Farewell to Jack Ramsay; His Trailblazers were focus of terrific Halberstam book

The basketball world bids farewell this morning to Jack Ramsay. He had a remarkable life as a coach and then as a broadcaster.

It always was staggering to me to hear him on the call at big NBA games when he was deep into his 80s. ESPN put out a nice video tribute to Ramsay.

Also, props to PR guru Joe Favorito for reminding everyone that Ramsay and his Portland Trailblazers were the subject of David Halberstam’s terrific book, Breaks of the Game. Considered groundbreaking at the time and now one of the best sports books of all time, Halberstam followed Ramsay’s Trailblazers during the ’79-80 season.

From the review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the New York Times:

And for slightly more serious readers, ”The Breaks of the Game” is a window looking out onto recent American social history. Is the transparency of that window enough to attract readers who haven’t the slightest interest in professional basketball? That’s difficult for a fan such as I am to guarantee. I can only say that few subjects come to mind that can provide a better overall view of America in the 1960’s and 1970’s than pro basketball does. That’s why it has attracted as restless an intelligence as David Halberstam’s. And that’s why ”The Breaks of the Game” is at the very least one of the best books I’ve ever read about American sports.

When Halberstam died tragically in a car accident in 2007, Bill Simmons did a column on the impact the book had on him.

“Breaks of the Game” was the first big-boy book I ever loved. Within a few pages, I came to believe that he wrote the book just for me. I plowed through it in one weekend. A few months later, I read it again. Eventually, I read the book so many times that the spine of the book crumbled, so I bought the paperback version to replace it.

Indeed, definitely worth reading. In fact, for me, definitely worth reading a second time.

 

New ESPN 30 for 30: Cheering for ‘Bad Boys’ of Detroit

Living in Chicago, I don’t have many people who agree with my view on the Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys.” They were one of my favorite all-time teams in sports, even if they did mug Michael Jordan.

As much as you might have hated them, you had to admit some sense of admiration for this unique band of characters and how they played the game.

ESPN’s latest 30 for 30, Bad Boys (tonight at 8 p.m. ET), narrated by Kid Rock, gets to the core of the greatest “bad” team in NBA history.

While the players have gotten older, they haven’t mellowed. Said John Salley: “To the people that say we’re thugs and goons, I say kiss my entire ass.”

Now were they a bunch of idiots for walking off the floor and not shaking hands with the Bulls after they were finally vanquished in 1991? Sure. But when you think about it, how else could “the team they love to hate” have ended their run?

 

Behind scenes with ABC for Chicago-Miami game; ‘Do you think Yannick Noah would be a good interview?’

Pleased to announced that I am joining the crew at Awful Announcing as a contributing writer. If you follow sports media, you already know about the interesting and entertaining content produced by Matt Yoder and his crew. Many thanks to Bloguin CEO Ben Koo for making this happen. I am looking forward to drafting behind them, so to speak.

From time to time, I will be doing original content for Awful Announcing. My first piece is a  a behind-the-scenes look at ABC’s production of the Chicago-Miami game Sunday.

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I enjoyed spending time with Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy, Lisa Salters, producer Tim Corrigan, director Jimmy Moore and the rest of the crew. A highlight was watching how Salters’ memorable interview with Joakim Noah’s father, Yannick, unfolded in the truck.

From the story:

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Word, though, filters in to the truck that Joakim Noah’s father, tennis great Yannick Noah, is at the game. Corrigan asks Salters, “Lisa, would he be a good interview?”

“Let me find out,” Salters said.

Little did they know how good it would be.

As the first quarter closes out, Van Gundy notes about Augustin, “That’s a season saving signing for Chicago.”

Breen, without missing a beat, says, “Oh, nice alliteration there.”

Second quarter: “We might do Augustin coming out of the break,” Corrigan said. “Nobody knows who he is.”

It doesn’t happen. Instead, Salters finds Yannick Noah in the stands. Using a double screen, Moore is able to show Yannick watching his son. Yannick then cuts off Salters in mid sentence and jumps out of his chair while watching his son make a terrific defensive stop followed by a hustle play resulting in a foul on the offensive end. Yannick’s animated reaction makes for great television, a sure SportsCenter moment.

“I think that’s the best 2-box we’ve ever done,” Moore said.

During a break, Breen tells Salters, “To back off and let him go was a great decision.”

Corrigan says, “You’ve got to get a little lucky now and then.”

So long for a while: Lakers demise not good for networks

Question: Name the only NBA team with a 21-42 record that still would be featured in national Sunday afternoon game?

Answer: The Lakers. Of course.

Yep, Mike Tirico and Hubie Brown were on hand yesterday for the Oklahoma City-Lakers game Sunday on ABC. Now Kevin Durant always is a good TV draw, and there’s still something special about being in LA. Memories of Magic, West, Kobe, etc…

However, while the Lakers put on a good show in pulling off an unlikely victory Sunday, their 48-point loss to the Clippers last week said more about the state of the league’s long-time marquee franchise. The Lakers surely are fading from view, and could be irrelevant for an extended stretch if Kobe Bryant can’t mount a comeback.

That’s not a good thing for the networks. The Lakers have been ratings gold for a long time.

“From a ratings standpoint, it’s tough,” said Tim Corrigan, the senior coordinating producers for the NBA on ESPN. “You’re not used to flipping on the Lakers and not knowing who is on the court. Now we need to explain who everyone is.”

It isn’t just the Lakers. For the time ever, the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks and 76ers all will have losing records this year. Gone are a lot of potential big-market games. Last week, it was announced that the national Sunday game on April 13 would be switched from Bulls-Knicks to Thunder-Pacers.

So instead of doing a game between the No. 1 (New York) and No. 3 (Chicago) U.S. TV markets, ABC now gets No. 26 (Indianapolis) and No. 41 (Oklahoma City).

That game could be a preview of the NBA Finals. However, from a ratings standpoint, it isn’t the same as doing a game featuring two of the nation’s three largest markets, and the built-in viewership that comes with fans of the Knicks and Bulls.

“No question,” Corrigan said.

For now, ESPN/ABC and TNT are riding on the LeBron James train. The ratings have been so high for the Heat games, it has offset the fall of the traditional big-name teams. Corrigan expects ESPN to do a big number for the Heat-Pacers game in Indy on March 26.

ESPN/ABC play-by-play voice Mike Breen is trying to put a positive spin on the situation. He contends the demise of the Lakers creates opportunities for other teams and stars to step into the spotlight.

“The league always is better when the Lakers are good; the Celtics are good; the Knicks are good,” Breen said. “However, I think it is a lot different than what we saw five years ago. There are so many more teams that are competitive. What’s happening in Portland is a good story. Paul George not only is a fantastic player, but he’s also a high character guy.

“It’s always good to have the big-market teams in there, but there are some incredible young players out there who are fun to watch.”

Breen is right. Just the same, ESPN/ABC and TNT will be rooting hard for LeBron and company to make a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rose out again: ABC, TNT, ESPN, NBA TV will feel pain with several Bulls games scheduled for national TV

It’s a dark and bleak day in Chicago. And I’m not talking about the dreary weather outside.

The news that Derrick Rose suffered another knee injury requiring surgery has the city in a collective funk. Everyone is concerned that Rose will become the Chicago basketball version of Gale Sayers.

Scary parallel: Both players got injured in their fourth seasons. Sayers never was the same. Hopefully, that won’t be the case for Rose, but you never know.

Also feeling the pain today are the NBA’s national TV partners. They were counting on the return of the 2010-11 MVP to produce a big year for the Bulls.

The networks loaded up on the Bulls this season: ESPN 10 times, on TNT nine times, on NBA-TV nine times and on ABC five times.

Some of those games already have been played, but there’s many more on the menu, including two Miami-Chicago games on ABC.

Not having Rose will hurt the marquee value of the Bulls national TV games. While the Bulls remained competitive last year without the star guard, it will be a challenge to hold things together two years in a row, as evidenced by a 39-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday.

A strong Chicago team always does big numbers for the NBA. If the Bulls falter without Rose, the league might have to readjust some of its national TV schedule.

Yes, the pain of Rose’s latest injury extends beyond Chicago.

 

 

 

New ESPN ad for NBA: Simmons gets first ride in RV; shares bed with Noah

Time to get ready for some basketball. Bill Simmons gets invited to ride in the ESPN RV for the first time.

Given Joakim Noah’s shaky health status, Bulls fans request that the center gets his own bed.

Here’s the rundown from ESPN.

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This week, ESPN will return the popular ESPN NBA RV campaign for the seventh year, in celebration of the upcoming NBA season.

The 30-second spot features NBA analysts Jalen Rose and Mike Breen sleeping soundly in the RV while bunkmates Bill Simmons and Chicago Bulls’ star Joakim Noah deliver a frustrated monologue about their sleeping arrangements. Jeff Van Gundy, unlikely to get any sleep throughout the night, also appears in the ad.

Additional spots will launch throughout the season. The campaign was created in collaboration with creative agency Wieden + Kennedy New York.

ESPN’s NBA season tips off Friday, Nov. 1, when the Brooklyn Nets host the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the defending Western Conference Champion San Antonio Spurs facing the Los Angeles Lakers at 10:30 p.m.

Barkley in mid-season form: ‘LeBron should go back to Cleveland’; Jordan still ticked off at him

Who needs training camp? Charles Barkley’s mouth always is ready to go.

Barkley sounded off to Chris Myers in the latest edition of Fox Sports 1on 1 interview show (tonight, 8 p.m. ET).

Here are some soundbites:

On Lebron James as a free agent after this year: “I hope he goes back to Cleveland with some real fans.  Those fans in Miami are faker than a three-dollar bill.”

On his current relationship with Michael Jordan: “I love Michael. He’s been one of my best friends forever and I hope we can work through it.  Our relationship is estranged because I said some things about him as a General Manager the last couple years.  I can’t get on television and say he’s done a good job as a GM.  One of the things people respect about me whether they like it or not is that I don’t have a double standard.  Michael has not done a good job as a GM.”

On strong reactions from people on what he has to say about any topic – sports or non-sports:  “I think after my third year [in the NBA], I said, ‘oh I can’t please everybody.  I’m just going to please me.  I’m going to say what I think and what I feel. And I’m not going to worry about the negativity.’  After that third year, I’ve been the same since.  I’m going to give my honest, fair, balanced opinion – some people are going to like it and others wont.”

On the Los Angeles Lakers future:  “With or without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers are going to stink next year.  I love Kobe Bryant.  Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest 10 players ever.”

On the legacy of NBA Commissioner David Stern:  “[He’s] the greatest Commissioner in sports history.  Easily.  People forget, me and David Stern came in the same year.  The average player salary in the NBA was $200,000.  Now, the average salary is $5.5 million dollars.  That’s amazing.  He put us in the Olympics and made it an international game.  We play games in foreign countries and I think I saw it last year, the finals were broadcast in 200 countries.”

 

 

 

Simmons to SI.com: Deadspin sources are ‘liars’; troubled that they likely came from ESPN

Will be interesting to see if Deadspin picks up on Richard Deitsch’s interview with Bill Simmons at SI.com today.

Simmons strongly denied a John Koblin story last week that he was responsible for Magic Johnson leaving NBA Countdown.

Simmons told Deitsch:

Those unnamed “sources” are liars. Someone planted a fake story to try to make me look bad, and there’s a 99.3 percent chance it came from someone in Bristol (which presents its own set of concerns). I was upset; I can’t lie. Maybe this happens to people more often than I realize, and maybe it comes with the territory, but man … I can’t properly explain how fantastic it was to watch basketball with Magic for nine months.

Later he told Deitsch:

Anyway, that’s why the “report” upset me so much — it wasn’t just that someone made it up (and how disturbing that is), but how I felt in real life was the exact opposite of what that “report” portrayed. I felt blindsided when Magic left. I thought he was quitting on the show, and I guess on me, too. I took it personally. But then I thought about the whole Dodgers thing (and how into those games he was), and it made more sense and I got over it.

Last week, when Simmons and Johnson’s agent issued statements denying Koblin’s story, Deadspin wound up burying them in the comments section. Koblin added, “Sure, OK, but who was saying they were enemies?”

Interesting that the comments weren’t included in an updated version of the main post. But then, that would have required balanced journalism where both sides of the story are reported.

Given that perspective, I shouldn’t expect Deadspin to do much with Simmons’ comments to a major platform like SI. Besides, everyone has moved on, and Deadspin is working on slamming someone else.

Also, Simmons has reason to be concerned that the original source came from ESPN. It’s a big place with a lot of different agendas. Clearly, there are people who don’t like or resent Simmons’ success. It likely will happen again.

So as they say: Consider the source.

 

 

 

 

Update: Simmons on Magic: “GREAT GUY”; denies Deadspin story about Johnson departure from Countdown

Update: Bill Simmons, through ESPN, issued this statement:

“I loved getting to know Magic these past 12 months and was saddened to hear about his decision. We genuinely liked working with one another. Last night Lon Rosen and I were already talking about other possible projects that Magic and I could do together down the road. He’s my friend. And a GREAT guy.”

From Lon Rosen, Johnson’s agent.

“Magic and Bill Simmons got to be very close and continue to be close.  Bill Simmons and Earvin Johnson are friends. Earvin’s close to Bill. We called Bill before the release went out. Bill has been to parties at Earvin’s house. He’s been to Dodgers game with Bill. He likes Bill a lot.”

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Bill Simmons issued a tweet, refuting a Deadspin story that he is responsible for Magic Johnson’s departure from ESPN’s NBA Countdown.

 

 

 

In the post, John Koblin bases his information on ESPN sources.

ESPN sources tell us that Johnson’s departure was the result of an old-fashioned power war, with one very clear winner: Bill Simmons. “It’s Simmons’s show now,” said one source.

Magic apparently was not at all happy when ESPN told his buddy Michael Wilbon that his role on NBA Countdown would be diminished. He was “booted,” according to one source. Another ESPN insider also said that Magic was “privately seething over the Wilbon thing and in general did not like that Simmons held all the power and influence.” Magic didn’t necessarily need the power, our sources explained; he just didn’t feel like kowtowing to Simmons when he’s, well, Magic Johnson.

“The bottom line is they turned that show over to Simmons,” said our source. “That’s why Doug Collins got hired and why Wilbon was out.”

Simmons obviously isn’t buying that account.