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DIANE PUCIN / ON SPORTS MEDIA

For Clippers analyst Michael Smith, it's no laughing matter

Smith, suspended for one game this season because of a relatively harmless joke, has been charged with felony theft in conjunction with a real estate deal gone bad in Dana Point.

January 08, 2010|By Diane Pucin

Let's get this straight.

Fox Sports West suspended Clippers announcers for a game this season because play-by-play man Ralph Lawler and analyst Michael Smith mispronounced "Iran" and made a pretty lame but relatively harmless joke about a Memphis player who is an Iranian citizen.

Now Smith, who does good slapstick alongside Lawler, is facing some serious legal issues, but there is no suspension in sight.

Smith has been charged by the Orange County district attorney's office with felony theft in conjunction with a real estate deal gone bad in Dana Point. A retired schoolteacher alleges that Smith and business partner Bruce Furst took the value from the teacher's paid-off home worth over $700,000. The man claims he will soon lose the home in foreclosure.

There was also a civil suit filed against Smith and Furst last August, according to attorney Jeff Gersh. Gersh said his client, Richard Clareman, invested $200,000 for a plot of land that was guaranteed by Smith and Furst. Gersh said another piece of property was given to his client instead.

So far, Fox has stayed silent. Spokeswoman Whitney Garvens said that Smith's issues were private and that the network would have no further comment. Clippers President Andy Roeser said the team "has been aware of the situation and would continue to monitor it."

Guilty or not, criminal behavior or just a bad financial decision, Smith will get his chance to make his case. But should he keep talking on television?

His attorney, Dyke Huish, said Smith acknowledges he owes money. "It is our belief that this isn't a criminal matter," Huish said. "It's a civil case between those men. My client said he borrowed the money, and if he doesn't pay it back he should be sued. That is not a criminal act. We've all borrowed money in our lives. This is no different."

Well, maybe a little different.

Lawler and Smith are a great pairing, "Eye-ran, Ee-ran" aside. They take some chances with their broadcasts. They use clever sarcasm. They have fun when it's not always a barrel of laughs to call Clippers games, but it will be difficult to hear Smith making lighthearted fun of anything and not consider whether he is guilty of using his platform as a media figure and former pro athlete to raise funds for a real estate project and leaving others in financial peril.

And if Fox thinks Smith's legal issues are private, they should know better. As we already found out, a single e-mail got Fox to respond without a lawyer in sight.

From Dallas to Vancouver

Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth will finish up their first season together as the NBC "Sunday Night Football" team. On Saturday, of course, Michaels and Collinsworth will call the Philadelphia-at-Dallas NFC wild-card playoff game at 5 p.m.

"It's been great," Michaels said of this first post-John Madden year. "Cris is really smart and gets it."

As soon as Saturday's game is over, Michaels is changing focus. He will be prime-time host for NBC's Winter Olympics coverage next month from Vancouver. It will be the 30th anniversary of his memorable "Do you believe in miracles?" call of the U.S. upset of the Soviet Union in ice hockey. "Don't say 30 years," Michaels said.

As for the rest of the weekend: CBS (Channel 2) will have the AFC wild-card game between the New York Jets and Cincinnati with Tom Hammond, Joe Gibbs and Joe Theismann at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday; CBS has Sunday's 11 a.m. AFC wild-card game between Baltimore and New England with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms; and Fox (Channel 11) has the 1 p.m. NFC wild-card game Sunday between Green Bay and Arizona. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman will have the call.

Good today

Can the Lakers recover from a, gulp, loss to the Clippers? Channel 9 has the game from Portland at 7 p.m.

Good Saturday

On a day that most of you will devote to the NFL, how's this for some counter-programming? Channel 2 has a women's college basketball doubleheader: Ohio State at Michigan State at 11 a.m. and North Carolina at Connecticut at 1 p.m.

Good Sunday

Between football games, there's the kind-of-hot Clippers hosting Miami at 12:30 p.m. on Prime Ticket. Even if you have to swallow hard and not think about Smith's issues, when Baron Davis is fully engaged, as he was against the Lakers on Wednesday, the Clippers are fun to watch.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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