Skip to Content

ESPN Lays Off Mark Jackson One Month After Dropping Jeff Van Gundy

Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mike Breen report on a playoff game.
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Longtime NBA analyst and grouch Mark Jackson has been laid off by ESPN, per a report Monday from Andrew Marchand of the New York Post. Jackson's termination comes just about one month after ESPN laid off fellow NBA analyst and grouch Jeff Van Gundy, during a round of cost-saving cuts to "public-facing commentator salaries" at the end of June. With Van Gundy and Jackson gone, ESPN has lost two-thirds of its premier NBA broadcast crew, a team that along with play-by-play man Mike Breen had been assigned to 12 of the last 14 NBA Finals.

Marchand's report says ESPN initially planned on keeping Jackson, who according to Peter Vecsey still had two years left on his contract, but intended to demote him to the network's B or C broadcast team. Then on Monday morning, ESPN informed Jackson that he would be gone. This all appears to have happened with very little warning: Jackson said Monday night that he received the news "unexpectedly" and that he was "dismayed with the suddenness" of his dismissal.

It's not super clear whether ESPN simply landed on a better option for its lower-rung NBA broadcast teams, but Marchand says "ESPN didn’t think Jackson would offer as much" working without Van Gundy. Your mileage on this may vary. Van Gundy and Jackson often encouraged each other toward dour, disengaged disapproval when calling games together, putting a ton of pressure on Breen to supply energy and return focus from time to time to the action on the court. Sometimes the duo's persistent grumpiness had a redeeming tongue-in-cheek quality; very often it was like watching a basketball game with two people who would rather be doing anything else. Though Jackson and Van Gundy seemed to appreciate each other's company, each tended to do better work as basketball analysts in those rare times when they were broken up for separate duties, like during the 2020 playoffs, when due to bubble restrictions ESPN was light on on-site talent.

ESPN cut a handful of the company's most prominent on-air personalities alongside Van Gundy in June, including NBA studio analyst Jalen Rose and longtime NFL reporter and Monday Night Countdown host Suzy Kolber. The company indicated at the time that more cuts were looming: The New York Times reported that staff members were warned that the company intended to let some contracts expire and would renegotiate others to lower salaries, as the company sought additional cost savings. A genuinely striking number of on-air roles are now handled by Stephen A. Smith, who at this point seems to spend every waking moment of his life sitting at an ESPN studio desk and shouting into a camera. It's a minor upset that he will not also be replacing Jackson.

The network reportedly intends to elevate longtime analyst Doris Burke to work as color commentator alongside Breen on the A team. Burke is a delight, a fountain of basketball knowledge whose enthusiasm for the game is evident and contagious. Multiple reports have ESPN closing in on Doc Rivers, recently relieved of his duties as Philadelphia 76ers head coach, as the third member of that crew. Rivers has experience as an NBA commentator: In 2003, after he was fired as head coach of the Orlando Magic, Rivers stepped into an on-air job with ABC and in 2004 worked the NBA Finals with Al Michaels. The Van Gundy–Jackson duo reached its sell-by date years ago, but in the end it was the dreaded economic headwinds—referred to in June as "the current environment"—that finally broke it apart.

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter