Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Shooting from the lip

tom jones' two cents

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

Best show with worst feature

Following a cue from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s "Hockey Day in Canada,'' NBC celebrated "Hockey Day in America" on Sunday. Obviously not as big here as in Canada, NBC did a competent job celebrating the sport. Between NBC and NBC Sports Network, there were three games televised and about nine hours of coverage dedicated to hockey.

The whole day kicked off with a half-hour pregame show from a set at an outdoor hockey rink in New York City's Central Park. That set was also used for the intermission shows.

The half-hour show offered three features, two of which were excellent and one that was not only poorly produced but completely out of place.

The two good features:

• The touching story of the relationship between Vikings RB Adrian Peterson and Jack Jablonski, a high school hockey player from Minnesota. Jablonski severely injured his spine on the same day Peterson injured his ACL and MCL in 2011. The two have inspired each other in their rehabilitations.

• The story of an 8-year-old player from New Jersey who wanted to stage his own outdoor game to raise money for charity when the NHL lockout forced this season's Winter Classic to be canceled. He and his teammates raised money to rent the rink in Central Park, but when the hockey equipment company CCM learned about the plan, it put up the money for the rink rental. The kids then donated the money they raised to Hurricane Sandy relief. The two teams that played in the game have helped raise about $25,000. What a great story.

Those two inspiring stories sandwiched just an awful piece about hockey hair as Michelle Beadle and Jeremy Roenick got their hair done to look like hockey players. I'm all for offbeat and humorous stories, but you have a 30-minute show to celebrate hockey in America and you waste several minutes on a goofy feature that has absolutely nothing to do with hockey in America? Save that feature for another day.

Best and worst show

Overall, TNT's coverage of Saturday night's NBA All-Star Game festivities was pretty good. I know, I know, the skills competition is getting a bit tired, but the NBA is smart enough to keep the action moving. The overall skills competition (ballhandling, passing, shooting) is a fun event, as is the 3-point shooting competition. Unfortunately, the marquee event of the night — the slam-dunk contest — is becoming a bore. Saturday night's contest was a dud until the very end.

"We've got to find a way for the stars of the league (to participate),'' TNT's Charles Barkley said. "The stars have to understand they've got to give something back to the game. We've got to get the stars."

Best imitation

Nobody does a funnier impression of ESPN's Stephen A. Smith than Randy and Jason Sklar, the twin brothers who used to host the hysterically funny and much-missed Cheap Seats on ESPN. But a close second (well, third) is Saturday Night Live's Jay Pharoah.

His impression Saturday night was so good that ESPN couldn't help but play it back Sunday morning in front of Smith, who took it like a good sport.

Most polarizing

Speaking of Stephen A. Smith, there might not be a more polarizing show on sports television than ESPN2's First Take. The show was born from the old Cold Pizza, and the format is simple: take two men (Smith and Skip Bayless) who are highly opinionated, arrogant, strong-willed and occasionally annoying, throw out a polarizing target (Tim Tebow, LeBron James) or the big headline of the day and let the two yell at each other.

Someone must like it because ESPN2 keeps it on the air, but most critics hate it.

Newsday's Neil Best caught up with ESPN president John Skipper and asked him about the show's detractors.

"My guess would be that for people who are critical of it, it's somewhat symbolic of a general dislike of that genre,'' Skipper said. "For us it's slightly puzzling, because we're doing 50, 60, 70,000 hours of live TV. We're trying to do a bunch of different kinds of TV. This kind of TV works, to some extent.''

Skipper admits the show has crossed the line in the past, but he still believes in the show.

Funniest sight

Fans of the University of Alabama surely didn't like this, but the rest of us got a kick out the latest antics by TNT NBA analyst Charles Barkley last week during the Inside the NBA studio show.

The former Auburn star took a shot at his rival school after four Alabama football players were arrested in connection with a pair of robberies.

Barkley's head was wrapped in a big white bandage stained with fake blood.

Host Ernie Johnson asked him what happened, and Barkley said, "Ernie, you're not going to believe this. Being the Auburn guy that I am, I wanted to be first class. I went down to the University of Alabama to congratulate the Crimson Tide on winning a BCS championship and I got mugged. I got mugged in Tuscaloosa, Ernie, and my credit cards are missing."

Analyst Kenny Smith said, "You're such an Alabama hater. Why don't you leave those kids alone, man?"

Replied Barkley, "Oh, it's my fault they're mugging people?"

Best debut

I've never been a fan of Fox announcer Gus Johnson and when he made his debut as a soccer announcer last week for the network, I was, admittedly, predisposed to not liking his work. I thought soccer would be too slow for Johnson's over-the-top style of announcing. And while I don't consider myself a soccer aficionado, it seems those who do follow the sport closer than I do thought Johnson did a fairly good job.

The belief is Fox wants to establish Johnson as its soccer voice in time for the next women's and men's World Cups.

Most critiques said Johnson still has some work to do to grasp all the intricacies of the sport but made a promising debut and that Fox should be overjoyed at his prospects of being the network's soccer voice.

Three things that popped into my head

1. Best announcing of the weekend goes to Gord Miller, on loan from Canada's TSN, who added even more excitement to Sunday's action-packed Penguins-Sabres game on NBC.

2. Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim calling ESPN's Andy Katz an "idiot'' and "disloyal'' in a news conference last week was not only the wrong thing to say but proved what most us already knew: Boeheim (right) is the biggest curmudgeon in sports.

3. In his new book, Long Shot, former all-star catcher Mike Piazza claims legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully ambushed him in an interview about contract negotiations in 1998 and turned Dodgers fans against him. Scully vehemently denied those claims. I wasn't there, but I know this: I'm siding with Scully on this one.

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