Back in November, Turner Sports announced their plans to launch a NBA on TNT Tuesday Night franchise, with the halftime/postgame show there featuring host Adam Lefkoe (who spoke to AA about that) and analysts Dwyane Wade, Candace Parker and Shaquille O’Neal. That franchise will officially launch next Tuesday, Jan. 28, and Turner Sports held an hour-long conference call Wednesday with Wade, Lefkoe and chief content officer Craig Barry about what’s planned for it and how it will stand apart from the existing NBA on TNT Thursday night broadcasts and Inside The NBA. Barry started by saying that the key for them with this show is the chemistry between the studio cast.
“We’re really excited about this opportunity with a new franchise. We feel strongly that the best content is formed around chemistry, so establishing this cast with Dwyane and Shaq and their long-standing relationship, and Dwyane and Candace who are both Chicago natives, and then bringing Adam in. Prior to this phone call, I was looking at Adam and Dwyane and they were talking like long-time best friends. So we’ll have really strong chemistry on the set.”
Barry said another focus of the show will be using social media platforms to engage with fans, and covering topics such as culture and style.
“The philosophical approach is that this is going to be a 21st-century show, a show that touches on culture and style, that uses social as a main form of communicating with the fan and engagement with the fan. It’s one of Dwyane’s primary ways of communicating with his fanbase and around his brand. And obviously Adam himself has a huge millennial following at B/R and understands the platform as well, and Shaq is established on social as well as Candace. So we feel there’s a huge opportunity to wrap social around the approach to this show to create a higher degree of engagement with the fan. Dwyane has a really unique and original approach, the lens that he looks at the game, the culture of the game, very optimistic, very progressive, and I think the show will take that tone. And there will be an enhanced graphic package and a new set, and we’re really excited about the opportunity.”
Wade said he’s thrilled to get to stay involved in the basketball world, and he loves the new team he gets to work with.
“I’m just really excited to be a part of this team with all of these guys. Coming from the sports world, a lot of athletes, the question is ‘What are you going to do next, how do you fill the void?’ And you cannot fill the void of what we just got done doing in the game of basketball. But putting yourself around and staying involved with what you fell in love with with sports is important, and was important to me. And to be able to work with the Turner family very closely and really feel this team, the teamwork concept away from the game of basketball, is something I’m very excited about and I cannot wait to get going. It’s that locker-room feeling. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Lefkoe said the on-set chemistry is a focus for him as well, as he thinks it’s what’s led the Thursday NBA on TNT coverage to such heights.
“I think from a viewer perspective and from somebody in the profession, to see The NBA on TNT, what was always special to me was the effortless joy, how it always looked fun. That’s what I really want to help bring to Tuesday nights. Candace, Shaq and Dwyane, on and off the court, are really special people, and then it’s my job to really help make them shine. And then afterwards me and Dwyane will wear matching velour robes and drink a Bordeaux, just kind of typical Tuesday stuff.”
The NBA on TNT, and specifically the halftime/postgame Inside The NBA show of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaq, has become a model for a lot of broadcasts in basketball and beyond. But Wade said it’s important for this new show to learn from what works for those guys while not completely copying it, instead taking their own path.
“That’s a conversation we had very early with Craig and Turner and the whole team. That show is lightning in a bottle, that show that they created is magic. And we’re not trying to duplicate what they’ve done and how they’ve done it. We’re trying to find our own voice and our own way. I think the good thing about it for players who are not playing and fans of the game who are watching is that these guys have fun with the game, and it’s very similar to the conversations you’d have with your friends at the barbershop or if you sit down in your basement with your friends and have fun conversations and watch the game. That’s what sort of resonates for me. And with Adam and Candace and Shaq and myself, we just want to bring some joy, and some laughter, and some fun into the way everyone looks at the game of basketball.”
“And we’re going to do it hopefully with our way and our style, and hopefully it resonates with all of the fans. We know we’re going to make some mistakes along the way, but we don’t want to be like TNT Thursday; they have their show, and we want to be the new, millennial show. There’s different ways that we’re going to try and attack that and different plans that we have to try and separate ourselves from people thinking that we’re going to be just like them. But ultimately, we respect what they built so much; it allows us to even have this show on Tuesday because of what Charles and Kenny and Ernie and Shaq have done for so many years.”
With Barkley in particular, some of his comments over the years have led to pushback from criticized players. And there may be a difficult line to walk there for Wade; he only retired at the end of last season, so he’s played against most of the current players in the NBA and knows them well, but will still have to find ways to criticize them when warranted. He said he thinks finding that balance may be the biggest challenge for him.
“I think that’s the toughest part. I think that’s why a guy like myself didn’t think about really going right into broadcasting when I got done, because I didn’t want to talk about guys I just played with, guys I had great relationships with. But I think it’s all about your perspective. Talking about how someone’s performing is all about your perspective and is about how they respect you as well. I’m going to try to be honest and really think about certain things when it comes to just leaving playing. I know how I felt a certain way when certain guys said certain things about me.”
“But I think the good thing about me is that I have great relationships with these guys, I have a lot of phone numbers, so it’s not going to be like I’m talking about guys I don’t know. And I want to make sure to stay in it with the guys; I’m going to continue to talk about the game, to continue to build some form of relationship with each individual, but be able to give my perspective on the game, and hopefully they don’t take it a certain way.”
“I just want to be honest, but not really putting people down, looking to uplift. But I think there are moments where I’m going to have to say things that will make me feel a little uncomfortable, but I’ll work through that, and having a team like I have at Turner, having a team with Candace and Shaq and Adam, they’ll all help me along the way when I have trouble with that. So I’ll be leaning on my teammates a lot to kind of navigate through how and what to say at certain times.”
This will be notable to watch early on, as NBA on TNT Tuesdays debuts with a doubleheader next week. The first game features the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics (Wade spent 15 of his 17 NBA seasons with the Heat, including his final season last year), and the second features LeBron James (who played with Wade in Miami from 2010-14) and the Los Angeles Lakers against the Los Angeles Clippers. So there are plenty of relationships for Wade to navigate on just that first night. But he said he thinks he can also learn from his past experiences with realizing the value of honest criticism; in particular, he sometimes quickly took exception to comments Barkley made about him, but then later realized Barkley had a point.
“We’re so lucky to start our show off with a double-header, Miami-Boston and Lakers-Clippers. How lucky are we to be able to talk about four of the better teams in our game today, and some of the best players that play this game? You know, they’re getting older. So we’re lucky to have that. The thing I want to point out is that there have been times where Chuck [Barkley] has said something about me and I have not liked it, but there have been times where Chuck’s said something about me and I’ve respected it because I’ve actually looked at it and said ‘You know what, he’s right.'”
“So I think what gets highlighted is the moments where he’s said something controversial and a player may respond, as a player they didn’t like it, but there have been times where you look yourself in the mirror and go ‘You know what, Chuck was actually right about what he said.’ So when it comes to my friends, I’m going to talk the game of basketball, and I’m going to try to be fair to everyone, and I’m not going to try to sugarcoat things from the standpoint of the point I want to make about the game of basketball.”
“…And I just hope that people respect that and understand that I’m not saying anything from ill intentions, I’m saying it because this is what I see from watching the game. And a lot of times as players, if you don’t really sit back and watch the game, you don’t really know and understand exactly what someone is saying about it because you’re in it. You don’t see it the same way.”
“I will not be perfect, I will make some mistakes, but my personality is also a little different than some people and I will try to say things that are constructive when it comes to criticism. Constructive criticism is the way I’m trying to approach things. So we will see; I have no idea how I’m going to be, but what I’m going to do is what I’ve done my entire life, lean on my team and lean on everyone to help me through this process of talking the game in front of people.”