ESPN, ABC Look To Foster ‘Smarter’ Fans in NBA Finals Coverage

It’s every blue-blooded sports fan’s God-given right: complaining about officiating.

In response, ESPN is making the referees in this year’s NBA Finals a focal point of its coverage. The network has added Steve Javie, a 25-year veteran NBA official, to serve as a referee analyst for the entirety of the NBA Finals, which begin tonight in Oklahoma City (9 p.m. ET, ABC).

“We just thought that so much attention during the playoffs and the regular season, to a certain degree, has been on officiating,” says ESPN SVP/Executive Producer Mark Gross. “It’s been a storyline throughout the season. We just thought that we’d be a little smarter and make our viewers a little smarter if we had a former official there.”

Javie was present during Games 1 and 6 of last year’s Finals and will be available during studio programming through the series this year. Gross also adds that it would be possible to add Javie to the game coverage if the news absolutely warranted it, but he notes that is unlikely to happen.

“We want to understand flopping and understand the different things that Steve can offer from being in the league for 25 years,” Gross says. “What is [the ref] talking to the players about? What is he talking to the coaches about? Is he talking to them about anything before the game? Just something we wanted to try. We had Steve on last week in SportsCenter, and it worked well.”

On the tech side, Gross says that things will be very similar to the network’s coverage of the Eastern Conference Finals, with a few minor upgrades. Every NBA Finals broadcast on ABC will include 32 HD video sources, including Skycam and six super-slo-mo cameras.

The production crew will also use “ESPN Axis” to create virtual replays, with video from live action processed via computers to create virtual freeze frames from multiple angles.

Kia NBA Countdown will be on-site throughout the Finals for pregame, halftime, and postgame shows with analysts Magic Johnson, Jon Barry, Michael Wilbon, and Chris Broussard. The Countdown pregame show will begin 30 minutes prior to each game broadcast.

The network has been pleased with the show’s open format without a traditional host.

“I think it’s been really steady,” Gross says. “We got off to a good start on Christmas Day and took it through the regular season. I think [it’s] entertaining, informative; there’s a lot of chemistry out there with the four guys on the set. We’re really pleased with how it went all season, steam-rolling into the Finals. So I think it’s just basically exceeded our expectations.”

ESPN’s Finals opening sequence will use video-mapping technology to display classic Finals images in a new light.

The NBA Finals will also be heavily covered throughout the ESPN family of networks.

Viewers will have access to special simulcasts of the Finals live on ESPN3/ WatchESPN, as well as live coverage of postgame press conferences. The live multiscreen sports network is currently available nationwide through an affiliated Internet or video provider.

SportsCenter, ESPNEWS, and will play their roles as well and ESPN International will carry the games live throughout Latin America, Brazil, Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific Rim.

ESPN Radio will exclusively broadcast the NBA Finals with the three-man booth of Jim Durham and analysts Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay and Hubie Brown. Additionally, Mark Kestecher will host ESPN Radio’s studio coverage with analyst Will Purdue.

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