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Sports TV weekend in review

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

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Best hire

It didn't take long for ESPN to bring back Mark Jackson. Mere days after Jackson was fired as coach by Golden State, Jackson signed a multiyear deal to call NBA games for ABC/ESPN. It's not like ESPN needed to be sold on Jackson. He was an analyst for the network before taking over the Warriors three years ago.

Smart move by ESPN to move so quickly, too. TNT is losing lead analyst Steve Kerr, who is off to coach, interestingly enough, the Warriors.

Jackson was courtside again Sunday with former partners Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy. That trio worked together from 2006-11. Breen and Van Gundy have been a two-man booth the past three years, but the three sounded comfortable Sunday calling Game 1 of the Heat-Pacers series.

Who will TNT choose to replace Kerr alongside Marv Albert on the No. 1 announcing team? My vote goes to Reggie Miller, who has worked with Albert and Miller in the past.

Best coverage

As expected, NBC's coverage of Saturday's Preakness was top notch. Nobody does horse racing better.

The highlight of the coverage was Josh Elliott's feature on California Chrome jockey Victor Espinoza and his brother, Jose. Also a jockey, Jose was thrown for a horse at a race last year and suffered a traumatic brain injury. He acts normally now but still suffers from headaches and is told he will never race again.

But, as Elliott pointed out, Jose is training like he expects to ride again.

Strongest comments

A couple of strong opinions came out of ESPN's Sports Reporters on Sunday.

Fill-in host Jeremy Schaap set his sights on the human rights issues surrounding the stadium construction for soccer's 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He blasted officials, saying, "These workers are treated like animals and dying like flies. It's been estimated that before the first ball is kicked in 2022, more than 4,000 will die."

Meantime, New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden didn't hold back when he said he doesn't care for horse racing because of ethical reasons. When asked about California Chrome going for the Triple Crown at the upcoming Belmont, Rhoden said, "I know horse racing needs it, but I'm not sure it deserves it.''

Most accessible analyst

ABC/ESPN NBA studio analyst Bill Simmons is one of the most accessible analysts in the business. What does that mean exactly? Everything he says is so easily digestible for the viewer. His points are simple, yet complete, and smart without being snobby.

When he started at espn.com, he was known as the "Sports Guy.'' That name still fits. He sounds just like a regular guy talking hoops in your living room, making points such as he did Sunday when he talked about just how well-played and good the first half of the Heat-Pacers game was.

It was a really good point but the type of point many ex-players wouldn't make because it would seem too simple. Simmons talks a like a fan watching the game. But he's a really smart fan who knows what he's talking about, and the viewers benefit from that.

Best cheers

NBC's contract to carry English Premier League soccer runs for another two years, and when it's up, look for ESPN to make a bid for the rights. ESPN likely would put together a bid with another network, perhaps Fox.

But look for NBC to try to keep the rights, and that might be just fine with soccer fans. NBC, with its family of networks, has done a strong job with the EPL. NBC and the NBC Sports Network combined to average 438,000 viewers for its soccer coverage this season. That's not bad, but there's still work to be done to attract more viewers.

Sourest loser

At first, I thought a couple of Montreal Canadiens were acting like whiners by telling on the Bruins' Milan Lucic for comments Lucic made in the traditional postseries handshake after the Canadiens eliminated the Bruins last week. Usually, I believe what is said on the ice should stay on the ice, as long as it doesn't cross the line of racism or something similar.

But now I'm thinking Lucic is nothing more than a poor sport. The belief is Lucic threatened Montreal's Dale Weise and Alexei Emelin, telling them he would get them next season.

"What's said on the ice stays on the ice, and unfortunately that code is broken," Lucic told reporters. "It's unfortunate that it blows up to what it is now. I'm not the first guy to do it; I'm not the last guy to do it. I'm not sorry that I did it."

But here's the thing, Milan. Don't tell the Habs what you're going to do to them next year when you just had seven games to do it and you failed.

Best call

Glad to see someone come to their senses on this Michael Sam documentary. The first openly gay player to be drafted in the NFL agreed to have his off-field life be the subject of a show on Oprah Winfrey's network. It was being called a documentary, but let's call it what it really was going to be: a reality show.

Smartly, the show has been postponed. The NFL and the Rams had no idea such a project was in the works until after the draft. This was a bad idea from the start, and if I were Sam, I'd start questioning some of the advice I'm getting from those around me.

This is a critical time. If Sam is going to be a trailblazer, he can have no missteps. Perhaps that isn't fair, but that is the reality. Other gay athletes in team sports are carefully watching how Sam's experience goes. The goal for all is that someday no one is considered a gay athlete but just an athlete. Sam is going to play a key role in that effort.

Three things that popped into my head

1. Could you ever imagine a day when someone would turn down a chance to coach the New York Knicks to instead coach the Golden State Warriors? That's just what Steve Kerr did. And you know what? It was the smart move.

2. I'm already tired of baseball's replay system. Not the system itself, but managers wasting time while deciding whether to challenge a call.

3. Nobody had a better weekend that California Chrome, which won the Preakness on Saturday. Oh, except for NBC. Now that California Chrome has a chance at the Triple Crown, NBC's ratings for the Belmont should be outstanding.

tom jones' two cents

Sports TV weekend in review 05/18/14 [Last modified: Sunday, May 18, 2014 9:58pm]
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