Unique Crossover: ESPN’s XFL PxP Voice John Schriffen Has NBA All-Star Celebrity Game History
Sunday he's all in calling the XFL's Seattle at D.C. game, but in 2013, Schriffen was filling Robin Roberts' NBA lineup spot, chasing Usain Bolt and filing stories for ABC News
ESPN commentator John Schriffen might be the only person to race Usain Bolt, banter Kevin Hart, interview LeBron James and salute Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts on television before millions of witnesses.
Even more astounding, Schriffen accomplished those feats in a span of about 60 hours some 10 years ago this week in Houston. Then an ABC News correspondent, he both covered and participated in the 2013 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game there (see sidebar featuring his reports below).
“I had to guard the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt. He was a legitimate blur,” Schriffen, a former Dartmouth College pitcher, recalled. “One play, he streaked down the court so fast all I could do was watch from behind as he threw down a monster slam. I said, ‘Oh, damn, this is for real.'”
When the 2023 edition of the NBA Celebrity Game unfolds Friday night in Salt Lake City on ESPN, he will be watching from somewhere in Washington, D.C. Schriffen is prepping for Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN when he will be calling play-by-play as the Seattle Sea Dragons visit the D.C. Defenders to conclude XFL Week 1.
The New York City native joined ESPN in August 2020 to call the platform’s coverage of the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) and myriad events since.
The XFL is an amazing opportunity for players to keep their NFL dreams alive. As a broadcaster, it’s my job to tell their stories and give them their shine. – John Schriffen, who will call play-by-play of Seattle at D.C., 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
From 2012-14, he worked for ABC News and reported for both ABC’s GMA and Nightline. His various storytelling quests have taken him from reporting from hurricane storm fronts to filling orders as a Taco Bell order preparer.
But he especially relishes this ESPN XFL assignment.
“The XFL is an amazing opportunity for players to keep their NFL dreams alive. As a broadcaster, it’s my job to tell their stories and give them their shine,” Schriffen said, citing his love for some of the players’ stirring journeys. “Guys like Las Vegas Vipers quarterback Luis Perez: a former bowler who never played high school football but taught himself how to play QB by watching Youtube.”
The XFL’s innovation excites Schriffen.
“The most intriguing innovation is the ability for the team to challenge any play, whether it’s reviewable or not,” he said. “Each team will only get one per game, so I’m looking forward to seeing the strategy and how it’s used.”
Schriffen began his broadcasting career in earnest after an injury suffered as a Dartmouth pitcher sent him from the Big Green’s dugout to the booth. He discovered great storytelling was in his wheelhouse. Before he knew it, Schriffen was an intern on ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption in Washington, D.C.
Show co-hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon “sat just a few desks over from me, and I’ll never forget how they would debate the topics for the day with the same intensity they would bring for the actual show,” Schriffen said.
“This was not a quiet discussion. It consumed the office, and everyone was invited.”
Those debates – and regular recreational basketball games featuring future Around The Horn host Tony Reali – helped him appreciate PTI as “more than just a show. It gave me a glimpse of how amazing life could be in the world of sports TV.”
Schriffen’s basketball jones came in handy when he filled in for GMA colleague Roberts in the 2013 NBA Celebrity All-Star Game.
“Back in 2013, it was announced Robin was returning from her courageous fight with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a rare blood disorder,” he recalls. “The NBA wanted to celebrate her return and asked me if I would play in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game in her honor. “
He was happy to oblige.
“It helped playing with [Basketball Hall Of Famer] Clyde Drexler and one of the best celebrity players in Celebrity Game history, [comedian] Kevin Hart,” he said. “We got the win, Hart got another game MVP and everyone, including the late great Stuart Scott was excited to show love to Robin Roberts on her return.”
Ten years later, Schriffen still pursues hoops dreams between ESPN assignments – he serves as a practice player with the WNBA defending champion Las Vegas Aces.
Watch the videos above and below to see how Schriffen prepared and fared in the game – and somehow managed to squeeze an interview with James in between it all.