perhaps it was because we have not seen many of these guys play in a while, or at all for that matter, which ultimately captivated me most? Was it the anticipation of the possible blockbuster draft day trade? Maybe the friendly and socially distanced banter amongst the studio crew was executed more effortlessly than normal?
Whatever it was, the NBA and ESPN should be commended for it! Hmmm…perhaps the fact that I can’t quite put my finger on it means the network ultimately accomplished its mission in eclipsing the bar for live virtual production, while elevating the NBA profile along with my own interest, in-spite of the obvious challenges. With respect to the early ratings numbers, all things considered, I thought the production to be of the highest quality. Ultimately, ESPN can’t make the kids more intriguing or play any better. All it can do is bring us the full scope of the player’s ability and the motivating factors behind them.
Life’s circumstances don’t appear to be changing anytime soon. However, the show must go on! NBA Free Agency is right around the corner. How will the Worldwide Leader outdo itself next?