Aside from the unparalleled reporting prowess Adrian Wojnarowski provided, Yahoo Sports’ The Vertical basketball platform was perhaps best known for its live NBA Draft, trade deadline, and free agency shows that subverted ESPN’s televised draft rights and were incredibly popular among basketball fans and immensely resonant on social media.
The Vertical was several picks ahead of ESPN during the draft, and executives in Bristol were probably not the happiest when they had to see “as first reported by The Vertical” on its bottom line crawl time after time over the years.
Now that Woj and many of his former Vertical colleagues work for ESPN, the network is trying to replicate that live show success with a special second screen experience during Friday night’s Lakers-Warriors game at 10:30 eastern. ESPN has its own history of second screen experiences, not just with the NBA but its annual megacasts for college football national championship games.
Dave Pasch, Doris Burke, and Israel Gutierrez will call the game on ESPN, and ESPNEWS and the ESPN app will have a separate conversation-centric show hosted by Cassidy Hubbarth alongside Jalen Rose and former Vertical staffers Wojnarowski, Bobby Marks, Mike Schmitz, and Nick DePaula. There will also be live cut-ins during the broadcast, which will also feature the ESPN studio crew of Michelle Beadle, Chauncey Billups and Paul Pierce.
“Because we have some of the same group that we did the draft shows with at The Vertical at Yahoo, we have the chemistry,” Wojnarowski told Awful Announcing. “Like the shows we did there, certainly very information-driven.”
The stream will be on one corner next to the game broadcast, with ESPN Stats & Info providing various nuggets on the second screen throughout the telecast as well. Various subjects will come up over the course of the team-centric broadcast that will be the specialty area of expertise of one or more of the hosts.
“A lot of our storylines are built off of the two teams, the bigger picture of two teams, the individual player stories,” Wojnarowski said.
Once Klay Thompson comes up, DePaula will talk about his shoe deal with the Chinese company Anta. DePaula was with Thompson in China last summer, and the deal offers him advantages financially that he wouldn’t have if he wasn’t with the Warriors, Woj said.
Thompson is a free agent after the 2018-2019 season, and he’s a potential target for the Lakers, Wojnarowski said. “And there’s obviously history there with him,” given that his father Mychal is a former Lakers player and current broadcaster. They’ll get into that aspect as well.
Schmitz will talk about breakout Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, since he “scouted, and evaluated and gotten to know many of the people in Kuzma’s life along the way,” Woj said. “Kuzma’s an incredible story of how he got to the Lakers. And where people missed an evaluation or where they got it right.”
And of course there will be plenty of talk about Lonzo Ball. Rose will certainly have his take on Ball and his family. Schmitz will discuss Ball from a talent evaluation standpoint, having followed him since he was a junior in high school, Wojnarowski said. And then there’s Ball’s current state as he goes through the ebbs and flows of a turbulent rookie season.
“This is the first time Lonzo has had to maybe deal with adversity,” Wojnarowski said. “He never went to USA Basketball or to the Hoop Summit and got cut from a team, or had to play with other great players. He was always the guy. He was the guy at UCLA. Now he gets sat in the fourth quarter and there’s context of their stories.”
DePaula will also discuss Ball’s Big Baller Brand shoe contract, as well as the shoe deals Stephen Curry (who will miss the game with an ankle injury) and Kevin Durant have.
Another major dynamic that will be discussed is the current discord between the referees and the league, a Woj story that came out Thursday on ESPN.com.
“There’s something bigger going on between the refs and the league,” Wojnarowski said. “The Referees Association went directly to the Players Association because they don’t feel like they’re getting anywhere with the league office itself.”
As the only former player in the group, Rose can talk about, according to Wojnarowski, “what a player wants from a ref. How he hopes a ref deals with him.” Marks will talk about that from a front office standpoint.
With seven weeks until the trade deadline, Wojnarowski and Marks will provide a heavy dose of conversation about the latest rumors, speculation and possibilities, things that drive social traffic as much as, or sometimes more than, actual news itself.
“What the market is right now for players, who’s very active right now, what may happen up until the deadline, and how that factors into free agency,” Wojnarowski said.
How the Cavs proceed over the next two months with the Brooklyn Nets’ first round pick is going to be a major topic of conversation among the group. Free agency, and the Lakers potential major role in next summer’s proceedings, will also be heavily discussed. Paul George’s name will come up. LeBron James’ might as well.
They’ll talk about “what the Lakers have to do, and I’ll be able to talk about what their plan is here to get money off,” Wojnarowski said, “whether it’s to get one max contract, or here’s what they’re gonna need to do two max contracts, and what players would have to go, what would the sequence of those players [have to be]?”
While talking about George and LeBron, Marks could talk about what a free agent meeting is like, having been in the room with Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets when they spoke with James and Dwyane Wade in the famed summer of 2010.
“I feel like you’re gonna learn,” Woj said. “You’re gonna get more information, you’re gonna get reporting and you’re gonna get perspective of people who are pretty immersed in each particular area.”
And with any broadcast featuring someone of the caliber of Wojnarowski or Adam Schefter, there’s a chance that news will be broken on the air.
“If it rings and something’s happening on Friday night before Christmas, you never know when a deal can go down,” Wojnarowski said. “We’re gonna be live for a few hours, and I can’t be anywhere for that long without the phone ringing. So certainly yeah, if there’s news to break, if there’s real time reporting, we’ll do it live on the air if that presents itself.”
With most of The Vertical staff back together to do what it did best, ESPN will finally get to see whether its new team of reporters could replicate the magic of live shows that was a thorn in its side in years past.