Shooting from the lip/March 9 edition
Looking back at a weekend of televised sports ...
Do not miss HBO's latest sports documentary -- Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals. The 90-minute film chronicles the lives of legendary NBA stars Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, but it's so much more than just highlights of their remarkable careers and classic battles against one another. The film examines what was originally a frosty relationship between the two, mostly because Bird refused to be buddy-buddy with such a fierce rival. It also uncovers Bird's enigmatic personality, going back to his poor upbringing in rural Indiana, the suicide of his father and his intense shyness. Johnson was the polar opposite -- outgoing, engaging, charismatic, who went from being "Earvin'' to "Magic'' when he arrived in Hollywood. The two eventually formed a close bond out of mutual respect for each other's talent and dedication.
The film also doesn't dodge the racial issue as Bird and the Celtics were seen as the favorite team for white people, while African-Americans rooted for the Lakers.
It's not until Johnson learned in 1991 he had HIV when we see just how much Bird and Johnson cared for one another. It's fascinating stuff with insightful and honest interviews from not only Bird and Johnson, but journalist Bryant Gumbel, celebrity and Johnson's friend Arsenio Hall, and former NBA stars Kevin McHale, Michael Cooper, Cedric "Cornbread'' Maxwell and many others. The documentary will be on throughout the month, but you can see it this week on Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. and Thursday at 7 p.m.
The NCAA is seriously considering expanding its basketball tournament field from 65 teams to 96. Television would love it, and so would all the coaches who would keep their jobs because they would make the tournament every year. But does anyone else think this even resembles a good idea? I might argue that 65 teams are too many. This isn't Little League, where everyone has to play and we all go for snow cones after the game.
On Sunday's Sports Reporters on ESPN, Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said: "More is less. And if this happens, it will prove one of my favorite theories in life -- there is nothing good in life, nothing, that can't and won't be messed up. The tournament is 99.8 percent perfect. The other 0.2 percent is the play-in game. … There is no good to be gained from this.''
Most interesting coverage
You might recall last summer when ESPN came under fire for, at first, refusing to report a civil suit in which a Nevada woman accused Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of sexual assault. Roethlisberger, once again, is being accused of sexual misconduct, and this time, ESPN is taking a different, more aggressive tact. It has dispatched ace reporter Kelly Naqi to Milledgeville, Ga., the site of the latest allegations. There is a difference between the cases. In the first situation, a civil suit was filed without a police report and, at the time, ESPN said it would not report a story based on nothing more than a civil suit. This time, the police are investigating.
Here's an example of what Rays radio announcers Andy Freed and Dave Wills do really well. Calling Sunday's spring game between the Rays and Phillies, the two casually started talking about pitchers when they hit. Even though interleague play is still months away, the two discussed how Rays manager Joe Maddon wants his pitchers, when they bat, to face at least five pitches in an at-bat. Over the course of a game, that could mean at least 15 pitches. That might help drive the opposing pitcher out of a game.
Freed and Wills dropped some useful information in the middle of a ho-hum spring game and made us smarter. That's good stuff, and Freed and Wills are especially good at it. And that is so much better than when they insert inside jokes and playful insults that we don't understand about technicians, front-office folks, friends and others whom we don't know or care about.
Canadian Olympic star Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador for the NHL, but he fanned on a great shot to help the league last week. Crosby turned down an offer to read the Top 10 list on the Late Show with David Letterman when the Penguins were in New York. Crosby's plate is full of obligations and he does make himself available to the media. But a chance to share the gospel on a show such as Letterman's is something Crosby needed to do, especially with the small window the NHL has to build on the momentum created by the Olympics.
Didn't the Olympics prove that no-touch icing is a rule the NHL needs to adopt right now? During Hockey Night in Canada coverage Saturday night, analyst and longtime no-touch-icing proponent Don Cherry showed at least 20 clips of players who suffered serious injuries racing for an icing touch-up and crashing into the boards. The league needs to implement no-touch icing now before a player is paralyzed or worse over something that is easily preventable.
Best analyst of the weekend
The best analysts in sports broadcasting are the ones who make you feel as if you're sitting next to your buddy in your living room talking about the game. They don't play favorites. They don't care who they offend. They just call it like they see it. The difference, of course, is the analysts know more than your average buddy.
A perfect example of this was ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy, who called Sunday's Magic-Lakers game. Van Gundy tore into officials, was quick to point out the flaws and mistakes of both teams, showed genuine enthusiasm when he saw something good and, as always, wasn't afraid to disagree with his partners. Van Gundy tells you what he thinks, not what he thinks you or anyone else wants to hear. You might disagree with some his analysis, but you know you're getting a straight shooter.
Most annoying halftime
Can someone at ESPN please turn off Hubert Davis' microphone when he starts laughing? When the college basketball analyst talks, he's solid. But when Davis laughs (which is a little too often), he's so loud and distracting that you stop paying attention to anything else being said. In fact, halftime of Saturday's Duke-North Carolina game sounded like a bad celebrity roast with all the cackling from Davis, Bob Knight, Jay Bilas and Digger Phelps. And it wasn't the first time that this crew started cutting it up and turning the halftime into a complete waste of the viewer's time with jokes and wisecracks that aren't that funny.
Speaking of college analysts -- and this goes for what seems like every single analyst out there -- isn't it strange that North Carolina coach Roy Williams gets virtually all of the credit for when his Tar Heels have done well and virtually none of the blame for how bad they have been this season?
Three things that popped into my head
1. If the USF men can win two games in the Big East basketball tournament, they might deserve to get into the NCAA Tournament. But something tells me they're going to have win three to make it. And that might be impossible because Syracuse would be the Bulls' third opponent.
2. Does anyone pay attention to tennis' Davis Cup anymore?
3. Something to look forward to -- the latest in ESPN’s "30 for 30'' series. Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks, which looks at the Pacers sharpshooter and his rivalry with the Knicks in the 1995 playoffs, debuts Sunday at 9 p.m.