As we approach the Western Conference Finals, one of the many storylines revolving around the Warriors-Rockets matchup is taking place not on the court, but in the broadcast booth. That’s where former Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson will call his old team hoping to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1975.
After stepping away from the lead ESPN announce team, Jackson led the franchise to a 121-109 record over three seasons and two playoff berths. Once he was let go after last season, Jackson immediately returned to ESPN to re-join the lead broadcast team with Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy.
Generally speaking, this happens all the time in sports media. Network hires ex-coach, ex-coach returns to coaching for a while, network then re-hires ex-coach. So it’s puzzling to me why such a big deal would be made out of Mark Jackson calling the Western Conference Finals for ESPN when it’s such a routine occurrence in sports media.
Just in the NBA world, and even just at ESPN, there’s a handful of people this criteria could apply to who have worked in Bristol the last few years:
Jeff Van Gundy
All of these former coaches have at one point or another had to address their former employers. All of them have done so without incident.
Yes, the recency of Jackson’s firing and the success of the Warriors the season following his dismissal might make things just a tad bit awkward for this series. Yes, his constant presence through the WCF and potentially NBA Finals might generate some moderate questioning.
However, Jackson has called Warriors games throughout the regular season and the playoffs without a hitch. It’s not like Rockets-Warriors Game 1 is the first time he’s calling his former team. This weird tangent about caterpillars and butterflies not withstanding, have there really been moments throughout the season or the playoffs where it was widely apparent that Jackson’s credibility as an analyst was compromised? It’s a bit of a stretch to allege some kind of vast conspiracy here.
Even in the above discussion it’s a highly respectful dialogue between Jackson and Van Gundy that recognizes both Jackson’s previous work with the Warriors and what Kerr was doing with the team now. I don’t think too many NBA fans would feel aggrieved or slighted there.
For ESPN to even consider taking Jackson off the series would be an admission that A) he couldn’t do a professional job for the network, B) he shouldn’t have been calling any Warriors games to this point, and C) ESPN should have never re-hired him in the first place. It would also lead to the argument that other analysts with certain ties should not be calling the games of their former employers across sports.
In spite of that, if your argument is that there’s still too much of a conflict of interest between Jackson and the Warriors and he should be taken off the series, shouldn’t Jeff Van Gundy also be taken off this series? After all, he was fired by the Rockets in 2007 when the General Manager was the newly hired Daryl Morey. Where are the questions and skepticism about whether or not Van Gundy can call a fair series with Morey still in charge of the Rockets? If you take this concept all the way to its logical conclusion, there would be no analysts left to call games because all of them would have some kind of conflict related to their playing or coaching days. Mike Breen would be left to call the Western Conference Finals with Monty from Major League.
Jackson’s situation is one that has played out dozens if not hundreds of times across the sports media. That’s why it seems just a little bit absurd and unfair to Jackson to single out his presence calling the Western Conference Finals as some kind of mega-distraction or conflict of interest. ESPN and viewers should rightly expect that he should be able to do a professional job in calling the series and be straight with basketball fans without any hidden agendas just as though it was any other team. If Jackson (or any other analyst) can’t call games fairly and live up to those standards, he shouldn’t be calling any games at all.