May 22, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) reacts to losing against the Denver Nuggets in game four of the Western Conference Finals for the 2023 NBA playoffs at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN, in its programming, has often been accused of showing bias toward certain players and teams, prioritizing personalities and narratives that most appeal to their audience. That tendency has been readily apparent throughout the NBA playoffs, with the Los Angeles Lakers, led by superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, dominating ESPN’s basketball coverage.

The top-seeded Denver Nuggets, on the heels of a four-game sweep, are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time, a crowning achievement for a long-suffering franchise that has had precious little to celebrate for the bulk of its existence. Monday should have been the Nuggets’ ultimate coronation, a richly-deserved triumph for do-it-all big man Nikola Jokic (whose eight triple-doubles are already the most by a player in NBA postseason history), but instead, the moment was largely overshadowed by the Lakers’ defeat.

In fact, as pointed out by popular Twitter account Velodus, of the two minutes immediately following Denver’s Game 4 victory, Nuggets players appeared on screen for all of four seconds before ESPN’s cameras followed James to the locker room, perhaps for the final time in his Hall-of-Fame career.

Predictably, the Nuggets were an afterthought on Get Up the following morning, with James’ future and potential offseason fixes for the Lakers (including Kyrie Irving, who had a court-side seat to Monday’s game at Arena) driving most of the dialogue. Bias toward glamour franchises, particularly those located in major media markets, is an unfortunate reality of sports coverage, a consequence of ESPN and other hugely influential platforms playing to their audience, often at the expense of better, more compelling teams like Denver and Miami, the latter one win away from punching its own NBA Finals ticket.

Jokic’s dominance is no secret—he’s been the most complete player in the sport for the better part of three years now. Though whether it’s his appearance (in NBA lore, has there ever been a less athletic-looking superstar?), his foreign heritage or Denver’s relative newness to basketball’s biggest stage, Jokic isn’t seen as “sexy” or marketable enough to be the lead story on ESPN, even after besting LeBron and Kevin Durant in back-to-back series.

About Jesse Pantuosco

Jesse Pantuosco joined Awful Announcing as a contributing writer in May 2023. He’s also written for Audacy and NBC Sports. A graduate of Syracuse’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications with a master’s degree in creative writing from Fairfield University, Pantuosco has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. He lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and never misses a Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots game.