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NBC Is Out, but ABC Picks Up Ball on Christmas

October 29, 2002|Larry Stewart

High points of the NBA's new television era:

NBC, which televised 34 games last season, is gone after a 12-year relationship with the NBA. However, Bill Walton is not gone. He'll be the lead commentator for games on ABC and ESPN, working with play-by-play announcer Brad Nessler.

ABC, which hasn't televised NBA games since the 1972-73 season, will televise only 14 regular-season games, and none before Christmas. The brunt of ABC's weekly schedule begins Feb. 16.

During the postseason, ABC will televise the NBA Finals and a few early-round games. But the conference finals will be exclusively on cable. TNT has the Western Conference finals, ESPN the Eastern Conference finals. TNT and ESPN will share in most of the early round coverage. Only the opening games of the first round will be televised locally.

ESPN, which hasn't televised the NBA since the 1983-84 season, will televise 68 regular-season games and ESPN2 will televise eight. The ESPN schedule generally consists of a single game on Wednesday nights and a doubleheader on Fridays. Nessler and Walton will announce the Wednesday night games.

The Lakers' first regular-season appearance on ESPN will be Wednesday night, when they play at Portland. The game is the nightcap of a doubleheader that has Washington and Toronto playing in the first game.

All Laker games will still be televised either nationally or locally. It's just that when they play on Thursday nights they'll only be on TNT, and when they're on ESPN the game will also be televised by Channel 9 or Fox Sports Net.

The Clippers' first national TV appearance will be on TNT Nov. 14, when they play host to Orlando. Their first ESPN appearance will be Nov. 22, when they play at Denver. The Clippers will make six appearances on ESPN and four on TNT. They will appear only 25 times on local TV, all on Channel 5. The Clippers and Fox Sports Net have not been able to reach an agreement.

TNT, televising the NBA for a 19th consecutive season, will carry 52 regular-season games, 48 of those on Thursday nights. TNT will also televise the All-Star game Feb. 9 in Atlanta.

TNT's Thursday night doubleheaders are exclusive, meaning local telecasts will not be allowed on those nights.

TNT has two other exclusive dates for doubleheaders -- opening night and Martin Luther King Day, the third Monday in January. Because of TNT's exclusivity, the Lakers' opener tonight against San Antonio will only be televised on TNT. Fox Sports Net is not allowed to televise the game.

Cable blackouts are a thing of the past. ESPN and TNT (on non-exclusive dates) do not have to black out Laker telecasts in Los Angeles to protect the local carrier. Laker telecasts on ESPN, home and away, will run side-by-side with Laker telecasts on Channel 9 and Fox Sports Net. Same with TNT on the non-exclusive dates.

ABC can televise a team a maximum of four times. NBC could televise a team 11 times, so the number of exclusive telecasts -- six on TNT and four on ABC -- remains roughly the same.

Beginning sometime after the Feb. 9 All-Star game, games will appear on NBA TV, a league-owned channel available on satellite and digital cable. AOL Time Warner, TNT's parent company, is a minority owner of the channel. Eventually, the NBA and AOL Time Warner plan to create a new channel.

"NBA Fast Break" will make its debut on ESPN2 Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. The weekly two-hour show will take viewers to arenas around the league in a fast-paced, whip-around format. Kevin Frazier is the host.

For the first time, there will be Spanish-language national telecasts. Telemundo will televise 15 games on Saturdays and Sundays, beginning Nov. 10. The studio host for Telemundo will be Andres Cantor, best known for his "goooooooooaaaaaallllll!" calls in soccer.


-- Larry Stewart

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