The most universally beloved aspect of the NBA might be Turner’s coverage of the sport, led by Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Ernie Johnson.
For years, ESPN’s NBA Countdown, their answer to Turner’s Inside the NBA, has featured a revolving door of hosts and analysts. And for years, ESPN has failed to match the chemistry Turner’s Inside the NBA features. During the NBA Finals, Countdown served as ESPN/ABC’s pregame and halftime show, but ESPN’s postgame coverage was hosted by Scott Van Pelt with his version of SportsCenter.
Despite technically being a sort of competitor to TNT’s basketball coverage, Van Pelt recently stated his love for Inside the NBA, and admitted he can’t attempt to replicate their brand of analysis.
“You, me, everyone consuming this, we all love Inside the NBA,” Van Pelt told Jimmy Traina on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast. “So I get when that show ends, that it’s a bummer for everybody. Because it’s a blast. It’s just the rarest of things. The combination of personalities and truly not giving a shit that Charles and that whole group has, with Ernie just the maestro making it all work, when it ends, I’m sad.”
Inside the NBA provides pregame and postgame coverage for some of the league’s biggest matchups throughout the season, but their run ends after the Western Conference Finals.
“Our show isn’t that, obviously we can’t try to be that. But I think what we’ve created, particularly in a Game 6 type of deal, is here comes Steve Kerr, here comes Jordan Poole, and here comes Stephen Curry. Who, by the way, he’s done the on-court interview, he owes us nothing.”
Barkley, Smith and Johnson have been on Inside the NBA for more than two decades, with O’Neal now serving as the group’s fourth cast member for 11 years. That chemistry can’t be matched by ESPN. But what ESPN can do better than Inside the NBA is serve as a source of news and information.
Not to criticize Inside the NBA’s ability to analyze, but the show is adored for its hijinks and brash commentary more than it is for being an actual source of information. ESPN, however, employs insiders and journalists who are able to break news and provide information. The best thing ESPN can do is to continue acknowledging they’re different than Inside the NBA. And instead of attempting to portray similar comedic chemistry, just keep the focus on Van Pelt’s ability to inform the audience by speaking with Stephen A. Smith, Adrian Wojnarowski, and the players and coaches who just competed in the game.