Shooting from the lip/June 7 edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
The amazing thing about all the tributes to former UCLA coach John Wooden, who died over the weekend at age 99, is realizing Wooden hasn't coached a basketball game in more than 35 years. His final game was when his Bruins beat Kentucky to win the 1975 national championship. The tributes in newspapers and on television show you what kind of impact Wooden had. It's not a stretch to say he might have been the greatest sports coach who ever lived. And it's not about all his victories or national titles (although, those are beyond impressive), but the positive effect he had on practically every person who ever came in contact with him.
Speaking of the 1975 national championship, ESPN Classic showed a grainy replay of the game Sunday afternoon and, on several occasions, skipped time due to lost footage. Isn't it odd that there is no complete footage from a national championship game played in 1975?
Now that he's healthy again, Rafael Nadal certainly seems to be the clear-cut No. 1 men's tennis player in the world and, if he can stay healthy, he might have blown past Roger Federer for good. Of course, it's easy to be impressed with Nadal when you see him on clay -- by far his best surface. Just as Nadal was about to take the second set against a frustrated Robin Soderling in his straight-set victory in Sunday's French Open final, NBC's John McEnroe said: "You got to hand it to Nadal. He just gets inside your head and fries your brain.''
NBC's Ted Robinson added, "He smothers your will.''
Best (sort of) compliment
Hall of Fame pitcher and Rangers president Nolan Ryan was a guest for an inning during Fox's coverage Saturday of the Rays-Rangers game. He didn't say it on air, but later announcer Dick Stockton mentioned that Ryan, who worked in the Astros organization when the Rays' Ben Zobrist was a prospect there, was "surprised'' that Zobrist has turned out to be as good of a player as he is.
It was like the good old days Saturday night in New York. The new Yankee Stadium hosted a boxing card -- the first time a Yankees ballpark has hosted such an event since the Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton fight in September 1976. As usual, HBO did a splendid job covering the junior middleweight title fight between Miguel Cotto and Yuri Foreman. Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman were superb, as always, but the nice surprise was the third man at ringside -- boxer Roy Jones, who has done work for HBO Boxing in the past. His analysis was interesting and informative, and there's no question he has a full-time career waiting when he hangs up his gloves for good. The only advice for Jones is to speak a little slower. By the way, Cotto, who trains in Tampa, scored a ninth-round TKO over Foreman, who suffered a knee injury that severely limited his movement.
Ron MacLean, the top-notch and longtime host of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, was eating lunch last week next to the Delaware River in Philadelphia (where he was covering the Stanley Cup final) with on-air partner Don Cherry when he heard cries for help. MacLean quickly learned a man was drowning, so he grabbed a couple of velvet link ropes and assisted two hotel staffers to form a rescue party that pulled the man to safety. MacLean told reporters: "I'm not the hero. I helped the guy who was.''
Why did the NBA and NHL both play games at the same time Sunday night? I realize that there are arena obligations and travel schedules and so forth, but you would think the two leagues would get together and avoid playing games in their championship series at the same time. What would have made sense is for the NBA, which opened its series on Thursday, to have played Saturday night. No doubt, the NBA wanted to play Sunday rather than Saturday, which is traditionally a weak night for television. Still, does it make sense to play NBA games when most fans in two large basketball markets (Philadelphia and Chicago) are paying attention to hockey? And it seems both leagues were too arrogant to think of us -- the sports fans who actually pay for their leagues and had to choose which game to watch.
Finally, someone associated with the Rays suggested that first baseman Carlos Pena and his batting average well below .200 might be hurting the team. That someone was Rays radio announcer Dave Wills, who said Sunday that the Rays at least need to consider "alternatives,'' such as Hank Blalock. Wills said he wasn't giving up on Pena but said it is time for the Rays to at least look closer at pitching matchups and situations, and just not automatically keep putting Pena's name in the lineup, especially with much of the lineup struggling. Wills said it before Pena's home run and bloop single Sunday, but his point wasn't less valid because of a couple of hits. It's never easy for team broadcasters to be critical of players, especially players who are trying and, in Peña’s case, a good guy. Still, Wills earned some major credibility points with his comments Sunday.
Three things that popped into my head
1. Tennis fans should thank Ch. 32 for stepping up and taking the French Open while Ch. 8 was showing its All Children's Telethon.
2. Just wondering: A month from now, will we look at ESPN’s coverage of the World Cup, which starts Friday, as the most impressive televised sporting event of all time?
3. One last thought on John Wooden. Can you think of anyone in sports who was that successful and yet that universally loved and respected? When you're good in sports, there are usually a few out there who resent or dislike you. But Wooden had no detractors. None.