Ryan Ruocco at a NCAA women's basketball event in 2022. Mar 31, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; ESPN play-by-play commentator Ryan Ruocco poses during NCAA Womens Final Four press conference at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As previously noted, Wednesday, March 1 will see “Boston Celtics All-Access” on ESPN. That will be a full day of cross-platform coverage of the Celtics, leading up to a national broadcast of their game against the Cleveland Cavaliers (7:30 p.m., ESPN). Ryan Ruocco will call that game alongside analyst Doris Burke and reporter Malika Andrews. And on Tuesday, Ruocco spoke to AA on that, saying the increased access ESPN receives to the Celtics all day will be factored in, but won’t be that different from a normal national telecast.

“I think for the most part, it’s the same, as far as the play on the court goes and the focus on the game in front of us,” Ruocco said. “I think the difference is maybe that there are a few more elements, a few more specialty items that can get worked into the broadcast, a few more tools to play with, if you will. So it’s being aware of the storylines and accessing the tools we have at our fingertips, but all within the context that the game is still the star.”

While some people may well watch all the ESPN extra-access features leading up to the game, Ruocco (seen above ahead of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four in 2022) said it’s important for him to not presume anyone has seen anything.

“You don’t want to assume that anybody’s been with you for the entirety of anything. Even a game. Throughout a game, we might remind the audience ‘They were up 20, and whoever cut it to seven, and they built it back up to 15, and now it’s one.'”

He said he thinks there is value to discussing some of the most important storylines, though.

“I think it’s important to hit those treetop storylines, if you will, as often as you can. Obviously, there are ways in which it would maybe be too much, if every single time down the floor you’re reminding people of what you’ve gone over. But I think there is a place where it makes sense to remind them of what’s gone on during the week. So I won’t assume that any of our audience has been with us the entire time, I’ll assume more so the opposite and reference the kind of access that we’ve had.”

Ruocco has the interesting perspective of working national NBA telecasts for ESPN and regional Nets’ ones for YES. He said the national perspective can be a useful differentiator, referencing meetings he had with Clippers’ coach Tyronn Lue and Nuggets’ coach Michael Malone ahead of Sunday’s national broadcast of a game between those teams:

“It’s one of our advantages, one of our separators, when it comes to just doing this job in general. What is different about an audience hearing from us about one of their favorite teams? Generally, I think it’s the access. In a normal game, what does that mean? Well, for us, usually it means…the biggest one would be our coaches’ meetings. I’m sitting there having a conversation with Tyronn Lue, I’m having a conversation with Michael Malone, and then I’m able to bring some information that the audience might not otherwise have access to. We’re just giving you an insider look. I always think that highlighting and punctuating the game, reflecting on the moments and analyzing them is one part of it, and then another level of separator is to bring some level of access to the audience that differentiates from what they’re reading about their favorite team everywhere else, or watching about their favorite team anywhere else. This kind of thing helps to do that.”

He said a national broadcast brings the challenge of presenting yourself to the audience as if you were already embedded.

“In a national game, you want to prepare yourself as if you’ve been with that team the entire time. You want to be able to serve both teams’ fanbases when you’re doing a national game and not just sound like you’re just parachuting in. But you’re also going to do some more broad storylines and you’re also serve the fan that is there not just because they’re a fan of the Celtics or the Cavs, but because they want to watch a great basketball game, and they may not know the intricacies of each team. So that is something you keep in mind for every national broadcast; how do you sound like you’ve been with this team the whole time, but also serving a broader audience than if you were doing a local game?”

Ruocco added that during the game, that means keeping it fair for both sides.

“There’s also the actual calling of the game, where obviously you’re calling it straight down the middle, same level of excitement for both sides, same level of storytelling for both sides ideally. Obviously, if one team’s blasting the other one, you’re going to tell more stories of the team that’s winning the game by a lot, but otherwise, there’s a mix there that’s pretty even. Whereas obviously when I do a Nets’ game, 75-80 percent of my storylines are going to be Nets-related, 20-25 percent are going to be opponent. Obviously, I’m going to be excited for every big and momentous play, but there’s going to be more enthusiasm in my call for something that happens with the Nets versus something that happens with opponents.”

Ruocco said heading into this game, there may be some more Celtics’ coverage given the day of access, but that feels fine as long as it’s acknowledged.

“I guess in the game, this is a game where you maybe lean in a little bit more to the Celtics’ storyline, or Celtics’ stories or features, I don’t think there’s any problem with that because you’ve introduced ‘Hey, we’ve just had access.’ I think the audience knows ‘Oh, the reason you have these features on the Celtics is because you’ve been hanging with the Celtics.’ So I don’t think it’s a problem.”

He said he thinks the overall broadcast will still be fair for Cavs’ fans.

“I think within the course of the game, you’re still going to do plenty to serve the Cavs. And the Cavs are just sort of becoming a team that’s on national TV a lot, so there is sort of a bigger foretelling of stories. They’re not necessarily on to the national TV audience over and over again the way a team like the Celtics is. So I think it balances out. But I think you’re sort of covered if it does lean a little more Celtics in the storytelling department by saying ‘Yeah, we’ve had this access all week, we’re going to use it.'”

Ruocco said he thinks the largest Celtics’ storyline is about how close they came to a title last year.

“Most broadly, it would just be ‘This team came within two games of a championship last year, and they have everything. The best team in the NBA at the start of the season.’ The moves they made in the offseason clearly bolstered the roster in the ways that it needed. And I think talking about the size, they’re so big, and they’re so versatile, and you feel it courtside. So I think it’s just telling the story of the Celtics and watching the story of the Celtics through the lens of them as championship contenders and championship favorites, I think that’s the broad approach. And I think we’re focusing on their continuity, their rhythm, where it comes from, their depth, and how they fit into the Eastern Conference and the Finals general playoff picture.”

A lot of the national discussion around the Celtics this season has been around their coaching moves, with the late-in-coming Ime Udoka suspension and recent removal of Joe Mazzula’s interim tag significant subjects of talk. But Ruocco said he doesn’t think the coaching discussion is the largest thing around this team right now.

“I did the first Celtics game that we had, after everything, that first regular season game, and for that game, it was obviously a very big point of emphasis,” he said. “I think at this moment in time, it is much more so a reminder. Joe Mazzulla did just get the interim tag lifted, so that’s sort of the angle. And I think as a reminder, you’re just going to remind people why was it an interim tag. But first of all, usually you’re not diving too deep into that in a broadcast. Normally, that’s not where that happens. And I think at this point in time, it would be strange to on a game broadcast do a deep dive back into everything they went through in the summer. But at the same time, it would be appropriate to have a mention of that’s how you are where you are.”

We’ll see how this ESPN broadcast of the Cavs against the Celtics goes. It can be seen on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday.

[ESPN Press Room; photo of Ruocco at a 2022 NCAA women’s basketball event from Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.