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Shooting from the lip: NBC romps with Kentucky Derby coverage

The field breaks from the gate at Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. The race itself is only part of NBC’s all-encompassing coverage.

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The field breaks from the gate at Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. The race itself is only part of NBC’s all-encompassing coverage.

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

Best coverage

I'm trying to think of any sporting event that is covered better than the Kentucky Derby is covered by NBC. I don't know that I can. Somehow the network manages to take a two-minute event and turn it into three hours of compelling, entertaining, informative and must-see TV. You don't even need to be a horse racing fan to appreciate the amount of great work put in by NBC. Every second of Saturday's coverage was worth watching, even the fashion segments with figure-skating broadcasters Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, who became television stars during NBC's coverage of the Winter Olympics. Lipinski and Weir were sensational, particularly during a taped segment when they rated the fashion sense of the horses. Isn't that genius? What else stood out?

Josh Elliott had an outstanding return to sports after his stint with ABC's Good Morning America. Elliott had two outstanding features. One was an interview with female jockey Rosie Napravnik. Elliott got Napravnik, 26, to admit that she will retire from riding when she has children — whenever that time comes. Elliott also did a solid job reporting on Wicked Strong, who was named in honor of those affected by the Boston Marathon bombing.

Host Bob Costas was smooth as always and did his job well while interviewing trainer Steve Asmussen, who was accused by PETA of mistreating horses. For the record, Asmussen told Costas that the allegations were "horribly misleading, untrue and completely false.'' Also good to see a follow-up conversation with NBC's Tom Hammond, Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey. No one defended or accused Asmussen but said the allegations needed to be investigated and anything that leads to horse safety is a good thing.

Tom Hammond's feature on California Chrome (below) was good, and it gave viewers something to think about as they watched the horse win the race.

• Neither Randy Moss nor Jerry Bailey picked California Chrome, but their preview of how the race would go, with Uncle Sigh and Chitu getting off to fast starts and leading most of the way, was pretty spot-on.

All in all, an A-plus for NBC. Can't wait for the Preakness in two weeks.

Best documentaries

Don't miss the two latest installments of ESPN's "30 for 30'' series — both which look back at events from 25 years ago.

Bad Boys is about the Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s/early 1990s. What makes it so good is it celebrates the Pistons' back-to-back titles, but it doesn't shy away from how their physical play might have hurt the NBA and how their classless behavior when they were knocked off by the Bulls in the 1991 playoffs damaged their legacy. The documentary is just like the team itself: There is something there for those who loved and hated the Bad Boys. And, oh, Bill Laimbeer is still a jerk, and I'm guessing he wouldn't be insulted by that.

Meantime, Hillsborough is the most chilling documentary in the history of the "30 for 30'' series. It examines the disaster at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, when a human crush trying to get in to watch the FA Cup semifinal match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest resulted in 96 deaths. The scenes of what happened will disturb and anger you. What followed was what appeared to be a governmental coverup to relieve authorities of wrongdoing. I won't spoil the ending, but you won't be able to turn away from the final 20 minutes.

Best premonition

Excellent weekend turned in by Rays television broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson, particularly after having to call four games from Thursday through Saturday afternoon, including Friday night's 14-inning marathon. Anderson was on top of his game and was at his best Saturday afternoon when the Rays had a 3-2 lead over the Yankees in the fourth inning and said, "I don't like the way this game is trending.''

He was right. The Yankees went on to win 9-3. That's what a good baseball analyst does. He not only describes what just happened, but what is about to happen.

Best announcer

ESPN's Mike Tirico has evolved into one heck of a basketball announcer.

He perfectly called the final scramble in the Nets-Raptors game Sunday. His only better call was the wild ending to Friday night's game in Portland when the Blazers' Damian Lillard took an inbounds pass with 0.9 second left and drilled a 3-pointer for a 99-98 victory.

Tirico screamed, but screamed audibly, "It's Lillard. He got the shot off. Lillard good! GOOD! And the Blazers win the series! For the first time in 14 years!''

Outstanding.

Best feature

The most recent episode of HBO's Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel has a nice piece on TNT's Inside the NBA, which some people now are calling the best studio show in the history of sports television. Hmm, you know, that might be true. The foursome of host Ernie Johnson and analysts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal are sensational and have blended intelligent basketball analysis with zany humor and even some political incorrectness to create a show that you just have to watch because you never know what's going to happen next.

That's because the analysts often don't know. The most interesting tidbit from HBO's piece is that Barkley, Smith and O'Neal are never included in the pre-production meetings. Executive producer Tim Kiley told Real Sports, "We don't want them to know what we're doing. We want them to react to everything that we're doing, so we just, with Ernie, do the rundown and throw stuff at them and see what they say."

Usually what they say is pure gold.

Three things that popped into my head

1. With all due respect to the Raptors, everyone wanted to see a Nets-Heat matchup in the second round of the NBA playoffs, particularly because the Nets took all four meetings during the regular season.

2. Floyd Mayweather won Saturday to stay undefeated and I couldn't care less. Until he fights Manny Pacquiao (right), I have no interest in anything he does or says.

3. If the Rays go on to do anything this season, remember this past road trip. To come out 5-5 after a 1-4 start was huge. And, you know, it was classic Rays. They win when you don't think they will or can.

tom jones' two cents

Shooting from the lip: NBC romps with Kentucky Derby coverage 05/04/14 [Last modified: Sunday, May 4, 2014 9:42pm]

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