NBA Playoffs 2022: ESPN Wraps League’s 75th Anniversary With Captivating Postseason
Talent teams will be stationed on specific coasts
The 2021-22 NBA season rolls toward its end, but, before the league’s brightest stars take to the hardwood to fight for the Larry O’Brien trophy, teams in the Eastern and Western Conference continue to battle it out for the last coveted playoff spots in a handful of play-in games. After six months of memorable moments, packed arenas, and record-breaking performances, ESPN is building up for this postseason run with positive momentum from the regular season.
“We felt really good about the regular season with a mixture of REMI [remote] and REMCO [remote-controlled graphics] productions,” says Tim Corrigan, senior coordinating producer, ESPN. “From the very start, we said that NBA 75 was something that we were going to care about and incorporate into every broadcast. We made sure to salute and pay tribute to people who were pioneers throughout the history of the league.”
Regular-Season Recap: NBA75 Celebration Game Caps Off Historic Year
In a season dedicated to 75 years of the National Basketball Association, one instance stands above the rest. Penciled in at the end of the season, ESPN presented a packaged showcase that honored the lineage of the league. On Wednesday, April 6, the NBA75 Celebration Game on ESPN2 pitted the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks with an added twist: the alternative telecast deployed production methods used from the 1960s to today. This included implementation of different graphics for each quarter, iconic theme and period-specific music, and other nods to each era, including the use of black-and-white video.
On the broadcast side, the NBA Finals broadcast team of Curt Gowdy Media Award-winner Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Mark Jackson, and reporter Lisa Salters were on the call. Special guests were also part of this endeavor, including basketball greats Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson, broadcasting legends like Bob Costas and Marv Albert, ESPN colleagues like Bill Walton, and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Hubie Brown, who served as analyst for the main game broadcast on ESPN with Ryan Ruocco and Cassidy Hubbarth.
“It was really fun having everyone [on that show] while also looking back at the production techniques that changed over time,” says Corrigan. “It was a great way for us to conclude this special season.”
Playoff Productions: Play-In Games Keep Broadcast Teams on Each Coast
Now in the playoffs, ESPN began its coverage with a pair of play-In games on Wednesday, April 13: Atlanta’s victory over Charlotte and New Orleans’s win over San Antonio. On Friday night, the Hawks will play the Cleveland Cavaliers on ESPN.
With the addition of the play-in games, the production team has encountered some logistical hurdles. To overcome them, on-air talent has been split into two teams assigned to specific coasts. For example, Breen, Jackson, Van Gundy, and Salters were on hand at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena, and the team comprising Mark Jones, Doris Burke, and Hubbarth were at New Orleans’s Smoothie King Center. The former will travel to Cleveland for Hawks vs. Cavaliers second-round play-in; the latter heads to Los Angeles for Pelicans vs. Clippers. Jones/Burke/Hubbarth will remain on the Western Conference part of the bracket and call Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors on Saturday, April 16 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC; Breen/Van Gundy/Jackson/Salters stays on the East Coast for Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics on Sunday, April 17 at 3:30 p.m. on ABC.
Like the announcers, operations will follow a specific type of workflow. First-round broadcasts will be produced remotely with remote-controlled graphics, but, as the postseason progresses, personnel will head onsite with only graphics done remotely.
“Productions are much better when you have the entire team onsite,” says Corrigan. “I feel really good about our operations, and people are excited to get back into the field.”
The play-in games will be handled by a crew of 45 onsite staffers, and, as the Conference Finals and NBA Finals approach, the onsite group will slowly reach about 300 individuals. As for the tech arsenal, the first-round games will deploy 12-20 cameras and specialty cameras like Skycam, 4K super-slo-mos, and one of the shallow–depth-of-field variety. In the following rounds, Corrigan is bullish on increasing the use of drones and marrying them with enhanced virtual graphics that have been seen throughout the season.
“NFL broadcasts did an amazing job of taking familiar shots of buildings and giving depth and intimacy [to those angles],” he says. “We’re hoping to accomplish some of those same things as well as adding more virtual elements with enhanced graphics.”
Full Steam Ahead: ESPN Accentuates Successful Season With Postseason Play
Another year of regular-season basketball is in the books, with the broadcaster having pushed the technological and creative envelope each week. From a host of alternative broadcasts to an all-female broadcast, the 2021-22 campaign was a collaboration that enlisted every department at ESPN.
“Whether it’s production, operations, programming, or sales, all of our teams are moving forward as one,” says Corrigan. “We’re all coming up with interesting ideas, and everyone is open to the best one.”
When he cites the full-team effort behind the season, he truly means it. Working closely with Senior Operations Specialist Eddie Okuno, both production and operations teams are developing deployments that bolster the storytelling and coverage of the high-stakes events. As with the 1,000-ft. Supracam positioned outside Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum to capture the large crowds during the 2021 NBA Finals, the magic of the playoffs is to remain nimble and innovative at all times.
“If you told me last year that we’d be doing that,” Corrigan says, “I’m not sure I’d be convinced that you needed to do it. It’s all about the unknown of what we’re going to do next and how this group is going to figure that out on the fly.”
The Atlanta Hawks will face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the final play-in game on Friday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. The broadcaster’s first-round coverage begins with four games on Saturday, April 16: Utah Jazz vs. Dallas Mavericks at 1 p.m. on ESPN, Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Memphis Grizzlies at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN, Toronto Raptors vs. Philadelphia 75ers at 6 p.m. on ESPN, and Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.