Giving Sports Leagues The NBA Open Court Treatment


In the fall of 2011, with NBA fans crying in our adidas-emblazoned hoodies, the league’s television arm offered a slight panacea with what is arguably the best sports dialogue shows going, Open Court. NBA TV isn’t a cable juggernaut by any means – no sports network is without games, but that’s another story – but diehards who missed the squeaking of sneakers, crossovers and dunks could at least have back some of their favorite personalities in the studio. Turner Sports gave us Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley in a manner not too different from Inside the NBA, but they also gave us the newcomer (Shaquille O’Neal), the still-versatile Chris Webber, Steve Kerr, Steve Smith and #TwitterSports favorite broadcast target Reggie Miller.

A great number of factors makes NBA Open Court great:

  • Varied generations of former players who played at the highest level for at minimum 10 seasons
  • Disparate levels of success from championship legends (O’Neal) and specialists (Kerr, Kenny Smith) to stars that fell agonizingly short (Barkley, Miller, Webber, Steve Smith) of their title dreams
  • Welcomed candor about themselves, their teammates, opponents and coaches
  • Willingness to share their upbringings both personally and professionally
  • Willingness to delve into topics highlight shows don’t call for: the Black History Month episode, for example, was the most viewed installment in the series
  • "Brother Ernie" Johnson

Like Inside the NBA, the halftime and post-game shows, Open Court has enough levity among a big group of guys to keep conversations flowing. It is also a program that comes on just enough times that it doesn’t feel like overkill — just six episodes in each of the two seasons thus far.

Open Court is also a show that may surprise you. It’s no secret that despite some improvements in the studio from his rookie season, O’Neal has struggled since joining Turner Sports last spring. Meanwhile, Miller is routinely criticized by fans and media alike, and not just by Knicks fans. However, both seem to be rather solid – or in Miller’s case, very good in this Scribe’s opinion – in the conversational setting. The perspectives these guys provide bring us a bit closer to how NBA life is really lived.

So, while the NHL lockout froze out the fans until this January, you could have seen this as an ample opportunity for the NHL Network or the league’s broadcasting partners to bring something similar to their fans.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

And with minimal viewership outside of actual games, the same can easily be said for MLB Network and NFL Network. As well as baseball sells nostalgia, sabermetrics and good, old-fashioned debate, it doesn’t exactly endear itself to cross-generational discussions about the game. The NFL, rather, is so obsessed with its present that until a record is being approached, you could be forgiven for thinking that the league didn’t exist prior to 2002.

And we’re not even mentioning the multitude of networks showing soccer, tennis, golf, combat sports and more.

We’re pretty used to super-stuffed studios and the revolving door for former players turned analysts over the past decade or so thanks to the plethora of regional sports channels and national platforms from ESPN and the broadcast networks. When you see former players as analysts playing bit roles in the presentation of these games, you almost wonder what most of them are doing there, if not wondering what they can actually bring to the table.

So here and now, let’s give the rest of the sports world the Open Court treatment. Who would we want to see in this format from those leagues? What are the types of topics that they can bring up in an open and honest manner?

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