Plenty of former athletes have gone into broadcasting, but most frequently in the well-defined traditional roles of color commentators or studio analysts. We’re starting to see more unusual spins on that, though, and one of the most interesting may be what Turner Sports is doing with Kevin Garnett. Rather than put Garnett on their Inside the NBA panel or assign him to color commentary on games, they’ve featured him chiming in from a more casual setting with his separate “Area 21” studio, which often features him watching games with friends. Garnett spoke to Adi Joseph of For The Win this week, and said Turner’s willingness to do an unconventional setup like that was the main reason he ventured into broadcasting:
When I first got offered three situations to do broadcasting in, out of all of them, Turner was the only one to meet me halfway with a lot of the ideas I wanted if I was going to do something like this. I’m not a host, bro. I’m not going to be able to get through tag lines and all this. At least, I didn’t think I was until I sit back and watch sports with my friends. We get highly intense and have opinions and they’re flying off the wall and it’s intense. But it’s a room full of us and we have fun. So if you take that same kind of perspective and energy and put it on TV, put it with a guest, you can teach the audience and give perspective. Now you kind of look at it differently. That’s evolving. The more you learn about it, the more you want to learn about it.
There’s perhaps an interesting point here. Just because we’re so used to seeing certain formats (the pre-game/halftime/post-game studio show with a host and several former players or coaches as analysts, the play-by-play announcer, one or two color commentators and one or two sideline reporters) doesn’t mean they’re the only way to consume broadcast sports coverage. We’ve seen this mold played with a little with things like ESPN’s college football megacasts, where they’ve offered a feed of a table of coaches dissecting the game and a feed of other ESPN personalities hanging out and watching the game, and we’ve seen Turner tweak this as well, especially on their Monday “Players Only” broadcasts (which have often featured Garnett’s Area 21 coverage, sometimes even in place of traditional commercial breaks).
That doesn’t mean that all broadcast coverage is going to become like Area 21; in fact, it may be more effective in smaller doses when the main broadcast throws over there for particular analysis. But the unconventional setup has led to some interesting moments from Garnett and the visiting players who stop in to see him. Consider this clip from Monday night for an example, with the main set throwing it over to Garnett, Tayshaun Prince and Isiah Thomas to talk about playoff matchups:
— KG's Area 21 (@KGArea21) April 18, 2017
The question isn’t anything different than we’d see on a traditional studio set, but Garnett, Prince and Thomas discuss it in an interesting way, and the casual nature of the atmosphere (from dress to chairs) sets things up differently than what we’d normally see. Similarly, the back-and-forth these guys then have with Shaq and Charles Barkley on the main set works too; it’s more of a conversational approach, which is something Turner’s been working towards in general, especially on the Players Only broadcasts.
Something else that stands out about this approach? Offering opportunities like this gets players like Garnett who don’t want to do traditional broadcasting in the door, widening the perspectives we see. Here’s what he told Joseph on why he didn’t want to follow Shaq and Barkley into the suit-and-desk model.
I don’t need to come out and be something that’s already out. I need to be innovative and original. You have a Shaq, Kenny, Charles and Ernie who have a section, and that’s what they talk about. I try to bring something different. And I think I am giving a perspective that’s different. We have a new league now, and I’m just leaving it, and I like to give that perspective and be that voice for the young guys. These young guys don’t necessarily have that voice. They think it, but they don’t say it. So I like to give them voice and give advice on the same tokens and stand up for the young guys. I think the show brings that.
We’re seeing more and more of these ventures into unconventional studio shows, from MLB on Fox’s ARod-Pete Rose-Frank Thomas banter (with Kevin Burkhardt refereeing) to NBC Sports California skipping commercial breaks for sponsored segments with Jose Canseco (who’s often providing analysis from his place in Las Vegas), and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We’re also seeing more and more athletes enter the media waters in one way or another, from Players’ Tribune pieces and videos to Uninterrupted podcasts and videos. There’s more room out there for different approaches than we’ve often seen, and that may mean that more and more athletes like Garnett who don’t want to be traditional broadcasters can still find something in the media that works for them.