On the surface, or even after a lot of thought, ESPN's hire of former NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik is a fantastic move.
Granik was the lead negotiator for the league during its last two labor negotiations, he's worked alongside most of the league's owners extensively (Granik left his post in 2006), along with Players Association head Billy Hunter, and he'll appear on camera throughout this season and into next summer's labor negotiations between the owners and players.
But even though Granik would appear to have nothing to gain by influencing TV-watchers toward an ownership-slanted view, I still wonder if old sympathies die hard, even if Granik does do his best to appear (here it is) fair and balanced with his take on the league's newest negotiations. Which makes me feel like warning that for every bit of singular insight Granik will provide (and there will be plenty of insight, he's the absolute best hire for this gig), his background precludes you from passing on taking all of this with a massive grain of salt.
Fan bases, historically, overwhelmingly side with management in these sorts of millionaire vs. millionaire battles. It's happened in the past, no matter how even or even uneven the battle, and it will happen again this summer as fans will find it far more likely to relate to an out of shape, 5-8 millionaire than they do an out of this world athlete; even if it's the work of the out-of-shape guy that has this league in potential financial peril.
"Peril" that is making Granik's other employer, Galatioto Sports Partners, quite a lot of money. Granik is second in command at this collective, which essentially acts as a go-between when it comes time for an NBA team to change ownership hands. It will be an interesting balancing act for the pundit to-be, especially if he tries to cry poverty on the NBA's behalf while GSP's own website touts the lucrative selling of the Golden State Warriors for a record $450 million last summer.
Just how much Granik tries to tell ESPN's viewers about the NBA's supposed financial peril will be telling, from the get-go. He has a very real chance to be more than a talking head, and more than an ownership shill. The cynic in me expects that he'll just parrot David Stern's talking points by proxy, but as with all things ESPN-y, we can hope for a while before being disappointed, no?