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Bob Knows Basketball

October 28, 1990|STEVEN HERBERT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Bob Costas calls NBC's National Basketball Assn. season opener between theLakers and the San Antonio Spurs Saturday, it will be the first time since 1988that he has announced a basketball game.

But, the three-time National Sportscaster of the Year and two-time Emmy winneris hardly a neophyte in basketball. The sport has long been a big part of bothCostas' personal and professional life.

"I was always a big basketball fan, both college and pro, but leaning more tothe NBA," he said. "I followed both the Knicks and Celtics very closely."

It took ingenuity and some risk on Costas' part to see the Celtics on televisionfrom his Long Island home.

"Pre-satellite dishes, my father and I had a routine, where I could climb on topof the roof and spin the antenna around to get Celtics games on a Connecticutstation," Costas recalled.

Another facet of CostasU development as a basketball fan came from 1960 to 1962when his family lived in North Hollywood and Redondo Beach.

"My father took me to the Sports Arena when the Lakers played there," Costassaid. "It was the first time I saw an NBA game in person.

"Elgin Baylor was the first player to catch my fancy. My dad pointed him out tome and said that he could do things that no one else could do."

While a Syracuse University student, basketball was the first sport Costasannounced. As a 22-year-old in 1974, his first job out of college was as theradio and television announcer for the aptly named Spirits of St. Louis of thenow-defunct American Basketball Assn. The team featured some of the game's mostlegendary free spirits.

"I knew it was weird, but never knew how weird it was until it was all over,because I had nothing to compare it to," Costas said. "As my career continuedand I looked back at it, it was only then I really appreciated what a menagerieit was. I knew some strange stuff was happening with Marvin Barnes cavortingaround town, missing practices, planes and occasionally missing half of agame."

(In the "small-world department," former CBS and TNT announcer Steve Jones, whoplayed for the Spirits, will be the color analyst with for Costas Saturday.)

After the demise of the Spirits in 1976, Costas was the radio voice for theUniversity of MissouriUs basketball team for the next five seasons and he didregional NBA telecasts for CBS. In the 1979-80 season, Costas was the televisionannouncer for the pre-Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls.

"They were a woeful team," Costas said. "We televised 20 games, and the Bullslost 17 of those. (Chicago finished with a 30-52 record.) The first game we didwas Magic JohnsonUs first game at the Forum."

After joining NBC in 1980, Costas occasionally announced college basketballgames for the network.

When NBC won the bidding for the rights to telecast NBA games, NBC SportsPresident Dick Ebersol and executive producer Terry O'Neil wanted Costas to bethe basketball play-by-play announcer for the network.

"When they first came to me to discuss it, the first thing I said was, 'Youcan't do an NBA package without Marv Albert being prominently involved,"' Costassaid. "Basketball is to Marv what baseball is to me. He loves it, and has thebackground for it, because heUs done Knicks games for more than 20 years.

"They sat there and said, 'It comes down to you or Marv. There are good reasonsfor both of you to do it.U Marv and I solved it for them. We said, 'Why don'tyou have us split it? That way, everything is answered. Neither of us will beoverexposed with it. Each of us will bring our own separate touch to it andcompliment each other."'

So Costas and Albert will each announce 11 regular season games, and split theplayoffs as evenly as possible. Albert will announce the All-Star Game andCostas the NBA Finals this season, with the roles switching next season.

A key element he hopes to convey in the broadcasts is a sense of history.

"It's important to put sports events into perspective," Costas said. "The factthat I've followed the NBA my whole life I hope will lead me to make some decentobservations about comparisons between players and teams from one generation toanother. I don't mean to overload the broadcast with that, you have to pick yourspots, but I hope I'll be able to do that."

NBC's NBA season opener, matching the Lakers and San Antonio Spurs airs Saturdayat 12:30 p.m.

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