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.”
Wade said he’s experienced a lot of support from the Turner team so far, which has helped him with this shift from playing to commentating. And that’s part of why he chose to take up broadcasting with Turner.
“I did a lot of research, I’m that guy. Everyone at the Turner family that I know, I reached out and I had conversations with them. And mostly for me it was about environment; I’m big on environment, and I wanted to know about the Turner environment. And all the feedback I got was, whether it was Kenny (Smith), Q-Rich (Quentin Richardson), Channing [Frye] or Isiah Thomas, different individuals, it was ‘This is where you need to be.’ And I actually felt that the first day I went there. I think the one thing that I fell in love with with Turner even before reaching out was I felt they understood my dimensions as a person. From our first meeting and since then, they haven’t put me in this box of ‘you’re just an athlete, this is all you can talk about.'”
“They’ve been what they’ve said they were going to be, and I respect that, and I appreciate that. This show is all of our show, and they’ve really made me feel a part of this show, the look, the feel, the sound. A lot of people get into a room and say stuff to get you there, but they’ve continued that since our first meeting and beyond. So I feel like I made the right choice. …I’m coming in as a rookie in this game when it comes to how TV works, but they’re the best of the best, and I’m excited to be part of this family.”
Wade added that he thinks the studio team of Lefkoe, Parker and O’Neal will also help bring out the best in him
“Coming from an athlete standpoint of playing with different teammates, some you know, some you don’t know, what you do is you learn. I had an advantage coming in because I know Candace, I’ve known her for a long time. Obviously I know Shaq; we made some magic together on the basketball floor. Shaq’s crazy. You’ve got to learn them. And I think we play off each other very well, you learn someone’s strengths and you learn their weaknesses, and hopefully try to help each other in certain areas. I’m just going to do a lot of homework; I’m the person who, I have a notepad with me and I take a lot of notes because I like to learn people, and I sit back and observe. So I’m looking forward. And it’s Adam’s job to make sure that all of our crazy fits in. He’s got the hardest job to make sure it all works out, so good luck to Adam.”
Lefkoe said beyond meetings with his analysts and test runs, he’s also been watching how they interact in other interviews and studio shows to get a sense of their strengths.
“I’ve been watching so much of these guys the last few weeks. I was watching Candace last night on The Warmup on NBA TV and texting throughout the entire show. Candace is uniquely qualified because she’s playing right now, she won a MVP a few years ago, and she’s been in LA her entire career. And as we’re talking with the NBA, there’s a very strong chance the Western Conference Finals go right through L.A., so nobody’s going to know that area better than her. Dwyane is a star; he’s a future Hall of Famer, and what everyone will tell you at Turner is that it is a family at Turner, and he has the incredible ability of making everyone very relaxed. You meet stars sometimes and you can kind of see the ego, and with Dwyane, he’s so nice, and genuine…and it’s weird that he’s with me on the phone right now as I’m saying this stuff.”
“But the questions that were being asked earlier about ‘Can he comment on LeBron, or how will he do it?’, we’ve talked about it, and he’s honest. So it’s going to be exciting to talk about that. And Shaq is, I don’t know, modern-day Barnum and Bailey? Have we had a better entertainer in all his guises than Shaquille O’Neal? And he’s the kind of guy that you never know what he’s going to do; he can turn the conversation at the drop of a hat, but he’s also obsessed with things like TikTok. We’re all young, we’re all having a good time, and I think really the hope is that we get up there and we forget what we started the conversation about at the end because it takes such a good turn.”
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“To be honest, I’ve been leaning on Ernie Johnson as much as possible. When you become friends with that guy, you get advice you can never pass up. I’ve flown down to Atlanta a few times and just watched the man work. I learned things: one, that you can never be overprepared, and that’s something that I don’t take lightly. Two, he’s one of the greatest listeners I’ve ever seen on television. When I watch other hosts around, I see how little he talks compared to them. Because it’s this weird notion; as a host, you’re the first and last one to talk, but no one is tuning in for you. So for me, it’s really about getting those guys to communicate and then I get to jump in and go ‘By the way, he went six for nine from three tonight.’ So I’m excited for that challenge, but I really hope, to be honest, I don’t have to talk a lot.”
And he said the experience he already has with Parker, Wade, and O’Neal should help this feel smooth out of the gate.
“I’ve been down to Atlanta a ton over the last year, doing the NBA Twitter shows and other shows, and I’ve been able to hang around with Candace a ton, I’ve worked with her on-camera. If you’ve ever been down there, it’s one of the most special places on earth to watch a basketball game. So when you’re sitting in that room and all the games are on and Shaq and Charles and Kenny are in the chairs, I’ve been able to sit there and watch with Shaq and hang out with him and we’ve built a relationship. And me and Dwyane, we’ve gone out to dinner, we’ve been able to talk a little bit. …You meet Dwyane and you’re like ‘Oh, I feel like I’ve known this guy for 10 years.'”
“And from an on-camera TV perspective, I’ve watched a lot of them doing the craft, Dwyane doing interviews and then we kicked off the season in LA, Candace on NBA TV a lot and then on TNT, and Shaq on TNT all the time. So for me, it’s kind of studying ‘What questions are they best at answering? Who likes to lead off?’ Really, though, I don’t want them to realize any of that, so it feels like a free-flowing conversation. And I’ve really studied Ernie and how he gets the most out of people without calling on them. One thing you notice when you watch a lot of sports television is ‘All right, Person B, what did you think?’ He doesn’t do that. So it’s trying to find ways where we all forget the cameras are on and by the end we go, ‘Well, we just covered the NBA, and it’s 2:00 in the morning, let’s wrap up.'”
Wade said that chemistry is apparent to him too, and he thinks it will make for a great on-set fit.
“We’ve got to give the Turner team credit for putting together this group. They’ve done this before, this is not their first rodeo. But they’re really looking out there and trying to put together a group they feel can be successful. It’s not always, but I feel it immediately; when me and Adam had dinner together, I knew immediately I liked him, I wanted to know more about him than just what I would learn on the show. So I think it’s all about the people and the right personalities getting together.”
The NBA on TNT Tuesday Night franchise kicks off Jan. 28 with the Celtics at the Heat at 7:30 p.m. Eastern and the Clippers at the Lakers at 10 p.m. Eastern.