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Magic Johnson leaves ESPN’s NBA Countdown

Oct 10, 2013, 5:31 PM EDT

Magic Johnson Getty Images

I have to get my bias here out up front: Magic Johnson is my all-time favorite player. I think his combination of size, handles and passing skills were unique in the sport and let to the most entertaining basketball we’ve seen. Plus, he had cultural impacts far off the court that are even more important.

But he was a terrible analyst. Just awful. I just could not watch him on ESPN’s NBA pregame countdown shows.

So I didn’t shed a tear when it was announced by ESPN on Thursday that he is out of the NBA Countdown show this season. Johnson released a statement through ESPN:

“I love ESPN. Unfortunately, due to the nature of my schedule and other commitments, I don’t feel confident that I can continue to devote the time needed to thrive in my role. I will always feel a strong connection to the ESPN family and I enjoyed working with them very much.”

The timing of this, three weeks before the start of the season, is a surprise.

There were reports that Johnson feuded with Bill Simmons (who is tight with Jalen Rose, making up half of the pregame show), but Simmons disputed that and I know Johnson and Simmons were friendly off air. Mike Wilbon’s role is being reduced as well.

Who is in? Doug Collins for one, the former Sixer coach signed on and we knew he’d have a larger role. There also could be a role for Doris Burke who was going to be in the studio on Wednesday’s but could do more, reports the USA Today.

For my money, more Burke is good. She is smart, professional and knows the game. We’ll see how the chemistry shakes out between all of them, but this show may take a step forward this season.

Its biggest challenge is trying to match the incredible chemistry and just watchability of Inside the NBA on TNT Thursdays, with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal. That show is the gold standard.

  1. lmoneyfresh - Oct 10, 2013 at 5:36 PM

    He was one of the many reasons to never watch the espn pregame. Rose is awful too.

    Oh, and shaq sucks on the TNT pregame. He drags the other guys down big time.

    • ji8888 - Oct 10, 2013 at 6:25 PM

      Shaq needs to go away that’s for sure

      • phaden27 - Oct 10, 2013 at 7:31 PM

        I enjoyed the nights when Webber replaced Shaq.

      • longtallsam - Oct 10, 2013 at 9:58 PM

        TNT was best when it was just Ernie, Chuck & Kenny. I can do without Shaq or Webber.

      • moneymike23 - Oct 11, 2013 at 2:15 AM

        A little surprised by the shot at Magic in this article and these comments…I don’t think Shaq or Magic are that bad. But you know who is the worst tv analyst now: BILL SIMMONS.

        I don’t get why people give him a break. Great writer but seems really dull and uncomfortable on tv.

      • lmoneyfresh - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:08 AM

        I enjoy CWebb. I think he was a good addition. Shaq is painful to listen to though. **mumblemumblemumble*

    • moseskkim - Oct 10, 2013 at 8:28 PM

      in my opinion shaq isnt too bad. webber is mediocre at best though. doug collins is a great commentator.. not so much a coach

  2. antistratfordian - Oct 10, 2013 at 5:43 PM

    I appreciated some of Magic’s final points, but his route to them was not the most graceful thing to watch on television. So this is fine, as long as he’s not completely replaced by Doris Burke. I’m okay with a Tall or Grande Burke. Venti Burke is not going to do it for me.

  3. kb2408 - Oct 10, 2013 at 5:57 PM

    I echo your sentiments. My fave player ever (followed closely by Mr. Bryant), but Magic adds very little as an analyst. Great former player, brilliant businessman, philanthropist….but not very good in front of a mic. It is quite surprising, considering that he seems to have a great personality.

  4. chargerdillon - Oct 10, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    Lets just be fair Magic Johnson isn’t stupid……but he’s miles from smart. Where he fails as an announcer is his ability to convey his thoughts in a short amount of time.

    I’ll put it like this Larry Merchant is to HBO Boxing as Magic Johnson is to NBA announcing.

  5. emosnar - Oct 10, 2013 at 6:38 PM

    YAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!

  6. 00maltliquor - Oct 10, 2013 at 6:42 PM

    Please no Doris Burke

  7. nflcrimerankingscom - Oct 10, 2013 at 6:56 PM

    Whitewashing.

  8. jimeejohnson - Oct 10, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    If you had to choose between Larry Legend and Magic, who’d you take? They are so close in every way, including being from the Midwest. I can’t decide.

    • antistratfordian - Oct 10, 2013 at 7:02 PM

      They are close. I’d go with Bird though. I think he’s more complete.

    • adamsjohn714 - Oct 11, 2013 at 9:58 AM

      easily Magic.

  9. socalgal64 - Oct 10, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    Kurt and I finally agree on something.

    But he was a terrible analyst. Just awful. I just could not watch him on ESPN’s NBA pregame countdown shows.

  10. tomtravis76 - Oct 10, 2013 at 7:27 PM

    It was Magic, so I gave him a pass when he fumbled on-air.

    Jalen is entertaining, but the suits are trying to keep him buttoned up. Watch his Grantland videos, and you will see another side of him.

    Simmons is not very good in that setting either. His writing and his Grantland stuff is very good, but live TV does not fit him, he gets lost with bigger personalities and tries to compensate with his over criticism and badly timed jokes.

    Wilbon has allowed fame to get to his head making him think his opinions are the “word”. Stick to PTI.

    Tough to compete with what TNT has built and you cant just copy it as everyone sees right through that.

  11. scottheis82 - Oct 10, 2013 at 7:59 PM

    Ugh, not upset about Magic leaving but Doris Burke is straight up painful to listen to in the games that she has been an announcer on. Hopefully she’s better in a studio but doubt it.

  12. climaximus - Oct 10, 2013 at 8:16 PM

    Trade Simmons to TNT for Shaq, so TNT can have the super team.

  13. gcurvey - Oct 10, 2013 at 8:54 PM

    As far as Magic goes, HE IS the greatest player of all time, NOT MJ!! Remember Magic was a 6-9 POINT GUARD folks!!! I have stood next to Magic. He is a big big man. Cannot name another successful 6-9 point in the history of the NBA can you readers? The answer is a big fat NO! He is a VERY rich businessman too.

    But as many have said Magic was terrible talking in the studio. TERRIBLE! Don’t know who is the worst..Tim Hardaway Sr, Gary Payton (currently on Fox Sports 1) or Magic. Remember Magic had the worst talk show in TV history. He was a guest on the new “The Arsenio Hall” show recently and Hall allowed Magic to introduce the next guest and Magic messed up words etc.

    But truth be told Bill Simmons is just as worst. WHY HE ON THE AIR ON THE NBA PRE SHOW IS BEYOND ME READERS!!! His website “Grantland” IS GREAT!! One of the best sports site on the net. But why is he on the show? WHY WHY WHY? And Rose is not better. PLEASE DO NOT have Burke on the show. I say bring in Chris Webber. He has personality. He will do very well. And one of the Barry brothers, Brent would do well too.

    And Shaq is fine on TNT. He makes great points on the program. I hear quotes from Shaq on other shows. Don’t hear quotes from Kenny Smith or Barkley for that matter. Shaq is also a very intelligent man!! With a great personality!

  14. ochospantalones - Oct 10, 2013 at 9:39 PM

    Wilbon doesn’t get nearly enough crap for being a useless studio commentator. I think everyone can agree that as much as we all love Magic, he was never well-suited to the role either on ESPN or his earlier guest spots on TNT. He used to disrupt the Chuck, Kenny and Ernie’s flow much worse than Shaq ever has. I think Shaq improved a lot by the end of the season. His rivalry with Chuck is funny, he has opinions now, and he even brings an occasional (admittedly still rare) insight into playing as a center.

    I like Doris Burke. If she can occupy the quasi-host role better than Wilbon that could help the show a lot. They really suffered last year from not having anyone to direct traffic. I find Simmons pretty annoying much of the time at this point, but at least he and Jalen have some genuine rapport. Collins is a good analyst and a bad coach. I could see him calling out Simmons on some of his BS theories, which would be fun.

  15. redbaronx - Oct 10, 2013 at 10:49 PM

    Can’t we just have Ernie, Kenny, and Charles on every NBA show? :-))))

    I think Doc Rivers would be a great commentator if he ever decides to stop coaching. He’s entertaining too! How about these three?:

    * Mark Cuban
    * Doc Rivers
    * Billy Crystal

    • lmoneyfresh - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:09 AM

      Dear god no Billy Crystal. He hasn’t been funny in 25 years.

      • redbaronx - Oct 11, 2013 at 1:51 PM

        @lmoneyfresh – I just saw him on The Daily Show a couple of weeks ago. He was hilarious!

        But I know what you mean. He hasn’t been sharp recently for the most part.

    • miamatt - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:15 AM

      How about Doc Rivers, Greg Popovich, and Phil Jackson? That would be a hell of a show, even if they never touched on the subject of basketball.

      • redbaronx - Oct 11, 2013 at 1:52 PM

        @miamatt – True. Popovich actually does have a good sense of humor, but we don’t get to see it often. Too bad! I think Doc would fit right in on a show like TNT. Phil…not so sure about that one.

  16. ProBasketballPundit - Oct 10, 2013 at 11:36 PM

    Get Brent Barry in there! The guy flat out knows basketball. Also Zach Lowe is an NBA genius who does podcasts and writes articles for Grantland.

  17. ashutto20 - Oct 11, 2013 at 1:07 AM

    When games are on espn I change the channel for pre and post game and halftime

    If it’s TNT…i watch everything those guys do…

    TNT > espn by a large margin

  18. barbeaux - Oct 11, 2013 at 1:29 AM

    Meh. Espn sucks.

  19. stayhigh_247 - Oct 11, 2013 at 2:02 AM

    to each his own, but I am a Magic Johnson fan, so I’d rather see Bill Simmons leave than him. But Magics a busy man so it’s understandable if its true he just got too busy. Coach Collins and Doris Burke, now thats a lot of basketball knowledge. Doris has deserved a bigger role for years, so this should be good. But I dont like guys like Simmons, he actually annoys me, I’d rather listen to someone that has actually played. However, I do understand business, and for whatever reasons, people tend to like him, at least with coach and Doris the whole show wont suck.

    • Mr. Wright 212 - Oct 11, 2013 at 2:04 AM

      Simmons is annoying AF. Never mind his unapologetic Boston bias and anti-New York everything drivel, but he is a know-it-all who loves to condescend when he thinks that someone who isn’t as “smart” as he is takes part in a discussion, and I hate people like that.

  20. Mr. Wright 212 - Oct 11, 2013 at 2:03 AM

    Magic is so inarticulate that it pains me to listen to him. Simmons had something to do with this. I just believe it.

    And Inside needs to go back to just Ernie, Kenny and Barkley — who may leave after this season, BTW…

  21. amoose3 - Oct 11, 2013 at 5:42 AM

    That show is some garbage. They’re all bad in their own way. I even hate listening to Wilbon on it, even though I think he’s fantastic on PTI. They need someone to steer the conversations and know when to ask the right questions, in short they’re missing an Ernie Johnson. Doug Collins would be a great addition, but it still doesn’t solve their biggest problem

  22. lastdukestreetking - Oct 11, 2013 at 10:48 AM

    Magic is a likeable guy but glad to see he won’t be on the show anymore. Way too often ne was nearly incomprehensible. Bring in Stan Van Gundy!

  23. coryfor3 - Oct 11, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    Why is Wilbon being reduced?

    • theebadguy - Oct 11, 2013 at 2:36 PM

      Becaused Wilbon jumped the shark 7 years ago

  24. theebadguy - Oct 11, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    He was much better when he appeared on Inside the NBA

  25. airjordanfan93 - Oct 12, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    The ESPN pre-game show was not great at all last year considering who they have in terms of name value it should of been great. Magic, Simmons, Rose and Wilbon and it just never clicked. Magic was better when he was on TNT 10 years ago. Simmons is just not good TV material he can make great podcasts and write some fun articles but he doesn’t transcend to TV well at all. Wilbon is just another ESPN stooge at this point. Rose is just Rose I don’t have much to say about him. Even though Inside The NBA is not as good as it once was it still beats the ESPN show. The downfall of Inside The NBA was adding Shaq. Ever since Shaq came around at the start of the 2012 season that show just lost a lot of its entertaining factor and I feel TNT cater a lot to him cos he has this real celebrity aura to him. That show was a lot better when it was just Barkley, EJ and Smith.

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