AA: Sure. I think that’s something baseball is constantly struggling with. You have a contingent of the fanbase that says, “More analytics!” but a television broadcast or other media coverage, you have a wider audience to take into consideration. You’re dealing with sort of a niche audience, or at least something that may not be as appealing to the casual fan.
EJ: Look, I’ve had these discussions at the NBA Tech Summit over All-Star weekend. I moderated a panel on analytics with Vivek Ranadive, you had Mark Cuban on there, you had R.C. Buford out there, Phil Jackson was on this panel. And we just tried to ask, is this for the fan or is this for management? And it’s much more for the team than it is the fan. It’s the teams that use this. You don’t hear a lot of fans out there spouting analytics. But you do hear teams that swear by them, teams that say, “Yeah, we’ll use them here and there, if it fits.” That’s much more of a tool for GMs than it is for the average fan.
AA: How has the show changed with the sort of feedback you get? So much is available online now. Clips turn up, if not immediately on Twitter, then certainly the morning after. Has there been any sort of difference in feedback, or what you notice the day after a particular show?
EJ: You know, it’s funny. We’ve seen the difference, obviously, through the years. Way back when, when I started doing the show — and I did it by myself at the beginning, in 1989, and then you add Reggie Theus or Cheryl Miller, Dick Versace, people like that — before the show took its shape after the turn of the century, basically, you would say, “I wonder if anybody saw that or thought it was funny?” Let’s wait for Rudy Martzke’s column to come out Monday to see if the show was any good.
And now, you say something on the pregame show and you go back to your desk to watch the game, and you’ve got all these Twitter responses. “Hey, that was a funny line.” “Hey, you gave out the wrong stat.” It’s a new world, and it just goes with the territory. It’s fun; I like interacting with the fans out there. I love having Twitter conversations with folks about what we do, about what our stand is on various plays. It’s a lot of fun. It’s just the way it is now. There’s immediate praise, there can be immediate condemnation; you take it both ways. I’m just glad people are watching.
AA: Turner is done with NBA playoff coverage after the Eastern Conference Finals. What do you and the crew typically do from there? Are you still involved with NBA TV coverage, or do you become more of a fan watching, attending or maybe contributing guest coverage and analysis elsewhere?
EJ: Well, I think the way it’ll work is those guys will do some NBA TV, Finals coverage, it won’t be the whole series. They’re on for a game or two, here and there, Chuck and Kenny and Shaq. I’m done, because NBA TV has plenty of hosts. So I don’t need to be hosting anything during the Finals, and then I’m getting ready for baseball. I may take a couple of days just to exhale and hold the grandbaby. I did a lot of preseason baseball work while the NFL season was still going on, just to get myself up to speed on who went where and all that stuff. So I’ll resume that before we charge back into baseball in July.
AA: OK, that’s where I wanted to go next. Is it kind of difficult to change gears? You’ve been so immersed in the NBA for months and months, and then here you are, transitioning into baseball, into golf. How long is the process of studying up and do you welcome that change? Does it help keep you fresh in terms of your work?
EJ: Oh, without question. Having a variety of things to do always recharges you. I’ve always viewed it that way. If all I did was wait for the next NBA season to roll around, I’d go pretty crazy. So being able to still do a game that’s still No. 1 in my heart with baseball, what I grew up with, is great. Having that month or so is really nice. If I had to turn around right now and do a baseball game this weekend, I haven’t had a chance — obviously, immersed with basketball — to be where I want to be yet, baseball-wise.
It’s nice to have that month right there to get totally up to speed on what’s been going on, sit down with Hal Gaalema, our baseball researcher, and just talk about what’s going on with the season so far. You know, you kind of keep up, you have an idea that Bryce Harper is killing the ball and that everybody’s talking about Joe Maddon’s Cubs. You watch these things, see who’s hot and that kind of thing, but you’re really not immersed in it until after basketball’s done. Then you dive in.
But at the same time, you’re getting ready for the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. So it’s a constant process for me of just doing homework, prep, doing games, doing golf, and then it’ll be NBA season again in no time. The NBA season actually never ends. [laughs]
AA: What do you enjoy most about expanding your broadcast portfolio over the years? What have you found the most challenging in making those transitions between sports?
EJ: I’m trying to think, of all the things since 1989, I’ve done speed skating at the Olympics, boxing at the Goodwill Games, rowing at the Goodwill Games, weightlifting for NBC at the Olympics in Sydney. I mean, there have been a lot of different things I’ve had a chance to get my mitts in. And a lot of times, you’re not totally prepared for something like that.
The first time they came to me and said — right after I was hired, I’d been there about a year — hey, at the Goodwill Games in Seattle, you’ll be doing the play-by-play on rowing, and I’m like, OK, I think there’s water involved and maybe a boat which may be referred to as a shell, but that’s about all I know. And then, you just kind of dive in, no pun intended. So I can remember going out with the Atlanta Rowing Club on the Chattahoochee River as a way to prepare for this, to get an idea of what it feels like to be in that shell. To row with other guys and get a feel for if you get off-stroke and the oar snaps back and hits you in the ribs, and you’ll lose your breath.
I’ve always enjoyed that part of my job. Telling stories, learning about stuff that you haven’t done before — it’s the same thing with speed skating. I had to learn that sport from scratch. I love that part of it. It recharges you, it keeps you sharp, and it’s a challenge. And you relish stuff like that, and don’t shy away from it. It’s not like they said, hey, you’re going to be doing speed skating and I said, no, I don’t know anything about speed skating — get somebody else. It’s like, speed skating? Awesome! I’ll be there.
That’s the way it’s been with Turner for the 26 years I’ve been there, the opportunity to do new things and not be pigeonholed as “this guy.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being versatile.