Jeff Van Gundy flew on Thursday for the first time since March. The veteran broadcaster and former coach was assigned the Dallas Mavericks-Los Angeles Lakers Christmas game at Staples Center in in Los Angeles.
Even though Van Gundy worked in the bubble for the 2091-20 NBA restart and playoffs, he didn’t fly to Orlando. He drove from Houston and drove back home following the Los Angeles Lakers’ championship win against the Miami Heat.
“The basketball will be whatever it is,” Van Gundy told USA TODAY Sports. “Going to huge arenas now with no fans will be a lot stranger than the bubble. The different part is the trepidation with everyone’s health and the impact on the season. Once you were in the bubble, everyone was pretty safe. Now, we’re going to invariably have some things that crop up. Myself, I’m quite concerned from a safety standpoint.”
Van Gundy said ESPN produced a health and safety protocols document for its traveling employees, and he will get tested for COVID-19 before each trip he takes.
“We had Zoom meetings and all that,” Van Gundy said. “You try to do the best you can and you know it can impact you despite that. The one thing I do feel comfortable with is ESPN and (parent company) Disney, they are trying to make it as safe as possible while still doing the job.”
While Van Gundy is analyzing the Mavericks-Lakers game on-site with play-by-play man Mike Breen, analyst Mark Jackson and sideline reporter and "The Jump" host Rachel Nichols, Van Gundy will not go on the road for all of his ESPN/ABC assignments this season.
Before the preseason games began, ESPN delivered equipment to Van Gundy’s house -– monitors, camera, lighting, broadcast booth box – so that he can call games from home. An extra monitor allows Van Gundy to see his broadcast partner so they can see if the other person is still talking. He did a preseason game from home with Dave Pasch doing play-by-play.
“The technology is phenomenal,” Van Gundy said. “You can talk to the director, the other people doing the game, our stat guy with the push of a button. It’s truly amazing what they were able to accomplish from a technology standpoint.”
It helps that Van Gundy has rapport with his broadcasting partners.
“There’s also chemistry created because you also like them and want what’s best for everybody,” he said. “It makes it a lot easier.”
Van Gundy doesn’t know what games he will broadcast from the arena and what games he will do from home. But he wonders if this might be part of his future after the pandemic. It might just be for select games because being there in person and feeling the atmosphere for a big game, such as a playoff contest, can’t be replicated in a room at home.
“This technology is here to stay,” he said. “They’ve been doing it – maybe not to this extent – for some college games like this for a while. Even post-pandemic, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of this stuff stay. …They thought about everything. I was blown away by how good it was.”