The Golden State Warriors announced a pretty substantial change to their TV broadcast crew heading into the 2019-20 season on Friday.
Analyst Jim Barnett, who has been with the team since 1984, will be shifted to the radio. He’ll be replaced on NBC Sports Bay Area broadcasts by Kelenna Azubuike, who has done studio work for the team for the last four seasons. Azubuike will work alongside play by play announcer Bob Fitzgerald, who has served in that role for the team for over two decades.
Kelenna Azubuike to join Warriors TV broadcasts as color analyst on NBC Sports Bay Area pic.twitter.com/INMfkXy0xv
— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) July 26, 2019
Azubuike also tweeted his gratefulness for the promotion.
🙏🏾🙏🏾@warriors thank you so much!!! Im humbled, I’m pumped and I can’t wait for the season to get here. @NBCSAuthentic thanks for everything! My time in studio with Greg Papa and Gary St. Jean has been so enjoyable!! #DubNation I’m super excited!!!! https://t.co/nHvOlZyoYP
— Kelenna Azubuike (@KelennA7) July 26, 2019
Barnett was also gracious in talking about both his new role and Azubuike, per the San Francisco Chronicle.
“I’m very happy and grateful to still be employed,” Barnett told The Chronicle. “I hoped I might work in radio after leaving TV. Radio doesn’t show age. I hope I can do this for many years to come.”
Barnett said of Azubuike, “I really mean this: I’m so happy it’s Kelenna and not someone else. He’s going to be good. He’s handsome, educated and has a gift for words.”
Azubuike praised Barnett in the same story.
“Jim sat in this seat for long time,” he said. “I’m not trying to be Jim Barnett — he’s one of a kind and nobody can do that. …
“It’s always a tough thing, when someone has been doing such a great job for so long and then change happens. I’m not really concerned about the difficulty of following Jim. All I know how to do is be myself.
“He’s done a great job, and now I’m looking to come in there and do my thing. I have done it before, and I feel really comfortable about breaking down the game.”
This comment from Warriors president/COO Rick Welts helps illustrate the team’s line of thinking and the potential problem they were facing.
“We think Kelenna is one of the bright, young stars in the broadcasting business,” said Warriors President and COO Rick Welts. “He’s done an outstanding job the last few seasons as a member of our pre, halftime and post-game shows on NBC Sports Bay Area, and his familiarity with our team, our players and our fans dating back to the ‘We Believe’ days will serve him well in this new role. His presence will add a new dimension to our TV broadcasts and we are thrilled with the addition.”
The team clearly thinks highly of Azubuike, but Barnett is an institution that can’t just be pushed out the door. It’s important for teams to bring new blood into their broadcast crews, but it also needs to be done without alienating fans, especially when dealing with a long-running duo like Fitzgerald and Barnett.
Back in 2014, the Warriors tried to push Barnett out the door, but a near revolt from fans led to the team bringing him back.
The Warriors and NBC Sports Bay Area are getting some heat on Twitter (as you would expect) for their decision, but much of the scorn isn’t related to Azubuike. The Warriors need to think about the future eventually, and promoting Azubuike at the expense of Barnett was probably the best way to keep him around without losing him to another team.