11:15am PT by Rick Porter
ESPN, NBA Set 'HORSE Challenge' to Fill Live-Sports Void
The NBA — or rather a handful of NBA players — will return to ESPN for a two-night tournament of current and past stars playing the shooting game HORSE.
The NBA HORSE Challenge, as ESPN is calling it, will feature eight current and former NBA and WNBA stars competing from courts in or near their homes. The four quarterfinal matchups will air Sunday, beginning at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, with the semifinals and finals set for April 16.
The event will provide ESPN with four hours of live programming in a sports world that has been bereft of live events for the past month, since the novel coronavirus pandemic caused all major U.S. sports leagues to shut down their seasons. The NBA played its last games on March 11.
Since then, sports networks have filled their days with news and opinion programming and reairings of past events. The bulk of ESPN's Thursday schedule, for instance, is taken up by replays from the 2012 and 1997 Masters golf tournament.
Fox Sports has also found some success with esports, staging virtual NASCAR races during the past three weekends. The audience has grown for each one, with Sunday's telecast on FS1 and the Fox broadcast network bringing in 1.18 million viewers. ESPN2 has also aired a tournament of NBA players playing NBA 2K, albeit to more modest results.
The eight players taking part in the HORSE Challenge are current NBA All-Stars Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks, Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley Jr., Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, WNBA All-Star Allie Quigley of the Chicago Sky, former NBA Finals MVPs (and current ESPN analysts) Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups and WNBA great and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Tamika Catchings. Mark Jones will serve as host. Presenting sponsor State Farm will donate some $200,000 to nonprofits helping fight the pandemic.