Steve Buckhantz says Leonsis could have saved his job: 'That's the most hurtful thing'

Chris Lingebach
July 17, 2019 - 3:04 pm

Steve Buckhantz confirmed to 106.7 The Fan that NBC Sports Washington has chosen to go in a different direction on its Wizards broadcasts next season.

"From my perspective, yes, I heard officially from my boss at NBC Sports Washington last night that they were in fact, to use his words, going in a different direction," Buckhantz told 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Pete Medhurst on Wednesday. "I like to say going in the same direction with a different person, but yeah, that seems to be the phrase when somebody is let go, that they're going in a different direction. So yeah, that is official."

Scott Allen of The Washington Post first broke the news that NBC Sports Washington had tabbed Justin Kutcher to lead its play-by-play announcing next season.

Buckhantz first learned of the possibility he may not be back for his 23rd season in March, when NBC Sports Washington declined to pick up the third-year option on his contract. NBC Sports Washington was in the process of auditioning potential broadcast partners to pair with color analyst Kara Lawson, who would effectively replace Buckhantz, when Lawson suddenly resigned in June to take a coaching position with the Celtics.

The network wasn't completely blindsided by her departure, but it suddenly had two positions to fill before the start of next season. That gave many Wizards fans some hope the network might reverse course and decide bring Buckhantz back.

Instead, NBC Sports Washington has hired Justin Kutcher, a relative no-name to this market but an up-and-comer in the field nonetheless, to fill play-by-play duties, and former Wizards player Drew Gooden as the broadcast's game analyst. Caron Butler is reportedly in discussions with NBC to also join the broadcast.

NBC Sports Washington has maintained all along that any decision involving its Wizards broadcasts came from the network, not the Wizards or anyone at Monumental Network, Ted Leonsis included. Buckhantz painted a different picture when he was asked on The Fan, "We know in part of this, too, when it's network and team, team has some say in this. Have you heard from anybody from Monumental Sports?"

Buckhantz jumped in before the question was even finished.

"Team. Team. Team. Team has all say in this," Buckhantz said. "Let's not be mistaken about that. There was a reason that John Miller was fired from the Orioles, the best announcer in all of baseball. He wasn't enough of a homer and he was let go. Mel Proctor in the same situation. Two of the best announcers there are. Marv Albert with the Knicks. I mean, can you be any more synonymous with the Knicks than Marv Albert, a legend, and let go from the team?"

Buckhantz singled out Ted Leonsis and his son, Zach, who serves as vice president and general manager for Monumental Sports, saying he has not heard from either since the start of this process.

"So listen, don't kid yourself," Buckhantz said. "Let me ask you a question. If somebody from our company had gone up to Ted and Zach and said, 'Listen, we're thinking about changing the hockey announcers, because I'm just not sure about them,' you don't think he would have looked them right in the face and said 'that's not happening'?

"Well, that didn't happen here, so that's unfortunate, and that's the most hurtful thing. And I have not heard from Ted or Zach at all since this has happened, or since the whole process even began, and that's also hurtful."

When reached for comment on these remarks from Buckhantz, NBC Sports Washington GM Damon Phillips told 106.7 The Fan, "Anyone with knowledge of this process and how we operate our business, knows that talent decisions are made by the TV network, not the team. That may not be the case in other NBA markets, but that's how it works here."

In Oct. 2016, Monumental Sports and NBC Sports Washington (then-CSN Mid-Atlantic) announced a media partnership which allowed Monumental to become an equity partner in the regional sports network. Monumental also gained representation on the network's board of directors in the deal. NBC also became an equity partner in Monumental, gaining representation on its board.

The Washington Post reported at the time that Monumental would be receiving approx. one-third ownership in the regional sports network, along with two seats on the network's six-person board. Monumental Sports owns and operates the Washington Wizards, and Ted Leonsis is its founder, chairman, principal partner and Chief Operating Officer – in other words, the majority owner.

A request for comment for this story has not been returned by Monumental Sports.

"Look, I don't know if this is an age thing or whatever," Buckhantz said. "But certainly if it is, no one's going to come out and say that to anyone and no one said that to me. And no one ever said anything about skill set or anything like that. Now having said that, I'm not there.

"And the powers that be, had they wanted me to be there, I would still be there. So somebody probably at this point doesn't like what I do, and that's probably the most hurtful thing of this whole process. Because all of my colleagues and my counterparts – whether they be Dave Johnson and Glenn Consor with Wizards Radio, Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin with Capitals hockey, who are the best announcers there are in all of hockey, and John Walton, who's fantastic – they're all universally loved and everybody loves them, and rightly so."

"And the powers that be love them," Buckhantz went on. "But somebody up there didn't love me enough to keep me. And I think, in the 22 years that I've done this, that's the most hurtful thing."

Buckhantz acknowledged his chemistry with Lawson may have been a contributing factor in his own departure, although he doesn't agree with the notion that their chemistry wasn't up to snuff.

"The only thing that was hinted to me was that perhaps there might have been a chemistry issue with me and Kara (Lawson), which I never agreed with," he said. "I mean, the first year we were together, obviously you're going through a learning process with someone after I'd been with Phil (Chenier) for 20 years. So that was kind of a learning process between she and I.

"And then last year, I actually thought our chemistry was pretty good. And then of course she went on to be a coach with the Celtics, so that sort of blows that theory out of the water at this point. She's no longer here, and I'm still hanging around. That was the only thing that was said to me."

Buckhantz, an Arlington native, says he will always be a "Bullets fan," but isn't sure if he can bring himself to watch the Wizards after this.

"Will I be a fan? I'll always be a Bullets fan, just like I'll always be a Redskins fan, and it's hard to kind of take that away once you have that in you," he said. "Will I watch? I'm not sure."

Since publication, NBC Sports Washington has announced its new TV duo: Justin Kutcher and Drew Gooden.

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