Shooting from the lip/July 12th edition
Looking back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports, including the LeBron James' fallout, the World Cup and an eventful week for ESPN ...
Best and worst network
What a strange week it has been for ESPN.
Along with ABC, ESPN put the finishing touches on what might have been the most impressive coverage in the nearly 31-year history of the network with the World Cup. The broadcasts -- from the pregames to the matches to the postgames to the specials -- were complete, entertaining, interesting, provocative and enjoyable for soccer novices and futbol diehards. Hosts Bob Ley, always the level-headed voice of reason, and Chris Fowler, bringing the deft point guard skills he so impressively displays in the fall during College GameDay, were masterful in running ESPN's analysis shows. The game announcers -- led by what just might be the most intelligent-sounding sports broadcaster in the world, Martin Tyler -- were a pleasure to listen to. The only knock, and it's a slight one, was a few of the analysts occasionally wore their hearts on their sleeves (Alexi Lalas for the U.S. and Ruud Gullit for the Netherlands, for example). But once the U.S. was knocked out, Lalas' candid analysis became more appreciated. The 2010 World Cup was, quite simply, the network's shining moment.
But the aftershock of last week's decision to carry LeBron James' free agency decision continues to be felt, perhaps even eclipsing ESPN's World Cup coverage. Media critics from across the country continue to pound away at ESPN’s journalistic integrity for allowing James to essentially take over the network for an hour Thursday night to announce he was leaving the Cavaliers for the Heat. While it's difficult to blame ESPN's decision to carry James' announcement -- after all, what network would have turned down the offer? -- ESPN did appear to sell a bit of its soul by allowing James to pick his interviewer and take ownership of the program's sponsors.
A year from now, what will people remember more, ESPN's top-notch coverage of the World Cup or its coverage of the James decision? It should be the World Cup stuff. My guess is the James show, and that’s too bad for ESPN.
It's understandable Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert feels hurt and betrayed by LeBron James leaving his team, but geez, show a little dignity. Gilbert blasted James in an open letter, saying it was a "cowardly betrayal,'' insisting the Cavs would win a title before LeBron, putting a curse on LeBron and then later suggesting LeBron had quit during the playoffs. If James is all the things Gilbert suggests , then why did he want him back? And anyway, James is hardly the first big-time free agent to leave a team, and you've never seen other owners lose their mind or turn into crybabies. While Gilbert's knee-jerk reaction might have made him and Cleveland feel better for the moment, it did more harm than good. It made him look so unstable that future free agents would think twice about signing up to play for a wingnut like that.
"Let's face it -- lipstick on a pig. This was a pig of a game.''
-- ABC/ESPN's Alexi Lalas, talking about Sunday's yellow card-filled World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands.
The ratings game
There was plenty of talk about how many people would watch LeBron James' free agency decision. One writer suggested it might equal Super Bowl numbers, which, of course, was insane. In the end, the Nielsen Co. estimates 9.95 million watched the ESPN show. That made it the third-most-watched program on cable this year, behind the 12.3 million who watched the Pro Bowl (another example of football's stronghold in this country) and an episode of iCarly on Nickelodeon in January. By comparison, more than 28 million people watched the seventh game of the NBA Finals last month between the Lakers and Celtics.
Most ridiculous golf course
The U.S. Women's Open wasn't even fun to watch because of the ridiculously difficult course at Oakmont, Pa. In fact, thinking back to last month's men’s U.S. Open, the course at Pebble Beach was too difficult to enjoy. It's one thing to punish golfers for hitting a bad shot, but it's another to make holes so difficult that even good shots turn bad. Example: During the U.S. Women's Open coverage on Saturday, Chie Arimura had a 40-foot putt on the first hole that looked so good NBC analyst Johnny Miller yelled, "Look at this!'' Despite what appeared to be the appropriate speed, the ball missed the hole by a mere inch or two … and then proceeded to roll off the green, more than 50 feet from the hole.
Miller said, "This is the hardest opening hole in the world.''
What he should've said was, "This is the most ridiculous opening hole in the world.''
When only one professional can break par your course was set up too tough. And when it's set up that tough, luck has more to do with victory than skill, which is the exact opposite of the way it should be.
To NBC for scoring an interview with Paula Creamer's father, Paul, as he followed his daughter down the 18th fairway on her way to a U.S. Women's Open title and her first major. And the best line of the day goes to Paul, who was asked what it was like to watch his daughter walk down the 18th fairway with a four-shot lead. Paul deadpanned, "Thank God it's four shots and not one!''
Three things that popped into my head
1. Former Rays pitcher Scott Kazmir is 7-9 with the Angels and coming off a performance where he gave up 13 runs. The Rays' Sean Rodriguez is hitting .265 with six homers and 30 RBIs. Anyone griping about the Rays "dumping'' Kazmir now?
2. Okay, while the U.S. Women's Open course was too tough, the course at the men's John Deere Classic was too easy. Seriously, 26-under-par for the winner?
3. Unlike the Olympic hockey tournament when stars such as Sidney Crosby and Ryan Miller came back to play in a league in this country, hardly any World Cup stars are coming to this country to play now. That's why soccer won’t get national attention in this country until the next World Cup.