by Kyle Stack / @KyleStack
Each of the major pro sports leagues is expected to operate its own TV channel these days, but the NBA rarely gets credit for becoming the first to do so. That was the case in 1999, when NBA TV launched as a 24-hour network.
It still operates with NBA ball featured around the clock, but the network has expanded its coverage like never before. And now it will take center stage as it hosts the first game of the Miami Heat’s refurbished championship-seeking team. Tomorrow in Miami, the Heat play host to the Detroit Pistons and NBA TV will be there to broadcast the game with an all-star crew.
TNT’s Marv Albert will handle the play-by-play while Kevin McHale and Chris Webber from NBA TV will sit beside Albert to break down the game. TNT’s Cheryl Miller will work the sidelines. The chance to broadcast the game with original coverage has an unusual amount of value for a preseason game – NBA TV typically shows live NBA preseason and regular season games with feeds and announcers from local networks.
“As a basketball fan, you want to see the initial time these guys hit the floor as a team,” said Scooter Vertino, VP of Digital Content for NBA TV. “I wouldn’t want to insult the intelligence of our viewers by overselling it but I’m excited. When this was presented to us, I thought it was a can’t-miss opportunity to get out there and show what we can do.”
While LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh might not play the number of minutes they’ll likely in regular season contests, the interest of how they’ll play together makes their first preseason game unlike a normal preseason debut.
“You only get to be first once and this is kind of cool to be that once,” Vertino said of NBA TV’s ability to broadcast the game.
The network’s increased exposure also helps them promote the game. NBA TV is in 53 million U.S. homes this season, compared to 45 million last season. It’ll feature up to 275 live games this year, which is more than any other professional sports league TV network. They’ll have 85 hours of original programming during the preseason, with 20 live games in 17 days.
Team previews start Oct. 7 beginning with the Los Angeles Lakers and NBA Real Training Camp returns with behind-the-scenes access to team practices of the Lakers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards. A new segment, On the Road with Reggie, will feature TNT’s Reggie Miller traveling to training camps for the Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets for interviews with players and coaches. All of it is done in an attempt to bring fans a little closer to everything that unfolds with teams before the season begins. Miller’s segment will likely run on the team preview shows and the the near-nightly NBA Gametime before being re-purposed to NBA.com.
“I worked with [Reggie] the last few years at TNT,” Vertino said. “He’s the type of guy who’s always early, always prepared, always has a Plan B.”
NBA TV and NBA.com’s move to Atlanta in 2007 permitted Turner Sports to take control of the platforms. It also allowed TNT and NBA TV talent to switch back and forth between networks, if necessary. The commonality among the two networks can be found in the free-wheeling, chemistry-rich nature of the on-air talent. Miller, like his sister Cheryl, is outspoken and at ease in front of the camera. The same rings true for the other analysts, from Charles Barkley on TNT to McHale on NBA TV. In fact, McHale and Webber hit it off the first time they met.
Vertino described a night when a team of NBA TV folks, including McHale and Webber, went to dinner in Atlanta. The purpose of it was to give the two former NBA All-Stars an opportunity to become acquainted with each other.
“I don’t know if it’s because they’re both Midwest guys or both from the Big Ten or because they’re both big men but after that dinner they clicked,” Vertino explained. (McHale grew up in Hibbing, Minn. and played at the University of Minnesota while Webber grew up in the Detroit area and played at the University of Michigan.)
NBA fans will get their first taste of that chemistry in a game situation tomorrow with the Heat contest. But Webber, McHale and the rest of the Turner Sports crew will be in the studio and at the games around the clock in what should be one memorable NBA campaign.