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Walton Delivers the Jabs, O'Neal the Knockout

NBA FINALS / GAME 3 / LAKERS 106, NEW JERSEY 103 |
TV-RADIO / LARRY STEWART

June 10, 2002|LARRY STEWART

Bill Walton was right when he said the Lakers, who had a foul to give, should not have let Jason Kidd have such an open shot to tie the game at the end.

NBC partner Steve "Snapper" Jones made an astute observation a little earlier when he said the Lakers "know how to close out opponents and they know how to break their hearts."

But the line of the night during NBC's coverage of Game 3 of the NBA Finals came from none other than Shaquille O'Neal. And it scored a direct hit.

Jim Gray, who was in Memphis Saturday night conducting post-fight interviews after Lennox Lewis' knockout of Mike Tyson on pay-per-view TV, conducted postgame interviews Sunday night for NBC, first with Kobe Bryant, then O'Neal.

"They were smacking you around like Lennox Lewis smacked around Mike," Gray commented to O'Neal, which momentarily turned Shaq into a boxing commentator--and a defender of Tyson. The Laker center called it a great fight and said there should be a rematch.

After a few more questions, O'Neal delivered his knockout punch.

"Mike should have knocked you out last night," he told Gray as he walked off.

*

NBC is now only one Laker victory from saying goodbye to the NBA.

It figures to be a syrupy farewell, filled with chest-thumping and back-slapping and all kinds of self-congratulation.

Some of it may be warranted--NBC has had a pretty good 12-year run with the NBA--but you can almost count on the network going overboard.

But then, at the other end of the spectrum, is the way NBC said goodbye to Ahmad Rashad Sunday night.

There was no farewell at all. Worse yet, he was cut off in mid-sentence.

Rashad had told The Times earlier that he would be ending his 20-year run on NBC with Sunday night's pregame show. A feature in which he interviewed Shaq and Kobe would be his last assignment for the network.

He and Hannah Storm were replaced by Bob Costas as host of the pregame show for the Finals, and Rashad declined to join Storm on the postgame show carried by CNBC.

After his piece Sunday night and after saying O'Neal had told him he wants to play 10 more years, Rashad started to say, "I talked to Jason Kidd ... "

But suddenly Costas interrupted. "All right, more to come from the Meadowlands."

Rashad could only look sheepishly into the camera.

It was time for another commercial break, and apparently NBC couldn't wait long enough to at least let Rashad complete his final sentence for the network, let alone give him a brief send-off, or a thank you.

*

If you were watching Channel 4 news Sunday afternoon, the anchors kept talking about the game starting at 5 p.m. But that's when the NBC pregame show started. The game wasn't scheduled to start until 5:30.

Maybe the anchors were simply misinformed, but this had the smell of an old television trick--misrepresent to the viewers in order to drive up the ratings for the pregame show. And NBC has pulled this old con many times.

*

While Game 2 Friday night got a respectable 27.8 television rating with a 46 share in Los Angeles, it got only a 10.2/17 in New York.

The national overnight rating was a 10.3 with an 18 share, which is 29% below the 14.5/26 overnight numbers for Game 2 last year.

*

Walton thrives on making profound comments, many of which rub viewers the wrong way. It didn't take him long to deliver one. This one came right before the tipoff:

"The lack of opposition from New Jersey has been quite appalling. They have to wake up and do it quickly, otherwise the only challenge for Los Angeles is going to be the standard of historical excellence."

You figure it out.

*

After Marv Albert reported that Shaq, who spent his preteen years in Newark, N.J., had purchased 62 tickets for friends and relatives at a cost of about $10,000, Walton wondered how he had done that.

"How did he get the money?" Walton said.

Surely he was kidding.

What Jones wanted to know was: "How did he get the tickets?"

That was a legitimate question. Sixty-two tickets is a lot for anyone, even O'Neal.

*

Costas succeeded in getting one of the more revealing interviews with Phil Jackson you'll hear. It aired in two parts--before the game and at halftime.

Jackson said Jerry West had written to him about possibly joining him in Memphis, but Jackson said the Lakers will be the last team he coaches. He said enduring all the losses while trying to build a team would be too tough.

When asked about Red Auerbach, Jackson was fairly soft on him. Auerbach said recently that Jackson has never had to build a team--he always has been handed teams with superstars.

Jackson somewhat agreed with that comment, saying what he does best is teach a team how to run an offense.

But he did say he didn't like it when Auerbach used to "light up a stogie in the fourth quarter." Jackson called it "that in-your-face activity."

After Costas told Jackson that some people think he comes off as arrogant, Jackson said he could understand that.

"I'm shy," he said. "I'm not one to work a room and talk to everyone. When you've had some success, that can be viewed as arrogance."

*

Since the All-Star break, Jackson has been doing a weekly national Sporting News network radio show, heard in Los Angeles on KMPC (1540). It's on every Monday, 3-4 p.m., with Chris Myers as co-host.

Jackson is contracted to continue doing the show through June 24.

Last week on the show Jackson talked about Auerbach.

"We know what his record was without Bill Russell there. Every coach has to have great players. [But] that's not what it's all about. It's about five people playing together, it's about getting a team to play, and getting a star to play around your system."

Using that criteria, it's pretty hard to knock Jackson.

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