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March 17, 1997|MIKE PENNER

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.


What: "From King to Con: The Bruce McNall Story," KCAL news special.

The prison term began March 10, a near six-year sentence for bank fraud amounting to $268 million, yet the myth of Bruce McNall flourishes.

Too many players who played for him, colleagues who did business with him and sportswriters who covered him still can't see through the fog.

Such a nice man, the litany goes.

Always affable, always accessible, always quotable. OK, so maybe he wasn't perfect. . . .

It was con job then and it remains as much today. This KCAL report, which aired last Monday night, aimed a howitzer at the myth and blasted away for 30 minutes. Host Tom Murray, a sportscaster who has covered McNall since 1988, begins the program saying he has spent eight years "trying" to understand McNall--tough sledding if, like Murray, you happen to be trawling for a deeper truth than always-seemed-to-be-a-great-guy.

Murray presents a tough, uncompromising examination of McNall, arguing that the former Kings' owner was always an opportunist "with a knack for making a buck," even as a child collecting stamps, and a peerless master of positive spin.

A segment interweaving interviews with McNall and his father, Earl, is enlightening. Bruce recalls a deprived childhood in which his father "didn't spend money on anything with us"--no family outings to the movies, no restaurant dinners. He says Earl had "this fatalistic attitude, that everything was going to come falling down" and "the last thing I'm going do is live a life with a fear of the future."

"The Rise," "The Fall" and "The Consequences" of McNall's transgressions are chronicled, with McNall portrayed as the consummate salesman "trying to sell good news all the time." Up to and including incarceration at the federal penitentiary in Lompoc.

"Time to work on mind, body and soul," McNall says. And, maybe, do a little business. Murray reports that McNall had business cards printed before beginning his prison term--featuring his new address and eight-digit identification number.

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