JJ Redick is reportedly one of the front-runners to replace Jeff Van Gundy as ESPN’s lead NBA analyst, along with Doc Rivers and Doris Burke. But with all due respect to them, Redick would be the most interesting choice.
His ascension to the booth would represent a generational shift in how ESPN covers the NBA; and perhaps more importantly, how a lead analyst carries himself.
Redick, a decorated Duke Blue Devils star and sharp-shooter, was breaking broadcast barriers as an active player. He launched his first podcast way back in 2016, becoming the first active NBA player to partake in the endeavor.
Through the years, Redick’s “Old Man & the Three” has welcomed some of the biggest stars in the NBA, all of whom feel comfortable chatting with one of their peers. His interview style is conversational and lengthy. Most episodes are longer than an hour.
It’s apparent that Redick jibes with this crop of NBA standouts. At the World Wide Leader, he’s positioned himself as a chief defender of the modern game, most notably sparring with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo over his hackneyed hot takes. Like many 60-something sports pundits, Russo lionizes the stars of previous eras. He lauds Larry Bird and wistfully wishes for the return of the “Bad Boy Pistons.”
Redick, however, dismisses Russo’s commonly held nostalgia. The 15-year NBA vet has discredited Bob Cousy for playing against “plumbers and firemen,” questioned Larry Bird’s shooting ability, and even said today’s game is just as, if not more physical than it was in the 80s and 90s.
"[Bob Cousy] had 29 assists in an NBA game." – Chris Russo
“Well, he was being guarded by plumbers and firemen” – JJ Redick
Sir. ?? pic.twitter.com/8qmeARNeOj
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) April 20, 2022
Redick’s dismissive view of the old days has rankled some of the game’s biggest legends. Earlier this year, Redick was engaged in a heated back-and-forth with Dominique Wilkins, who ripped Redick for his comments about Bird and the league’s physicality.
“Redick doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about,” said Wilkins. “What basketball were you watching? To say something as idiotic as that is ridiculous.”
“Redick doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about”
— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) February 21, 2023
Pistons great Rick Barry also took Redick to task.
“JJ Redick is going to go ahead and analyze Larry Bird, one of the greatest players of all time,” he said. “I don’t think JJ is on any list as far as the greatest shooting guards.”
Suffice it to say, Redick’s respect for previous eras pales in comparison to, say, Jeff Van Gundy’s. Van Gundy came up through the 80s and made his name coaching those ultra-physical Knicks teams in the 90s.
Meanwhile, Redick is stuck watching 80s Finals games on YouTube, as Russo once reminded viewers.
We can debate whether Redick’s snide commentary about the NBA’s all-time greats is accurate or excessive (for what it’s worth, Redick eventually backtracked on his Bird take). But the fact is, Redick represents a new era of NBA punditry. He’s peers with LeBron James, not Michael Jordan.
His perspective is starkly different than what viewers find on TNT. Over there, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith never hesitate to rip today’s stars for a wide array of infractions, perceived or otherwise.
TNT’s lead game analysts, Reggie Miller and Stan Van Gundy, are literally straight from the 90s.
There was rightful consternation when ESPN parted ways with Jeff Van Gundy during its latest painful round of layoffs. JVG is an excellent analyst: he’s opinionated, incisive, and self-deprecating.
But if there is an argument for moving on–outside of financial constraints–it’s that Van Gundy became a little too comfortable and predictable. We knew he would usually side with coaches over players, and his mid-game tangents with Mark Jackson became increasingly esoteric.
Rivers and Burke have their own arguments for supplanting Van Gundy. Rivers has an affable personality and impressed during his last broadcasting stint; Burke is one of the sharpest basketball pundits going today. With Redick seemingly interested in coaching–he interviewed for the Raptors’ job this spring–it’s fair to question his objectivity.
As a young man with a long future ahead of him, is he willing to burn bridges? Today’s players are great, but they aren’t perfect.
Redick’s new-age bona fides could wind up working against him.
Despite those questions, there’s little doubt that Redick is one of ESPN’s most unique voices. Unlike other commentators, he doesn’t fall back on cliches and refuses to engage in poorly supported narratives.
He’s also a complete workhorse, which ESPN loves. It’s easy to foresee Redick calling ABC’s Game of the Week on Sunday, and then embracing debate with Stephen A. Smith the next morning.
It’s true there would likely be growing pains with Redick, who’s admittedly just getting comfortable as a color analyst. But he’s the most intriguing candidate to fill Van Gundy’s seat, and would finally provide ESPN with a generational contrast compared to what’s on TNT.
For the World Wide Leader, promoting Redick is a risk worth taking.