Any change to a lead announcing booth is a major deal. They are not made lightly and are not dictated solely by fan sentiment and social media feedback. These changes often take many years to occur past when you think a move would have been made (Tim McCarver, Billy Packer, and Phil Simms being some examples). A move to change a network’s top announcing booth requires a lot of moving parts with agents, contracts, reputations, optics, and egos.  The status quo is often good enough and not worth messing with. But with that said, it’s kind of hard to ignore the obvious:

People want Doris Burke to be a lead analyst, and the majority of people with that opinion want her to replace Mark Jackson.

I’m not the best person to be writing this. I’m not a card carrying member of #NBATwitter. I don’t watch all of the games. I can probably name only 1 or 2 players on the league’s crappier teams. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge Jackson hater or a Burke zealot. She’s just better. A lot better. And there is such a strong consensus that you have to wonder when, if ever, a change will be made.

Consensus in sports media is tough because taste is subjective. Some people like Skip Bayless in the same way people watch CBS shows you cringe at seeing promos for. Take Joe Buck, for instance. A third of our readers would say he is awful, a third would say he is very good, and a third would have no opinion on him. He’s familiar to most fans, stays away from controversy, and you more or less know what he’s going to give you. I only mention this because he’s not going anywhere. It takes a pretty large wave of criticism for an extended period of time for a network to make a move. I’m of the thought that a Doris Burke wave is beginning to form and could hit the beaches in the next year or two.

It’s a combination of a few things. One—people just don’t really like Mark Jackson (we’ll get to that in a bit). Two—people really like Doris Burke. Three- I’m not sold that Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson enjoy being paired up together (video related to these tweets later in article)

Burke has been on quite a career ascension of late. She just signed a new contract with ESPN. She is about to complete her first year focusing solely on the NBA, where she’s usually a game analyst up until the final two rounds of the playoffs (when ratings spike) where she transitions to a sideline reporter (a damn good one).

In that role (which she’s done for the Finals for ten years now), she thrives in the little spurts you’re given of her. It’s possible ESPN would lament moving her away from this role, although Lisa Salters is certainly a very solid option to have and works with ESPN’s lead announcing team when Burke is an analyst the rest of the year.

But having Burke doing sideline duty is a constant reminder and comparison of a better talent that is not being fully utilized. Her quick hits are nothing amazing as it’s hard to really hit a home run in that role given guarded coaches and limited time on camera. But those limited spots leave viewers wanting more Burke and that’s only reinforced when viewers are transitioned back to Mike Breen, Van Gundy, and Jackson.

Breen I think is amazing. Maybe one of the most underrated people in sports media. Ask a casual fan (NBA or general sports) who announces the Finals and I imagine many can’t name Breen. Van Gundy is an acquired taste. Some people find him whiny. Others find him insightful, knowledgeable, and funny. I like him, but paired with Jackson? Not so much.

Van Gundy is a bit of a strong voice who often can deliver heavy doses of criticism. Most of the time, those comments seem to hit their mark. He’s selective and he mixes in enough positive analysis as well as self-deprecation where I don’t view him as being overly problematic to the booth.

Jackson, though ,is more of a cantankerous personality and that’s where the problem lies. It’s too much criticism delivered with a bit of attitude. It’s rarely light-hearted. It’s rarely positive. That’s not to say his analysis is frequently wrong or over the top, it’s just predictable in terms of tone and sentiment. Frequently it’s a bit too much and that’s an opinion that seems to be pretty widely shared by viewers. In laymen’s terms, I don’t think I would enjoy grabbing an adult beverage with Mark Jackson.

His disposition often looms over the broadcast, and at times him and Van Gundy’s butting of heads can be distracting.

I’ll avoid going too far in my analysis of Burke other than saying she’s good… consistently good. Never a distraction, always engaging and composed, and most importantly delivering poignant analysis that never seems to be too critical or jaded. People just like her more and that’s not hard to figure out.  In an era where any female being elevated within this industry typically brings an tsunami of really awful comments from almost always anonymous social media accounts, Burke is the one female we’ve covered where there just seems to be a nearly total acceptance of her abilities and fit covering a men’s league.

Currently Burke sits as the analyst on ESPN’s third-string NBA announcing team. A leap up to number one sounds a bit ridiculous given this is her first year primarily in that role but let’s consider a few things:

– Hubie Brown, the network’s #2 team analyst, is 84 years old. Promotions at that age just don’t happen in this business and really any business.

– Burke just signed a new deal with ESPN. The network is certainly a fan of hers.

– Jackson is regularly a candidate for head coaching jobs, which would be a nice soft landing should ESPN begin to plan for a move down the road (a career change looking better than a demotion)

But here is the reality. Jackson has a multi year deal with the network and it’s very likely that deal specifies that he’s a lead team announcer. Additionally, it’s possible that ESPN likes him calling games like the conference finals and NBA Finals because of his former role as coach of the Warriors.

And there is also this uncomfortable elephant in the room. Removing Jackson for Burke would result in an all-white announcing booth, which is not exactly ideal when covering a sport that has by a wide margin mostly black players. (Dear god, I hope to hell Breitbart doesn’t take this one blurb, reframe this entire piece, and fan it out to the masses).

That’s a legitimate optics issue for ESPN and is certainly a lot more pronounced because it’s the NBA. And while they did have an all-white booth for the Finals with just Breen and Van Gundy in 2012 and 2013 while Jackson was coaching the Warriors, that might attract more attention and criticism in today’s political climate. I would imagine most fans would still be in favor of the move and not think twice about it, but that would certainly be a thread that could be pulled down the road.

Additionally, I wonder if ESPN feels the need to stagger a move like this given some backlash (a lot of which was very swampy but some very legitimate) on elevating female talent elsewhere such as Sam Ponder, Jemele Hill, and Beth Mowins, with Jessica Mendoza being the closest comparison. I doubt that plays any role here, but sadly there is a sliver of ESPN’s audience (like Don below) who vocally is against any promotion of a non-white male regardless of merit because they feel the network has already “gone too far” in promoting female and minority voices.

So… that’s a long ways of saying I think Burke is destined to get that job at some point. Jackson coaching again is the easiest path to that happening. Short of that, his contract expiring ,or just a rare bold move here by ESPN would be your next big bet. Until then, we’ll just stew (and complain) as we’re treated to her in small doses while enduring a less-than-ideal situation the rest of the broadcast.

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - EIC and CEO at @comeback_sports and @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.