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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Trump and Biden Are Why Bronny James Won’t Be Drafted in Prime Time

  • The odd 4 p.m. start time for the NBA draft is because of the debate, ESPN confirmed.
  • What happens with Bronny James in the second round is arguably the story of the year’s draft.
Syndication: USA TODAY

The biggest storyline of an otherwise sleepy NBA draft could play out at a time of day when TV audiences are more used to game-show reruns or sports-debate shows.

The second round of the draft, on its own day for the first time, is scheduled to start at ESPN’s studios around 4 p.m. Eastern time Thursday. With the Lakers picking No. 55 overall, Bronny James could be drafted—if he’s picked at all—around 5:40 p.m., the time when ESPN is usually airing Pardon the Interruption, the nationwide favorite of teenagers and the underemployed.

You can thank the current and former presidents for that. Spokespeople for ESPN and the NBA confirmed that the odd 4 p.m. start time was to avoid conflicting with Thursday night’s presidential debate. The league ultimately sets the start time for its own events, but nearly every network, including the Disney-owned ABC, will be airing the 9 p.m. debate live.

There are some sports events on the calendar Thursday evening. The United States men’s national team plays Panama in the Copa América at 6 p.m. Eastern, which Fox is scheduled to air live before switching over to debate coverage at 8:30. Uruguay-Bolivia in the same tournament has been pushed to Fox Sports 2. FS1 is airing an MLB game, and NBA TV has a Mystics-Sun WNBA game.

Other networks, including ABC, are starting debate coverage at 8. The second round of the draft, which the NBA recently tweaked to give teams more time to pick, will take about two hours. Only 28 teams have picks, as the Sixers and Suns had to forfeit selections after tampering investigations.

Where Bronny James lands is arguably the most intriguing part of this draft, which was stocked with unfamiliar names at the top. Six of the top 12 selections were players from foreign countries or the now defunct G League Ignite, and the general consensus among experts was that it was an all-time weak draft class. So Bronny James joining his famous father is a moment ESPN surely would have preferred to air in prime time, but the unusually timed debate won out.

Presidential debates have historically played out in the fall, but this year, both candidates bypassed the Commission on Presidential Debates and cut their own deal with broadcasters. Trump and Biden agreed to the June date—before either candidate has been formally nominated by their parties—last month, along with a September debate.

While it’s unclear exactly how interested audiences will be in an early-summer debate between the two very familiar candidates, the debates have historically been a ratings powerhouse. The lowest-rated debate of the two Trump general-election cycles came in 2020, when a Trump-Biden debate was still watched by 63 million people. By comparison, last year’s NBA draft set a record for ESPN at a mere five million. Some things are bigger than even LeBron James’s family drama.

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