There’s still some controversy about what led to Magic Johnson and Michael Wilbon leaving NBA Countdown.
Deadspin reported that Bill Simmons had taken control of the show, pushing out Wilbon in a move that made Magic quit the show.
Simmons denied that report in vague terms, saying he loves Magic.
Regardless of what went down, Simmons is clearly now the center of NBA Countdown. And that’s a great thing for the show.
Last year it felt like Simmons and Jalen Rose were just guests on the Magic-Wilbon show.
All three hosts revered Magic so much that it crippled the show. They had to fake-laugh at all his jokes. They struggled to disagree with him. They gave him the final word when he didn’t have anything particularly interesting or well-informed to say. Basically they treated him like a legend, not a normal person talking about basketball, and the show was worse as a result.
Magic is now gone, so that dynamic is over. He has been replaced by Doug Collins — who brings Magic’s old-school sensibility without Magic’s paralyzing force of personality.
Wilbon, while a good TV guy in many contexts, didn’t fit with the looser vibe Simmons and Rose were trying to bring to the show. He has been replaced by Sage Steele — giving the show the traditional host it has long needed.
The show’s 2013-14 panel: Sage Steele, Bill Simmons, Jalen Rose, Doug Collins.
This is the Simmons-Rose show now. That’s a good thing.
People like to rip Simmons for the schtickier elements of his columns and podcasts, but the guy’s track record for producing high-quality content is incredible. He was the driving force behind Grantland and the 30 For 30 documentary series — two of the best things ESPN has done in the past few years.
He doesn’t just have big, creative ideas, he has the influence within ESPN to see those ideas fully realised.
ESPN is gambling on Simmons, and the belief that the chemistry he has with Rose on his podcasts can carry an entire television show.
It’s a smart move, and it should make the show much more interesting than it was with Magic at the center of it.
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