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SPORTS WEEKEND | TV-RADIO

This Team Shouldn't Be in NBA Finals

June 05, 1998|LARRY STEWART

The best thing to happen to NBC this year was Utah and Chicago, the NBA's two best teams, qualifying for the finals.

The second-best thing was the Detroit Pistons firing Doug Collins as their coach on Feb. 2.

Six weeks later he was hired to join Bob Costas and Isiah Thomas on NBC's No. 1 NBA announcing team.

Without Collins, NBC would be saddled with possibly the worst announcing team on an NBA finals since the CBS days of Brent Musburger and Tom Heinsohn.

Collins might be the best basketball commentator since Rick Barry. The problem with Barry, at least back then, was that he couldn't get along with anyone. CBS had to fire him or lose everyone else who couldn't stand being around him.

The problem with Costas is that he simply is not a basketball play-by-play announcer. He may have been in the 1970s when he was fresh out of Syracuse and working games for the old ABA Spirits of St. Louis, but he sure isn't now.

Costas does many things well, just not basketball. His boss, Dick Ebersol, loves him. But in this case, love was blind when Ebersol made Costas his No. 1 announcer on the NBA when he had Dick Enberg at his disposal.

Costas misses calls and situations and has to be bailed out by Collins. Costas tries to cover up his deficiencies with flowery language, and that doesn't work.

You hate to say it, but NBC really misses Marv Albert.

As for Thomas, well, what can you say? He was a fine basketball player and, by all accounts, a smart business executive with the Toronto Raptors. But he is not a broadcaster. He brings nothing to the table except his name.

With the Bulls trailing by two late in the game Wednesday, Thomas said, "The Bulls are right where they want to be."

Uh, holding a double-digit lead was where the Bulls wanted to be.

Thomas is about as likely to say something meaningful or insightful as Ahmad Rashad is to ask a tough question of best friend Michael Jordan.

RATINGS GAME

NBC could have Jim Carrey and Pee-wee Herman call this NBA finals and it wouldn't matter. People would still watch.

The national rating for Game 1 was a whopping 18.0 with a 32% share of the audience, and the game drew an estimated 53.3 million viewers. Those are all NBA final Game 1 records. The previous high rating for a Game 1 was a 16.8 in both 1993 and '96, and the previous high for number of viewers was 48 million for Chicago-Seattle in '96.

Tonight's Game 2 should break more records. Even halftime should be worth watching, since a 74-year-old fan will try to make as much as $2 million. He gets five shots, with $250,000 on the line for the first four and $1 million for the fifth.

Meanwhile, NHL ratings are floundering.

Fox's regular-season ratings went from a 1.9 average last year to a 1.4 this year, and playoff ratings have dropped from a 2.1 to a 1.8. ESPN's regular-season average was a 1.5 last year, a .6 this year. ESPN's playoff rating has gone from a 1.1 to a .7, a 36% decline.

There are reasons for the decline. The two-week Olympic break pushed the playoffs back into the thick of the NBA playoffs. And a New York Ranger- Philadelphia Flyer conference final series, as there was last year, is certainly going to draw a bigger national rating than, say, Detroit-Dallas.

Last Sunday's Detroit-Dallas game, which drew a decent 2.2 national number, got a 21.6 rating in Detroit. But all that is needed is a 4.2 rating in New York to get the same number of viewers.

Four years ago, Fox agreed to pay $155 million over five years for NHL games. Did it do the right thing?

"You're always concerned about a decline in ratings," said Ed Goren, Fox Sports' executive producer, "but we think this year is an aberration. Our first three years, we did as well as regular-season college basketball on CBS, with better demographics."

Will Fox pick up its option after next season?

"As with anything we do, it has to be a sound business decision," Goren said.

Fox and ESPN will continue to share games through the Stanley Cup finals, which begin Tuesday. Fox will show Games 1, 5 and 7, with ESPN doing the rest. At least the scheduling is such that none of the games will go up against the NBA finals.

SHORT WAVES

What a Saturday for sports viewing. There is Real Quiet's bid for a Triple Crown on ABC. Monica Seles goes after a French Open title on NBC. The College World Series championship game is on CBS. . . . There is a heavyweight title fight on pay-per-view, although Evander Holyfield's match with Henry Akinwande on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden hasn't generated much excitement. . . . And then there is the Dodger soap opera. Tonight's interleague game at Seattle will be on Channel 5 and Saturday's game will be on Fox, which is again showing its own team as one of four regional Game-of-the-Week telecasts. The Dodgers' Charles Johnson will wear Fox's Catcher Cam.

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