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NBC Passes Ball to Open Enberg for Play-by-Play

November 02, 1990|LARRY STEWART

It's easy to take Dick Enberg for granted. He quietly goes about his business and rarely complains.

He doesn't seek attention or publicity. His work is professional, and he's a good soldier.

When someone was needed to fill in for ailing pregame host Bob Costas at last season's AFC championship game, Enberg, there to do the play-by-play, did double duty.

When someone was needed to break in new commentator Bill Walsh or, before him, Merlin Olsen, Enberg was the man.

"I've never met anyone as prominent in broadcasting as Dick who is more of a team player," Costas said.

A lot of people in broadcasting, whether they are on-air celebrities or behind-the-scene producers, executives or go-fers, call Enberg a close friend. Some call him their best friend.

Enberg is the kind of person you wish only the best. But he hasn't always gotten it.

He was supposed to be a key figure for NBC at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, but the United States boycotted the Games.

He had a prominent role in NBC's baseball coverage until Vin Scully arrived in 1983.

College basketball was his platform for a while, then NBC lost the NCAA tournament to CBS and has cut that sport to the bone. NBC will televise only four games this season.

Sure, Enberg worked the Super Bowl every other year, but then it became every third year.

He was left out altogether after NBC acquired the NBA rights, which didn't make a lot of sense. Long-time Enberg followers, who remember when he was doing delayed UCLA telecasts for Channel 5, are well aware of his basketball abilities.

But this week, NBC announced that Enberg will be an NBA play-by-play announcer after all, and he'll also work Notre Dame home football games beginning next season.

NBC decided that Costas, previously set to be one of the network's two NBA play-by-play announcers, will instead be used as a co-host of the pregame show, "NBA Showtime," with Pat Riley.

That left an opening, and this time Enberg wasn't overlooked.

He will work regular-season games this season with commentator Steve Jones, plus the All-Star game and the playoffs. Next season, he will be assigned to the NBA finals.

The reassignment of Costas occurred after he and Riley worked together during an exhibition tournament in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago.

"Actually, it was my idea," said Costas, who mentioned it to his NBC Sports bosses, president Dick Ebersol and executive producer Terry O'Neil, on the flight home.

NBC was unsuccessful in finding a co-host for Riley. A number of people were auditioned, but for various reasons--contract commitments, etc.--none worked out.

The candidates included Hannah Storm of CNN; Kathleen Sullivan; Kristine Hansen, a San Francisco weather reporter; Julie Moran, now on "NBA Inside Stuff"; John Saunders of ESPN, and Nick Charles of CNN.

"I had to step back and look at this thing objectively," Costas said. "I could go either way, do play-by-play or studio work. I think the studio was where I was needed the most.

"Another thing is that, particularly during the playoffs, we can do the studio show from the game sites, and I'll get the feel of the action. That's what I miss on NFL Sundays when I'm stuck in a studio in New York."

The big plus for NBC is that it won't have to depend on two newcomers to anchor a new show. Costas, probably the best studio host in the business, will be there to help Riley through the rough spots.

"It will be like working with Magic Johnson," Riley said. "I'll still be working with the best."

Others on "NBA Showtime," which will make its debut Saturday at noon, are "NBA Insiders" Peter Vecsey, formerly of the New York Post and now with USA Today, and Bob Ferry, former Washington Bullet general manager and father of Danny Ferry.

Game announcers on NBC's season-opener Saturday, the Lakers at San Antonio, will be Marv Albert and Mike Fratello.

In most of the nation, Albert may be better known for his work on boxing, football or baseball, but in New York, as a longtime voice of the Knicks, he has Chick Hearn-type stature.

"Pro basketball really is my favorite sport, and it's what I think I do best," Albert said. "Doing NBA basketball for the network is a dream come true."

Marv is one of three Albert brothers announcing in the NBA. Steve, after 10 years with the New Jersey Nets, is with the Golden State Warriors, and Al works Denver Nugget telecasts, which should be interesting this season.

After Saturday, there won't be another NBA telecast on NBC until Christmas Day, when the champion Detroit Pistons play at Chicago.

The next one will be on Super Bowl Sunday, Jan. 27, the Lakers against the Celtics in Boston, before the main part of the schedule begins Feb. 3.

Prime Ticket begins its Clipper coverage tonight with the game against the Sacramento Kings at the Sports Arena. Tom Kelly and Earl Strom are the announcers.

The Clippers pushed for the capable Ralph Lawler to handle the play-by-play, but Prime Ticket wanted Kelly.

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