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‘NBA Today’ on ESPN Has Several All-Stars in its Starting Lineup

There may be no better mingling of personalities on the sports airwaves right now.

John Molori

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NBA Today on ESPN logo
Courtesy: ESPN

If the cast of ESPN’s NBA Today program were still in high school, their favorite class would be chemistry. There may be no better mingling of personalities on the sports airwaves right now. So, let’s start right there.

Reggie Jackson once referred to himself as “the straw that stirs the drink” for the New York Yankees. While NBA Today host Malika Andrews would never be so self-aggrandizing, she is the Reggie of this program. Andrew’s background is impressive. Before debuting as an ESPN sideline reporter in 2019, she was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times covering hard news stories.

This experience has prepared her for her current role and propelled her as one of the top talents in the business. The fast rising star is understated, prepared, thoughtful, and able to match wits and jabs with anyone on her panel. When Malika Andrews opens a show, you are transfixed on what’s about to happen. She is dynamic in a subtle and serene manner and asks tremendous questions both as a host and interviewer.

If there is a second star on the NBA Today crew it is ESPN NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski. The man they call ‘Woj’ has become the basketball version of Adam Schefter. He is a guts and grit, hard-working reporter with a pristine reputation. This dude is on point, locked in, and singularly connected. His contacts must read like an NBA Hall of Fame. Wojnarowski breaks stories like the late Darryl Dawkins broke backboards.

NBA Today is also home to a true television phenomenon and his name is Kendrick Perkins. Perkins did all of the rebounding, thumping, playing defense and blocking shots on those great Celtics teams from 2007-2011. I covered those teams, and if you asked me which player would be least likely to have a career in television, I would’ve said Perkins. I think the guy said about three words publicly during his 8 seasons in Boston.

This quiet assassin has now become a new wave Charles Barkley combining basketball acumen, flowery language, high level analysis and a mischievous sense of humor that shines brightly on television. Perkins is absolutely fearless and like Barkley, can be equal parts maddening and enthralling. This cat has a gift, and he is sharing it with hoops fans.

NBA Today also features the powerful presence of Chiney Ogwumike, a basketball expert who dominates the screen while offering opinions on all things roundball. Ogwumike also brings a WNBA playing résumé and a real sense of style and glitz.

Probably the most underrated panelist on the program is ex-NBA star Richard Jefferson, who has become the Larry Bird of the program. He makes everyone around him better. Jefferson is really funny and interacts especially well with Andrews and Perkins. 

He will go toe-to-toe with anyone on any subject. He even challenged the personalities on ESPN’s First Take to reach his level of excellence in wardrobe. Jefferson is an antagonist. He shakes things up and rocks the world. I love his TV game.

The February 14 edition of NBA Today opened with Andrews and Wojnarowski talking about the Lakers and Warriors discussing a LeBron James trade before the February 8 trade deadline. Brian Windhorst, another tremendous part of the NBA Today team, made a great point saying if the trade was really nothing, why did it take 24 hours for the eventual answer to become no?

I called Perkins a television phenomenon and you can almost put Brian Windhorst in that same category. He is not as omnipresent as Wojnarowski but brings depth and background to happenings in the league, coaching moves, rumors and player movement.

In many conversations on NBA Today, Windhorst is the calming voice of reason. When Perkins and Jefferson go off on emotional tangents, it is Windhorst who brings everything back to sane analysis. He consistently does what every television personality should strive to do – tell the viewers something that they do not know.

Perkins made a great point that if the LeBron James trade did happen, the marquee player that the Warriors probably would have given up is Klay Thompson – once viewed as a guy who would never be traded. Andrews then noted that the Celtics’ 118-110 win over the Nets put them 30 games over .500, the fastest they have reached that mark since Perkins’ 2007-2008 championship Celtics team.

Quick-hitting highlights and tight, defined commentary are hallmarks of NBA Today. Andrews has to be a producer’s dream. She keeps things moving from one subject to the next, allowing a panelist of her choice to give short commentaries on each blurb.

Perkins again was glib and candid in a discussion of the Milwaukee Bucks who at the time were 3-6 in their previous 9 games. He flat out called the Bucks “pretenders.” This motivated Ogwumike to counter with the fact that Milwaukee is going to be pretty much locked into a 2 or 3 playoff seed and their defense has been upgraded since Doc Rivers took over as coach.

The pair had a great back-and-forth prompting Andrews to wisely let the debate percolate. This is the ultimate strength of NBA Today. It is not your typical highlights and analysis show. While the topics for a given episode are clearly planned, there is room for ad-libbing and going off script.  In this light, Andrews is the Patrick Mahomes of ESPN. When she senses a better alternate route to take, she swerves right into it making for organic and compelling television.

This particular episode of NBA Today did not include reporter Zach Lowe, another recurring panelist. Lowe is a solid mixture of Wojnarowski and Windhorst – a seasoned reporter who openly challenges the opinions of fellow gabbers, even Perkins, Jefferson, and Ogwumike, all of whom bring that unique player’s perspective. Lowe’s appearances on the show only add to the depth of content.

The same can be said for Ramona Shelburne who always delivers telling information to NBA Today. She appeared on this edition to talk more about the proposed LeBron to Golden State deal. Shelburne is an ESPN senior writer who has been with the network since 2009.

Moreover, she is locked into the LA and West Coast NBA scene. She began her career at ESPN as a columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Prior to that, she spent seven years at the Los Angeles Daily News as a columnist and reporter.

That background has fostered tremendous contacts out west. It is pretty much a given that when Shelburne talks about the Western Conference, you can etch it in stone. Andrews also introduced Bobby Marks, the former Nets’ executive, who appears regularly on ESPN talking about the front office and financial aspects of the game.

Marks provided a deep dive into which teams could pursue LeBron James this summer in his potential free agency. The LeBron speculation continued with Perkins implying that James may not want to finish his career in LA if they don’t have a roster that can win another title.

Perkins closed the show with his regular segment, Big Perk’s Big List. This one had a Valentine’s Day matchmaking theme as he talked about duos he would like to see play together in the NBA.

The Academy Awards are not until next month, but if NBA Today were a movie, the casting director would get an Oscar. Andrews and her ensemble cohorts bring it every day. From breaking stories to humor to straight up analysis, the show is an absolute triple double.

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Seeking Solutions at the NAB Show

“ My hope is that I’ll leave Las Vegas this week, smarter, inspired, and more confident in where we’re headed.”

Jason Barrett

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Photo Credit: NAB Show 2024

I’m writing this while on a flight to Las Vegas for the NAB Show, where I’ll spend the next few days talking and listening to folks discuss the future of the media business. Curtis LeGeyt and his team do a fantastic job with this event. Technology will be on full display, relationships will be extended in hallways and restaurants, and ideas and insights will be shared on stage by many operating corporately, and in local markets.

I’ve always enjoyed attending and speaking at this show because I have access to more information than most. That doesn’t make my opinions or wisdom better, it just means it doesn’t come from one source. I’ll get to share some of my thoughts on Tuesday when I join Fred Jacobs, Mitch Rosen, Rod Lakin, John Mamola and Matt Nahigian for a session titled, “Changing The Game: Creating Unique Sports Radio Programming.” I’ll also be appearing with new RAB CEO Michael Hulvey on the ‘Radio on Main Street’ podcast.

I’m privileged to consult many brands across the country. Most of my focus is on radio, but that’s not the only space I’m in. There are groups I work with that you have no idea about. News is part of my mix too. My access to various companies allows me to stay educated and see things that others only read about.

Because I see and hear so much, and I study brands, content, and audience habits, it drives me crazy hearing folks preach the same things they did a decade ago. Some leaders view the industry through one company lens, and don’t take advantage of opportunities to attend and learn at places like the NAB Show. I’ve never understood that. Why stay the same when opportunities to get better exist? What you believe works and doesn’t isn’t often seen the same by others. This is especially true when comparing the big three (Audacy, Cumulus and iHeart) to smaller groups.

But this isn’t just an executive or corporate issue. It happens with programmers, talent and agents too. I hear a lot of the same complaints but don’t see a lot of proof of a better way forward. Whether it involves discovering talent, measurement, generating revenue, mastering social media, getting talent paid or using artificial intelligence, what are your solutions?

The media business is constantly evolving. Many new brands have emerged, and they see opportunity where traditional outlets don’t, especially in digital. Growing a brand and business requires more than playing the hits, chasing meters, and sharing posts on LinkedIn. It takes adding skills you don’t have, building programming for different platforms, growing revenue beyond traditional ways, and most importantly, getting out of your own way. If you don’t have all the answers, that’s ok. Acting like you do is a bigger issue.

We have never had more real estate to work with to connect audiences and advertisers. However, we don’t take full advantage of it because many aren’t masters of multiple spaces. We also create goals that sound good in conference rooms yet lack the strategy and insight to be executed. I hear this a lot when websites, podcasts, YouTube, social media and newsletters are mentioned.

Because I love this industry so much, I defend it frequently. Print outlets love to portray our business in a negative light. Even the trades prioritize coverage of revenue projections, stock prices, investments in technology, etc., things that matter less to listeners, viewers, content creators and programmers. With so much attention on the industry’s lack of growth, it often looks like we’re steering a ship towards a tsunami.

My hope is that I’ll leave the NAB Show, smarter, inspired, and more confident in where we’re headed. Optimism is sometimes hard to find in terrestrial outlets, but this is an exciting time for the media industry. Capitalizing requires new skills, a wider focus, creativity, and forward-thinking leaders. Let’s put our time and energy into identifying solutions rather than spewing the same old narratives.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thumbs Up

University of Florida: State of the art equipment, tons of space, on-site operations for the SEC Network, a weather network to cover the entire state of Florida, ownership of Gainesville’s leading sports radio station (WRUF), excellent hands-on training, and students who want to learn, and possess passion and desire to make a mark on the business. It was great to see so many invested on campus in the future of the industry. It’s easy to see why Florida’s track record of developing successful broadcasters is stellar.

Chris Oliviero: Audacy New York’s top boss has always had a sharp programming mind, and when faced with making moves to guide his brands forward, he’s often passed the test with flying colors. He’s doing it again with the naming of WFAN’s new program director. The news becomes official at 9am ET today. Once the name is revealed, I’ll update this space to provide proper attribution. The bottom line, WFAN made a great hire.

Dave Portnoy: Betting on sports often produces losses but Portnoy lately has been on a hot streak. The Barstool Sports owner hit last week on the NCAA Championship game, and again this weekend with the Masters. Over the past four months he’s generated over 5 million dollars in winnings. What’s next, Dave?

Thumbs Down:

NCAA Championship Game Start Time: I understand that the game between UConn and Purdue took place in Arizona, but there’s no reason for a national championship game to start at 9:20pm ET. Given how much TV networks pay, and taking into account the viewing habits of sports fans, losing audience on a Monday night over a late start time makes little business sense. Hopefully this gets figured out in the future.

AEW: Airing behind the scenes footage of an incident involving CM Punk made sense eight months ago. Doing it last week was pointless. Any momentum gained is tied to a talent no longer in the company, and having an arena full of people chanting a former talent’s name does little for anyone on the current roster. Just a strange decision that provided little upside.

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Eavesdropping: Masters Radio on SiriusXM

“And then there is the very best in the business at doing this, who is an even better teammate, the voice of the Masters, Mike Tirico.”

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Graphic for Eavesdropping feature with Masters Radio

A tradition unlike any other, indeed. It was yet another mesmerizing Masters tournament this past weekend when Scottie Scheffler took home his second green jacket. The weekend weather was perfect, and the golf was spectacular. I spent a lot of my weekend eavesdropping in on Masters Radio from SiriusXM.

Listening to golf on the radio is a bit sentimental for me. One of my best friends, Jay Randolph Jr., was a PGA Tour Radio broadcaster, and sadly we lost Jay to liver cancer in November 2022. He had worked with many of the voices I was listening to this weekend and in a weird way I felt very connected to him listening to the Masters on the radio versus hearing the audio from CBS.

I can’t say enough good things about the way the Masters is presented on radio. From tuning in early and hearing David Marr III setting the scene for the day along with Craig Stadler and Scott Simpson to hearing the starter introduce Tiger Woods to hearing the crew throughout the day as the leaders worked their way around the course, it was, in a word, masterful.

There are many voices you hear while listening and it’s obvious none of them would rather be anywhere else. That’s the overall feeling you walk away with when listening to the Masters Radio team – they love golf, they love this tournament, and they’re having the time of their lives painting the picture for the audience.

The knowledge of course, is off the charts. Whether it’s little nuggets of statistical information, historical facts or on-course reporters giving reads of a green, the Masters Radio team knows their golf and you walk away a smarter golf fan when listening to what they have to say.

As the players at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday began to tee off, around 2:15 p.m. CT, host Taylor Zarzour had a terrific introduction before turning things over to one of the best parts of Masters Radio, lead voice Mike Tirico.

As the Masters music played in the background, Zarzour said, “From the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, this is the Masters on SiriusXM. Why is it that we love this place so much? Maybe it’s because of its breathtaking beauty…maybe it’s the fellowship at Augusta National, without any electronic devices, you are your most present here. The conversation seems more meaningful. You are where your feet are.

“Or maybe, ‘YES SIR!’ the man that made that collection of words famous is Verne Lundquist, in one of his many calls we will never forget. Verne made it during what I think we love the most, the second nine on Sunday at Augusta. Today is his final assignment in an illustrious career. Wouldn’t it be fun if he had one more memorable call? If so, we will press play on it during this final round broadcast led by Jeremy Davis and his fabulous production team.

“On the air we have some Masters veterans as analysts. I wish you could see Johnson Wagner’s passion when an eagle was made. And if the Masters had an accent, Steve Melnyk would be speaking it. The best on-course commentators in golf are here with John Maginnes stationed at Amen Corner, Brian Katrek in the middle of holes 15 and 16, and the great Maureen Madill is headed over to 17.

“And then there is the very best in the business at doing this, who is an even better teammate, the voice of the Masters, Mike Tirico.”

I planned to write my own description, but I think Zarzour nailed it. Tirico did as well, saying, “Taylor, that’s awesome man, that sets the scene so perfectly and I think shapes the thoughts of so many of us as we drive into the property here on Sunday.”

While the broadcasters were all on their A-game, so too were the producers and sound engineers. As I said before, they don’t miss anything. Whether it be the sound of the club hitting the ball, the conversations between caddies and players, the atmosphere of the birds and the patrons, it is all blended exceptionally well. And when something big happens, the passion of the announcer’s voice along with the noise from the crowd is mixed perfectly.

The broadcasters gave every player at the top of the leaderboard their just do. The more you listened, the more you learned about Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Ludvig Aberg, Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau as they made their way around the course. You caught every step of their rounds with Maginnes, Katrek, Madill and Johnson Wagner walking the course with them. And nobody is better at giving you the storylines than Mike Tirico.

Tirico is one of those voices where if you hear it, you know the event is a big one. His voice leading the way on Masters Radio makes it sound even bigger than it is, if that is even possible. He not only gives exceptional commentary, but he is terrific bringing in the other broadcasters in and out of the conversation. And, as one can imagine, he is as prepared as possible, a virtual golf and Masters encyclopedia.

As the leaders got past ‘Amen Corner’ and the tournament started to reach its climax, you could feel the emotion through the microphones.

As Scottie Scheffler led by two and then hit his second shot on 14 to within two feet of the hole, Tirico had an excellent play-by-play call, followed by a very subtle response from Steve Melnyk, who simply said, “There’s a reason he’s No. 1.”

As Scheffler putted out and took a three-shot lead, Tirico added, “He’s that close to a second green jacket in three years.”

At that point in the broadcast, Zarzour took over and Tirico moved to a setup next to the 18th green and as he did Zarzour mentioned it was from there Tirico had called Tiger Woods’ win exactly five years prior.

As Tirico and Johnson Wagner take over the call from near the 18th green at around 5:25 CT, the leaders head to the 16th hole with Scheffler leading by three.

As analyst Steve Melnyk wrapped up his time in the booth, he praised Scheffler for his play and made a statement about second place finisher Ludvig Aberg saying, “Ludvig is the new young face of the golf world.”

Maureen Madill doubled down as she told Tirico that some of the younger golfers who challenged Scheffler this weekend were like a zoom call where they are waiting to come into a meeting. “I think Ludvig Aberg and Max Homa are in the major waiting room,” she said.

As Scheffler started to wrap up his second win at Augusta, Brian Katrek had the call of his putt on the 16th hole: “…On the way, up to the cup and in. There are no more questions, Scottie Scheffler can put one arm in the jacket right now. Birdie at 16, he is 11 under par and he leads by four.”

Tirico was bringing it all home as he described Scheffler and his caddie Ted Scott walking up the 18th fairway. “The crescendo builds as Scheffler gets close to the 18th green,” he said and then brilliantly went silent and let the crowd noise takeover.

As Scheffler pitched to within a few feet, Tirico said, “Scottie Scheffler’s gonna do it again.”

As Scheffler wrapped up his championship, Tirico said, “Scheffler, over the ball, shuffles the feet, Scottie Scheffler the putter back and in! Scottie, Scottie, he’s done it again. Scottie Scheffer, for the second time in three years is the Masters Champion.” He later added, “Only eighteen men now have won multiple Masters and the latest is Texan Scottie Scheffler.”

Golf on the radio is not easy. It’s made even more difficult when you are trying to blend together a number of voices and sounds to truly maximize the coverage. I can’t imagine it being done any better than the way Masters Radio on SiriusXM did it this weekend.

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Eavesdropping: Busted Open on SiriusXM

“If Cody would have won at WrestleMania 39 there would have been cheers. But what you got because of Cody’s victory last night was tears.”

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Graphic for Eavesdropping: Busted Open Radio

The day after the Super Bowl, it’s always fun to hear sports radio in the two towns which had teams in the game. In that same vein, I tuned into Busted Open on SiriusXM the day after WrestleMania weekend.

Host Dave LaGreca, who plays the role of the fan on the show, was joined live from WWE World by co-hosts Tommy Dreamer, Mark Henry and Bully Ray. The fan exhibit was not open to the public at the start of the show, but fans entered the picture after the first hour.

The first hour of this particular show went about as fast as a radio show can possibly move. As soon as the show started the hosts immediately got into making fun of Bully Ray, who had been a surprise guest-referee in a match during WrestleMania night two, for how he looked in the referee uniform.

“Allow me to be the very first to admit those stripes don’t look the best on me,” the WWE Hall of Famer replied to the jokes.

Mark Henry jumped in to say, “It was kind of just what WrestleMania needed. To have the ECW influence on the show, great representation for the brand and showing respect to Paul Heyman as well.” Heyman had been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame during the weekend and was celebrated not only for his WWE contributions but as the creator of ECW, which was based in Philadelphia, where he first worked with Bully Ray who was then known as Bubba Ray Dudley.

“I had people backstage in WWE telling me ‘We have never seen you smile that much in life ever,’ said Bully Ray “…I jumped at the opportunity. Too much fun.  Last night was the first WrestleMania that I got to appreciate…the level of stress that came with [when you are performing in the matches] you’re not able to take it all in…it’s really not fun because it’s so stressful.”

Bully Ray said he could feel the pop as he was introduced and really enjoyed getting to “smell the roses for the first time.”

LaGreca could no longer hold it in. He cut off the talk about his co-host participating in WrestleMania and moved on to the heart of the matter. In the main event the night before, Cody Rhodes had ended the run of Roman Reigns as the Undisputed Universal Champion after more than three and a half years. More importantly to the hosts and fans alike, the story of Cody Rhodes building to this moment was one they all agreed was one of the great moments in WrestleMania history.

Of course, WWE loves surprises and on the second night of this year’s WrestleMania, they had plenty in store. The Rock had already come back to be a part of the WrestleMania 40 storyline and then during the Sunday main event, John Cena and The Undertaker came out as surprises.

Bully Ray gave a great description of what he was doing as the main event was happening. He said he was with Damian Priest, who had earlier in the evening won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and while they didn’t plan to watch the main event live, when it started, they thought they needed to see it. “We ran through the halls and go out into the arena,” he said. “Guys, when the gong hit for The Undertaker, the both of us turned into 12-year-olds…we were jumping up and down…lost it, loved it.”

Mark Henry said, “We reacted the same way. I cannot imagine what that must’ve felt like in person.” Bully Ray replied, “When you can hear the pop in a stadium, you know the pop is big.”

LaGreca said, “There wasn’t a lot to get excited about with night number one, but night two was just hit, after hit, after hit. And that main event, with all the stories that played out and had a conclusion during that match…You couldn’t have played that out to a better conclusion than what we saw last night.”

The hosts then listened to an audio clip from the previous year, where the day after WrestleMania some fans, including LaGreca, were extremely disappointed that Cody Rhodes did not beat Roman Reigns and “finish his story” then. At the time, Bully Ray had said there was a bigger picture story WWE would build that would show Cody fighting hard times much like his father, ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes had gone through. Mark Henry agreed.

LaGreca said he was “eating some crow” but then admitted it’s all part of it where the emotion gets so high, and he pointed out that people were actually crying when the main event ended.  “If Cody would have won at WrestleMania 39 there would have been cheers.  But what you got because of Codys victory last night was tears,” LaGreca said. “This is an end of one story, but more importantly the beginning of a new story.”

LaGreca came back from a break and reverted immediately back to what the difference was in Rhodes winning the title in 2024 versus having done it in 2023. “It went from a great moment…to maybe one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time last night,” he said.

There was strong insight given out by all of the former wrestlers at different times during the show, and they also pointed to things a casual fan may not have picked up on. One of those happened when you heard ring announcer Samantha Irvin get genuinely emotional in announcing Rhodes as the new champion.

“We’re not used to hearing emotion in a ring announcer’s voice, so Samantha Irvin brought something special and extra to the table in that announcement,” said Bully Ray.

Tommy Dreamer added, “It was the most perfect imperfection ever and it made that moment even more real…it was something that will be remembered through the annals of time.”

As the hosts continued to talk about the emotion of the night, Henry said, “It felt like WE won.” This gave Bully Ray the chance to sum it all up as he said, “The key word that you just said, WE. Cody made you feel like you were a part of his struggle. You were a part of his story.”

Henry went on to say, “I felt like last night, for the first time, that I could almost cry for Cody. I honestly felt emotional seeing him become the face of this new era, the ‘Triple H’ era….Wrestling is a feel business and if you don’t feel it then it’s not worth really putting on television. I felt that [last night] and I know every fan felt that.”

The hosts continued to give insight as they discussed a gift given to Cody Rhodes by WWE executives backstage and a spot where a table broke before it was supposed to and how smoothly the performers pivoted. Having Henry, Dreamer and Bully Ray on the show allows for a lot of this type of discussion where they can give perspective from having been in the ring.

Later LeGreca is asked if he would rank this WrestleMania up there with WrestleMania 17, widely considered the best of all time. LeGreca said if night number two stood on its own he would say it was better, but perhaps not if you consider both nights. The panel as a whole agreed it was definitely up there as one of the best and Henry noted it will be the highest grossing, so that is one way to judge which was the best.

“There were very few holes in that show,” Dreamer said.

While the first hour was rapid fire and had a ton of great reaction to all of the highlights of the night before, the show took a bit of a turn in the second hour. As the crowd became a part of the show it seemed to change the demeanor of the hosts a bit, especially LaGreca who seemed to be playing to the crowd rather than the listening audience. He yelled out “We did it!” talking about Cody Rhodes winning and then led a “Cody! Cody! Cody!” chant that didn’t go over well to those not on site.

Then there was a very strange guest appearance by WWE superstar Liv Morgan which seemed to bring the show to a halt. Later, Kevin Owens was live on the show and his appearance made a lot more sense as he participated in WrestleMania and had thoughts to share about others who performed and the storylines which were created. Owens helped bring the energy of the show back up and you could tell as a listener how passionate he is about wrestling and what took place during WrestleMania 40.

The programmer in me would remind the hosts not to do the show for their hardcore fans only, as they have to assume people are coming in and out of the show. They had incredible content in the first hour with really strong opinions from their experts, but there was never any resetting or going back to what was talked about, which I thought was a bit of a miss.

With that said, if you are a wrestling fan and you didn’t feed off the energy and excitement the hosts had for what they had witnessed the night before, something is wrong with you. Busted Open Radio was an excellent listen as a follow up to what was a memorable WresleMania weekend.

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