ESPN personality Pat McAfee hypes up the crowd ahead of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Credit: Fieldhouse Files

By now, it’s been well established that ESPN has no qualms about its personalities flaunting who their favorite teams are.

Which, in theory, should have made the Indiana Pacers’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals a welcome outcome for the Worldwide Leader.

After all, ESPN has spent the better part of the past year establishing Pat McAfee as one of its signature talents. And not only does the former All-Pro punter host a show that’s based in Indianapolis, but he also happens to be one of the Pacers’ most famous fans.

The idea of ESPN leveraging McAfee to bolster its Pacers coverage — and combat accusations of big market bias — seems like it should have been a layup. In addition to his daily duties hosting The Pat McAfee Show, it’s not hard to envision the West Virginia product having a presence on Get Up, First Take and even NBA Countdown to provide a pro-Pacers perspective.

But despite McAfee having a literal front-row seat for Indianapolis’ unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals, his airtime on ESPN throughout the NBA Playoffs has largely been limited to his own program. And while McAfee has discussed the postseason with the likes of Mike Greenberg, Kendrick Perkins and Austin Rivers on his show, ESPN’s biggest NBA personality — and one of the most famous Knicks fans — Stephen A. Smith has been noticeably absent from the program.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that McAfee and Smith were reportedly involved in a heated behind-the-scenes exchange earlier this year in which the former NFL punter is alleged to have called the First Take host a “motherf**ker.” While both McAfee and Smith have downplayed the confrontation, they also have not had any notable on-air interactions with each other since.

If a sports media writer like myself can fantasy book McAfee appearing on First Take or Smith appearing on The Pat McAfee Show to go back and forth about the Pacers and Knicks, then surely this is an idea that’s been at least bandied about in Bristol. That leads to the natural question of whether McAfee and Smith are still willing to work together, despite their insistence that McAfee will continue to appear on First Take during football season, as he did last year.

There are other possible explanations too.

Perhaps ESPN doesn’t want to “cheapen” its NBA coverage with a non-basketball personality. Or maybe the network doesn’t want to overexpose McAfee, who’s plenty busy between running his emerging media empire and serving as a weekly analyst on WWE Raw.

But considering ESPN has never been shy to emphasize what the ‘E’ in its name stands for or lean into its personalities’ individual fandoms, it’s certainly more than curious that it hasn’t done so with McAfee and the Pacers. And that’s especially so given McAfee and Smith’s recent history.

With McAfee scheduled to travel to Savannah, Georgia, for his duties calling WWE Raw, it seems unlikely he’ll have any sort of presence on ESPN’s coverage of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Pacers and Boston Celtics on Monday night — which will be business as usual this postseason. Unfortunately for those hoping that the Pacers’ run would have meant more McAfee on ESPN, time is liking running out, as Indiana enters Game 4 facing an 0-3 series deficit.

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.