Now that Mark Jackson’s tenure broadcasting NBA games for ESPN and ABC is now officially over following the conclusion of the 2011 NBA Finals Sunday night, it seems appropriate to comment on what he has gone through and what he will be going through in the future.
My first experiences with Mark Jackson were not watching him play. Instead, my introduction to him was watching Nets games on YES for which he provided color commentary. I was fairly young at the time I started listening to him call these games at first — I was about 14 years old, and my basketball knowledge was just starting to bud, for I had not grown up in a basketball household; it was an interest I developed myself.
I’ll always recall his comments, ones that always fit well with Ian Eagle’s legendary play-by-play, because he’d make me laugh routinely with his jokes and anecdotes. He truly improved my viewing experience and made me love to tune in when ever he was on the call.
When he left YES after the 2008 season, it was a bittersweet moment: I was sad to see him leave the Nets, but I was happy that he was getting an opportunity to work with some of the best in the business for the best NBA games.
Over the last two three seasons, the Mike Breen-Jeff Van Gundy-Jackson trio has garnered a lot of notoriety: some of it positive, some of it not. For the most part, viewers are happy with Breen’s play-by-play capabilities and Van Gundy’s knowledge of the game and hare-brained opinions. Over the last few months, though, it seems there’s a growing animosity for Jackson.
I’ll be the first to say that Jackson has his quirks (the most notable of which, for me, is his routine use of “If I’m [insert player/coach/other figure here], I [do whatever].”), but is his unconventional approach to broadcasting enough reason to hate him? Jackson knows the game — there’s no doubt about that — and he keeps things entertaining for fans: there was precious little funnier than midgame banter between Jackson and Van Gundy, whose relationship dates back to Jackson’s playing days.
But more and more, it appears that the people who so often criticize Jackson’s color commentary are those people so attached to NBA basketball that they would still watch the game if James Joyce and Aldous Huxley were on the call. Quite frankly, what’s the point of complaining if the relevant decision-makers already have your guaranteed viewership?
The benefit of Mark Jackson is that he makes the game more relatable and more interesting for the fringe viewer — the ever-elusive casual fan that could go either way on the sport. That sounds like me when I started watching the Nets.
What basketball lovers have to understand is that these broadcasts must cater to a wide range of viewers: not just those who could spout off the winner and loser of every NBA Finals for the last 40 years. That’s why Jackson was part of ESPN’s primary crew and why Hubie Brown is second string. Brown is fantastic, of course: you’d be hard-pressed not to learn something about basketball after watching or listening to a game that he and Mike Tirico call. Simply stated, though, he won’t attract the casual fan.
So Jackson has finished his broadcasting run (for now, at least) and will take the Warriors coaching job next season (whenever that is). I find myself feeling similar to how I felt after the end of the Nets’ 2008 campaign. Jackson’s going to be a good coach, and hopefully he’ll find a way to instill a defensive mindset in that team and turn it into a contender. Nevertheless, I’m sad to see him drop the mic, for I’ll never forget the way he cultivated my basketball interest several years ago.
And for those who didn’t need him to get into basketball, understand that there are a lot more people like I was who tune in to basketball games than there are people like you.