The Memphis Grizzlies are officially getting the national recognition they deserve. ESPN is rolling out the red carpet with a special full day of programming for the Grizzlies game on March 23 versus the Brooklyn Nets.
ESPN will give viewers an All-Access look at the Grizzlies that will include film sessions, workouts, meetings, mic’d-up coaches, players and more. An All-Access day of coverage dedicated to one NBA team hasn’t been done since the Toronto Raptors in 2018. Before that, only the Philadelphia 76ers in 2017.
“When you look at the Grizzlies, they have one of the best records in the NBA, and it’s been frankly under the radar,” David Roberts, head of ESPN’s NBA and Studio production said. “They have some of the best young talent in the NBA, as well as we look at where the league’s future lies in terms of the next generation of stars; arguably, it starts in Memphis.”
Grizzlies players will also make appearances on ESPN shows. “NBA Today” and “NBA Countdown” will be hosted on site in Memphis. Coverage will begin at 6 a.m. on “SportsCenter” and will last until “SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt” after the game.
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Many of ESPN’s biggest talents will be making the trip. Michael Eaves will host “NBA Countdown” at 6 p.m. and will be joined by Stephen A. Smith, Jalen Rose, Michael Wilbon and Adrian Wojnarowski. Malika Andrews, Zach Lowe, Richard Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins and Chiney Ogwumike will join Wojnarowski at 2 p.m. on the “NBA Today” at FedExForum. Perkins, notably, has been one of the Grizzlies’ biggest advocates on ESPN. The game begins at 6:30 p.m.
Smith and Wilbon will also take part in shows “First Take” and “Pardon The Interruption,” respectively, from Memphis.
“It’s going to be a major, major event,” Roberts said. “You’ll find elements throughout the major shows. That access is just going to be something fans want to see. This is going to be an opportunity for us to highlight the next generation of stars in the NBA.”
Five days before the Grizzlies’ Jan. 26 game against the San Antonio Spurs, the contest was removed from ESPN‘s schedule in favor of a New York Knicks-Miami Heat game. Ja Morant saw the announcement and tweeted, “shoutout ESPN man” after the win against the Spurs.
Morant also went on Instagram Live during All-Star Weekend and campaigned for more ESPN games during his appearance.
That message was received.
“It elevated the level of respect I have for that talent,” Roberts said. “The fact that they care about how they are covered or perceived. That is a key to why we said, ‘Hey, this is great. This is a team that wants the exposure and relishes the opportunity to be introduced to the world of basketball fans.'”
There’s also a narrative that the city of Memphis doesn’t generate comparable viewership numbers as some of the biggest NBA cities like Los Angeles and New York. Memphis is actually one of ESPN’s highest in viewership numbers.
Memphis was the top ESPN market from 2011-17 based on the official Nielsen local numbers. The Bluff City ranked No. 2 in 2018, No. 3 in 2019 and No. 2 in 2020. Memphis has been No. 1 the last two seasons.
“The Grizzlies on our digital platforms, they resonate because of the young talent,” Roberts said. “This is just going to be the beginning of how they appear on ESPN, ABC and our other platforms because they are certainly worthy of that exposure.”
“First off, it’s a great basketball city,” ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Breen said. “Always has been.”
Breen will be joined on the call by former Grizzlies coach Hubie Brown. Andrews will be the sideline reporter.
Playing the Nets, who could have stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, had little to do with ESPN’s decision. It was more about the fun brand and rise of Grizzlies basketball.
This will be Breen’s second game in Memphis. Like many national onlookers, he has taken a closer look at the Grizzlies as they’ve jumped to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
“I don’t know if anybody thought it would be this big of a step,” Breen said. “It’s pretty incredible what’s going on.”
In case you were wondering, you can anticipate hearing Breen’s signature “Bang!” phrase after a Grizzlies shot.
“There’s more than just a chance,” Breen said. “It’s likely with the way they play at home.”
Contact Damichael Cole at email@example.com and on Twitter @damichaelc
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