It wasn’t just the station configuration that was new. The broadcast itself was noticeably different. When wizards first took the field in months, Kutcher, Consor and Miller spent much of the first half of the show talking about social justice issues rather than basketball.
“When we found out we were going to remove the games from a monitor, it was like ‘Okay, let’s get it working,” said Kutcher, who joined NBC Sports Washington in September. “As for how we should deal with talking about the pandemic and talking about protests and social injustice, it wasn’t discussed at the beginning. Honestly, it was natural. “
When the Wizards officially resume their season with a game against the Phoenix Suns on Friday, the second day of the NBA restart, Kutcher, Consor and Miller will have a delicate task. As instructed to present all eight of the regular season’s Wizards matches to the public, they will have to decide how much to talk about social justice and coronaviruses to make the ball bleed.
It’s a restless balance, but the NBA is putting pressure on broadcasters.
During the reboot, many players will wear shirts with social justice phrases on their backs instead of surnames, providing natural access to non-basketball related conversations. Black Lives Matter is printed on all three courts of the Disney World ESPN World Wide of Sports complex.
Those integrated opportunities are welcome paths, particularly for Consor, who is White, and Miller, who is Black. Both broadcasters have spent more than a decade covering wizards, and both want to be able to do their job and simply present the games.
But lately, both also hear an appeal to investigate the issues affecting the players in the league they cover.
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Consor, 62, said the summer protests were a wake-up call. The former NBA scout grew up in a different neighborhood in Queens playing basketball in the entirely black schoolyards and felt the racial tension in Boston when he moved to the city to play college ball in the mid-70s.
“Even with my education, I have not yet understood the size, not to this extent,” said Consor. “It’s like, where have I been? I spoke to my college roommates about it. We were teammates. We were roommates. That’s all I knew. This got me back on track – not that I didn’t know there was racism, but, like – I needed to sit down and listen, learn and understand. “
Miller also experienced a personal and professional breakthrough this summer. After the murder of George Floyd while he was in police custody in Minneapolis, Miller said he could not talk about sports for two weeks.
The 46-year-old was unsure of NBC Sports Washington’s willingness to talk about the social justice and police brutality on the air. But when a white producer approached Miller to ask if he wanted to write and host a series of podcasts about the breed in America, Miller felt supported. Even during the Magicians’ second and third screenplays, at which point Consor and Kutcher spent less time discussing social justice, Miller talked about Monumental Sports and Entertainment voter registration initiatives during his segments.
“I’ve been doing it for 25 years. I never really had to say it, I don’t want to tell myself in the story, but I’m a black man, so this stuff is really hitting me, “said Miller. “I am a different person from that of March 10, the last game of Wizards. What happened to George Floyd broke me. I can’t see another black man murdered on TV. Here’s where I changed. I’m more likely to have those conversations than to talk about whether Bradley Beal should be doing all-NBA. “
Although Miller and Consor try to reconcile a new duty to discuss social issues with their work as athletes, all members of the TV team want the broadcasts to be primarily about basketball.
Going forward, most NBC Sports Washington broadcasts will not look like that first scrimmage, which provided a rare opportunity to talk about social justice. Both the Wizards and the Nuggets were players of rusty and scattered marquees, the game did not count for the record of both teams and there was a lot of legitimate news, not related to basketball, to be transmitted to the spectators.
During the regular season, off-field discussions are likely to take place during pre-game and post-game shows, in part because those segments offer more time to spend on nuanced themes.
“When you play, it’s quite difficult to weave a story about a player in 30 seconds,” said Kutcher, who is White, “forget a story about the history of the breed in this country.”
As broadcasters try to thread that particular needle, Miller, Kutcher and Consor want to create a strong broadcast for another reason too. All three are deeply aware of what balm the return of the NBA could be for sports fans whose lives have felt disrupted in recent months.
“I want to bring joy,” said Kutcher. “The ability to be a sports fan again. And I don’t mean to have the focus focus on what’s going on; what i mean is a diversion for a couple of hours. Let your brain take a break. I can’t tell you how many people said to me, “I just had the game in the background.” Having just one live game is just that noise. It is almost relaxing. On Sunday I fell asleep watching golf and the Yankees-Nats game, and it was like, oh my God. It’s Sunday again. “