An Intervention for Jon Barry, the NBA's Worst Commentator
There are bad commentators out there, but it's high time something be done about Jon Barry's quest to make basketball as miserable as he seems to be.
Image via Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
TNT's Reggie Miller is a very bad color commentator, but he's harmless. Sure, he's often wrong and generally seems unqualified for his post, but he's not actually malevolent, and he at least seems to be enjoying himself. To watch a Reggie-called game is to roll your eyes, giggle at his silliness, and wish someone else was talking, or that no one at all was talking. But Reggie Miller doesn't paint a light sickly green film over the game. He does not seem to be attempting to make the game more unpleasant for all involved. For that, thankfully, we have Jon Barry.
Bald-head-and-Van-Dyke-wearing-ass Jon Barry, who calls games for ESPN, is reliably wrong about everything. He is also angry, hectoring, persistently negative, and just human enough to make all that bad stuff even worse. He is Edward Albee's "The Basketball Announcer" brought to life. You can turn Reggie off in your mind, or play along with his wacky-off-track commentary. But Barry is different. Barry is a thing to endure. To watch Barry as he performs his way through a game—he is always in character as a grouchy blowhard dick, for reasons only he knows—is to suffer hours of non-stop shade, tough guy opinionation, and flagrant, soul-deep Van Dykery.
To listen to him is to hear the sound of a man spending three hours trying to whine you into validating his anger. To hear Jon's voice over your basketball game is to be trapped in a room with him. The only way out is the mute button, and even then, you hear his voice in the air. It is a ghost on your shoulder, the ghost of Van-Dyke'd stepdads past.
Barry unwittingly refracts every game he calls through his own life; this is not pleasant, either, but this is the human part. "What could make this man so horrible," you might think, "Why does he feel like he should do this to me, and to so many people who deserve it even less than I?" Then you remember. You see the horrible face in your mind's eye: the underhanded free throws, the perpetual polo shirts. You see Rick Barry, the Great White Nightmare of basketball and Jon Barry's own father.
Rick's catalog of dickishness is thick and well known. He whined so much about people not shooting free throws underhanded that he tainted the practice forever. He said some ignorant shit to Bill Russell on national TV during the NBA Finals*, other racist shit during a dunk contest, and later hectored a stadium full of paying fans because they were mean to Golden State's billionaire owner. He also left his family behind after his NBA career, because that's the kind of thing he does.
(*Videos of this incident, wherein the broadcaster shows an old picture of Bill Russell with the 1956 US National team and Barry jokes about young Russell having a "Watermelon Smile" have been wiped clean off the internet. The NBA never takes videos down. There are entire Youtube channels that profit off of clandestine highlight mixes in brightest day. Why is the NBA protecting Rick Barry?)
In remembering Rick, we can begin to see Jon's announcing as his art, and his art as a refraction of his life in relation to his father. We can sense—we cannot help but sense—what a miserable life it must be: how basketball is the only thing Jon has known, how it was what mattered most in this Rick-haunted family, and that it is steeped in Rick-stench forever and ever. You see the source of this anger, and you see that turning it outward through his color commentary truly is his outlet. His outlet, and his revenge: if Jon Barry could never enjoy basketball, then dammit, no else else should either. And so he will bring that terror to YOU and YOUR FAMILY on a Friday night, while you are just trying to enjoy a mid-season Pelicans-Clippers game.
All of which maybe makes it sound more interesting than it is. For all the psychodrama behind it, Barry is mostly checked-out, misanthropic, and dull. Color commentators all deal to some degree in nonsense revanchism and overstated dramatics; those of us who watch a lot of basketball have learned to tune out whenever the conversation turns to broadcaster-ish fear of the future and the sense that the game was once something better and nobler. Barry is a little young for this sort of thing, and anyway his heart doesn't seem to be in it. He simply chooses grouchy dullness as the mold for his persistent family neurosis, because he has to pour that shit somewhere.
There is also the question of authority, here. Barry was worth a grand total of 9.8 Wins Above Replacement over 14 NBA seasons, and never played for a title team or a team of special note. He has never been a coach and isn't informed about modern strategy in any apparent way. He isn't even the best Barry presently talking about basketball on television—his brother Brent is a welcome fixture on TNT, the sort-of-cool uncle who gives your Replacements records to Jon's shitty stepdad, the one who only listens to Styx and light-conservative talk radio. Not every color commentator needs to be a wise Accomplisher Of Feats, of course, or someone with a special knowledge of the winner. But that is the type of color commentator that Barry clearly wants to be, and so he cultivates and strives to project that sort of superiority even though he never quite earned it.
Whatever poignance there is to Jon Barry—and there is some—does not translate into sympathy. He refuses it, he pushes it away and turns it on us. And so we should turn it back on him. Let's forget our differences and work together to get Jon Barry away from microphones and into the warm arms of a qualified therapist, who can help him work through his lifetime of rage. Let us take to the streets, together, with our battle cry: "THIS ISN'T JUST FOR US / BUT IT IS FOR US/ YOU'RE TERRIBLE / IT IS ALSO FOR YOU / YOU ARE BROKEN AND YOU NEED HELP."