Two years after NBC Sports Washington broke up the popular Wizards television team of Steve Buckhantz and former player Phil Chenier, who was moved off game broadcasts, there could be more changes in store.
The network recently informed Buckhantz, the longtime Wizards play-by-play man, that it would not pick up the option on the third year of his contract “at this time,” leaving his future with the network unclear, said his attorney, Phil Hochberg.
Buckhantz, who is completing his 22nd season as the franchise’s television voice, needed to be notified by March 1 whether the network would pick up his option year, the terms of which already had been negotiated.
The network plans to review and assess all aspects of its Wizards telecasts and explore its options before settling on a broadcast booth for next season, according to a person with knowledge of the process. Buckhantz’s return remains possible, that person said.
An NBC Sports Washington spokesman said the network does not comment on the contract status of its employees. Buckhantz declined to comment.
Buckhantz, 63, joined what was then Home Team Sports in the fall of 1997, pairing with former Bullets great Chenier to form a likable broadcast team that consoled fans through years of on-court disappointments. Chenier was moved off the broadcast two seasons ago, a shift that was initially met with outrage by many Wizards fans. He was replaced by Kara Lawson, considered a rising star in the industry, and Hochberg said he was told that Buckhantz’s chemistry with the younger Lawson was among potential concerns.
Hochberg said he was informed “simply that they were not prepared to pick up his option at this time” but that a return remains possible. But he said the news left Buckhantz in a “precarious position” and that he is already reaching out to other outlets, just as NBC Sports Washington is expected to be in contact with the agents of other play-by-play announcers.
Does Buckhantz want to return for a 23rd season?
“The answer to that is yes,” Hochberg said. “This is a lifetime ambition of his.”
Buckhantz, a Northern Virginia native who grew up rooting for the Bullets and graduated from James Madison University, has said as much many times, once telling The Washington Post that calling Wizards games is “just the best job you can have.”
“Even today, I pinch myself,” he said in 2011. “I realize that I’m doing the play-by-play for the team I grew up rooting for, in the city where I grew up, with the best, most talented professionals in the business.”
His work has earned him fans both locally and nationally; he was named to the D.C. Sports Hall of Fame last spring and has repeatedly been referred to as a “legend” by ESPN senior NBA writer Zach Lowe.
Before becoming the Wizards play-by-play man, Buckhantz spent 14 years at WTTG-5, covering the Redskins during their glory years and breaking the story of Joe Gibbs’s first retirement.
NBC Sports Washington is responsible for putting together its broadcast teams, and the decision to review the broadcast’s future was made by the network. Damon Phillips, who was hired as NBC Sports Washington’s general manager in January 2018, has yet to shake up any of the network’s game broadcast crews.
While both sides seem set to explore other possibilities, people familiar with the process said that the door hasn’t closed on a potential Buckhantz return.
“I hope it works out,” Hochberg said.
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