The December 16 NBA brawl between the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets should not damage the league as a television property, according to Norby Williamson, executive vice president of production for ESPN, a league television partner.
“It is something that overall everyone agrees they wish it wouldn’t have happened, but you have to look at the body of work and where the sport is and how it is trending,” Williamson says.
But he does acknowledge that the footage, which was prominently shown not only in sports programming but in national news shows as well, could be harmful for the league.
“Yes, one event like this can in some people’s minds tarnish it or make it a little less attractive,” he added.
The NBA’s television numbers on ABC/ESPN and TNT have been trending up in recent years as the league looks to recapture its past prominence as a television property.
With images still fresh of the 2004 brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers that spilled into the crowd, NBA commissioner David Stern levied a series of fines and suspension to teams and players for the recent altercation, including suspending league leading scorer Carmelo Anthony for 15 games and fining each team half a million dollars.
ESPN’s Williamson maintains the latest incident shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.
“I know the knee-jerk reaction will be to say, ‘Here it is, the NBA again,’” says Williamson. “For awhile Major League Baseball was having some issues with brawls and bean ball issues, and these things tend to sort of come and go. The important thing is not to be knee-jerk, to put it into context.”
Williamson’s comments come as ABC prepares to kick off its 2006-07 NBA coverage with a Los Angeles Lakers-Miami Heat contest on Christmas Day.
Mike Breen returns as play-by-play commentator, working alongside analyst Mark Jackson. Michele Tafoya will handle courtside reporting duties, after which she will handle the sideline reporting for the New York Jets at Miami Dolphins Monday Night Football game later that night.