The sports media world is currently reckoning with the perception that it has failed to properly discuss the Denver Nuggets and superstar Nikola Jokić this season as they marched to their first-ever NBA Finals.
Nugget coach Michael Malone chastised the media for overlooking his team and star player, and TNT’s Charles Barkley agrees with him. ESPN put its attention on the Los Angeles Lakers while Denver celebrated sweeping them. One New York-based media member put the blame on Denver, saying no one cares about the Nuggets there. Meanwhile, national NBA writer Chris Mannix blamed the team for not being interesting enough to write about. JJ Redick recently called out his co-workers and other NBA media members for not doing a good job selling a story like Jokić and the Nuggets.
ESPN’s Jay Williams wants to make it clear that he’s not part of the problem.
“JJ’s not the first to say that,” Williams told The Big Lead’s Liam McKeone. “We’ve been talking about a lot of things for a very long time as it pertains to coverage and there’s a lot of pushback about what topics people are truly interested in. One of the things I’ve been on the whole year is, I’ve been forcing [Nikola] Jokić into conversations. People quickly veer off because not everybody gets a chance to watch it. After all, our primary focus is on star athletes. The Stephs, the LeBrons, the Kevin Durants, the drama. That’s all media.”
Williams says that the media members pushing that change are former athletes who used to play in the leagues they now cover.
“I think what you have from the athlete side is that we’re trying to celebrate the stories that are worth telling,” said Williams. “Like Caleb Martin. The fact that J. Cole got him on the team in Miami. You’re like, ‘Oh, I never knew that!’ but they’ve been talking about that all year long. It is a problem but that’s why you have athletes in media trying to change the culture.”
There’s been a strong push in recent years by the “new media” to re-establish the way the sports media covers certain leagues, especially the NBA. And there may be some truth to how they go about it, but ultimately, if the suits at ESPN want to put the focus on LeBron and the Lakers while the Nuggets march to the Finals, that’s probably what’s going to happen.