While we'd all love to see Stan Van Gundy stalking the sidelines for an NBA team this season rather than sitting at home after getting fired by the Orlando Magic back in May, most NBA fans have been very excited by the prospect of the famously irascible coach joining ESPN's "NBA Countdown" broadcast. The rumor, first reported last month by Sports by Brooks, that Van Gundy would add his strategic smarts and acerbic wit to a studio show that often seems like it could use more of both seemed inspired, and maybe too good to be true.
So it was kind of a bummer (if not a shock) to read Wednesday that an ESPN spokesman had told Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead that SVG and the Worldwide Leader "differed on potential assignments and we moved in another direction." While failing to come to terms with ESPN doesn't preclude Van Gundy from finding other TV work, the EJ-Kenny-Charles-Shaq squad at TNT doesn't seem to have much room for new blood and saddling up with Rick Kamla nightly on NBA TV doesn't seem like something the ex-coach would be too interested in (though I know Eric Freeman would love it). Less than three weeks left before Opening Night, this could mean no big-time national gig for Stan heading into the regular season, which would be disappointing for anyone interested in seeing and hearing more SVG (READ: any right-thinking individual).
McIntyre notes that ESPN is a broadcast partner of the NBA, with the network paying nearly $1 billion for the right to show NBA content, and wonders whether Van Gundy's longstanding frostiness (and, in more recent settings like this ESPN.com podcast, outright animus) toward NBA Commissioner David Stern had something to do with the scuttling of the deal. (Van Gundy's also had less-than-kind words for an ESPN personality in the recent past, too.)
It all seemed like the kind of inside baseball that media types find interesting, but doesn't really go anywhere after the fact. Except that, after the fact, Van Gundy did go somewhere — to "The Dan LeBatard Show" on Miami sports radio station 790 The Ticket, where (at about the 28-minute mark) he discussed the TBL report with his trademark tact, reserve and hahahahaha, no, just kidding, he broke out the napalm.
Van Gundy called the ESPN spokesperson's account "just a flat-out lie," said he hadn't gotten a straight answer on what happened because "nobody there has the guts to say anything," and much more. From McIntyre's transcript of that portion of the interview:
"No one at ESPN will tell us what happened. Certainly the NBA office isn't going to tell us what happened. One of the quotes from ESPN in there — 'we had discussions, but couldn't agree on a role' ... as is usual, that's a bunch of BS from ESPN.
"We actually did agree on a role, but then they came back and pulled that. That's when we knew something was up. [...]
"What I find fascinating ... you have to give David Stern and the NBA a lot of credit ... ESPN pays the league, and then the league tells them what to do. It's more ESPN's problem. You gotta have no balls whatsoever to pay someone hundreds of millions of dollars and let them run your business."
Obviously, this is just one side of the story coming from the very specific perspective of a party who believes himself to have been wronged by one or two giant corporations. We've reached out to ESPN and the NBA for comment on Van Gundy's assertions, and will update this post if we receive any replies.
(UPDATE: An ESPN spokesperson said, "We reaffirm our previous statement" — in which they'd "had discussions with Stan Van Gundy and were interested in a role for him," before differing on assignments and deciding to go another way — "and have no further comment." An NBA spokesperson also declined to respond to Van Gundy's claims.)
That said: Well, if there ever was a flicker of a chance that Stan Van Gundy was going to work for ESPN this season (and probably in any season for the rest of recorded time), that light has now likely been extinguished. Which stinks, because I was looking forward to seeing him play with the Magic 8-Ball like you wouldn't believe.
It's been pretty well established at this point that Van Gundy gives very few damns what most people in the world think about him, which is part of what makes him so entertaining; these comments to LeBatard certainly do nothing to damage that reputation. But as was the case with his public airing of the in-house dirty laundry surrounding Dwight Howard's alleged push to have him fired, there's something about this that seems like a counterintuitive professional move.
Sure, fans loved it when Van Gundy publicly humiliated his franchise star, revealed front-office confidences and shined a spotlight on locker room tension, but if you were a GM or president of basketball operations, wouldn't that kind of behavior make you think twice before handing him several million dollars a year to take the reins of your organization's primary product? Similarly, while an awful lot of people enjoy seeing ESPN poked and prodded this way, if you're someone who makes decisions on which commentators get paid well to regularly appear on national television to discuss basketball, wouldn't you have to really think about entering into talks with someone who has shown that, if things go south, he'll throw details of your negotiations out in public and drag your brand through the mud?
As a person, I'm all for honesty and fair dealing, and as a fan, I think it's awesome that Van Gundy marches to his own beat and (it seems) simply tells the truth as he sees it. But I'd be lying if I said I'm not starting to think of stuff like this as sort of unprofessional, and if I'm thinking that, then I'm betting there's at least a chance that a lot of the people who could actually pay Stan to do lucrative NBA-related work are thinking it, too.
If what Van Gundy's saying is true, I wouldn't blame him for being mad at ESPN for pulling out on the deal; if he's right that Stern or the NBA office in any way had its thumb on the scale, I wouldn't blame him for being furious (and I'd also be pretty pissed at the league for kiboshing something that tons of fans would love over some contentious comments). But lashing out like a scorned lover about it seems like a bad way of handling one's business, and as someone who'd really, really like Stan Van Gundy to be around the league as long as humanly possible, that worries me a bit.
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