Monday, May 4, 2009

NBA Playoffs

The Bulls ended their epic seven game series against Boston last Saturday night in a disappointing conclusion to a series featuring overtime in four games and only two games that did not end in the final seconds. The most ridiculous game was Game 6, featuring three overtimes, Ray Allen's 51 points in a losing effort, and Noah's insane coast to coast dunk over Pierce with the requisite Joakim Noah banshee shriek. For a recap of Game 6, turned the game over to its ace Foley artists Gary Payton and Chris Webber.

The Passion and Redemption of Brad Miller

The Bulls played well against a Celtics squad that had lost their defensive anchor and emotional leader Kevin Garnett, who was reduced to launching into hysterics on the sidelines and practicing his Street Fighter II victory poses. They also showed that they were a young team on the rise, with a nucleus featuring Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Tyrus Thomas, and first year head coach Lloyd Braun.

Vinny Del Negro's coaching strategy
depends on the twin prongs of serenity
and insanity


Basketball is one sport where playoff basketball actually attracts playoff-caliber national announcers. Locally, things do not often work out as well, such as the time the Bulls brought in Scottie Pippen as an analyst despite the fact that his low-timbred mush-mouthed delivery occasionally ventures into Sling Blade levels of incoherence (although nothing will ever top the time that Shannon Sharpe went into battle against the phrase "Billy Volek" during one of his spittle-drenched scat solo highlight narrations). The greatest Scottie Pippen moment of all time, however, is this astounding Mr. Submarine commercial from 1991, where evidently someone swapped out Pippen's script with a Christopher Walken version that had all of the punctuation removed.

this is one six footer I can't handle one on one ladies let's
have a party

For one of the games, I found myself subjected to Tommy Heinsohn's commentary from the Boston feed. Home team announcers are by definition homers at varying levels of obnoxiousness, but Heinsohn was maddening to the point that he would only accecpt a Boston foul if a scythe was prominently involved, a practice that can be best assessed using the BYCTOM Homer Announcer Tolerability Scale.

Heinsohn is highlighted on the scale, which becomes more untolerable towards the business
end of the pitchfork

Heinsohn's infuriating ranting at least resonates with Boston fans, which is much more important to his job than not rankling Chicago fans watching on any illegal stream available, even if it is pro-Celtics or broadcast in one of several possible Slavic languages. And no matter what he does, he probably will not inspire the universal ire of Tommy Smyth, who is, according to this Guardian article, "possibly the most hated football commentator in history." Smyth, whose hoary bald pate has become the face of ESPN's soccer coverage, evidently spends most broadcasts buzzing around a match like a buzzard ready to pounce in with his despised "bulge in the old onion bag" catch-phrase every time a goal or goal-like situation has occurred. For this, he receives letters wishing his mother had had him aborted and even a death threat from a particularly vengeful Australian.

Smyth's over-the-top Irish accent has also made him few friends with Irish ex-patriates who take exception to his brogue, such as Cass Crockett, a co-founder of an anti-Smyth site, who claims that "In each of the years that he's left County Louth, his accent has gotten stronger to such an extent that he's now 94% angry leprechaun." Another Irish critic claims that his accent is "more embarrassing to expats than either Riverdance or the Celtic Woman show."

Other US soccer bloggers have called Smyth "Beelzebub's handmaid", a "pathetic and insulting blight", a "garbage commentator", a "ridiculous clown" and "the biggest tit on the air" who talks "incessant drivel" and "utters inanity after absurdity after stupidity". Others also opined that Smyth commentates as "if he is watching the game through an aquarium" and that he "needs to be tied to a goal post for Juninho to practise his free-kicks on".

Jubilant crowds celebrate the firing of Tommy Smyth. Incidentally, there's an excellent story
by Boston Globe reporter Brian Rogers investigating Hasselhoff's role in the fall of the Berlin Wall


Although TNT has paid proper tribute to playoff basketball by allowing the husky histrionics of Marv Albert to resonate in 5.1 stereo, the playoffs do not feel right without an over-dramatic story narrated by Bob Costas followed by Roundball Rock and then an overhead shot of the arena accompanied by a Marv monologue about Jazz fans wondering if Karl Malone will come through in the clutch. TNT made an attempt with a highlight package using the ubiquitous orchestrated version of the theme from Requiem for a Dream that has spread like a plague across the sports highlight landscape, but it is bereft of overwrought narration and therefore unacceptable. Here, for example, is how NBC brought us Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals between Chicago and New York that not only rips Enter the Sandman, but also the phrases "Call it the Knicks worst nightmare" and "Headlines like these make it more than a game--it's personal" out of the Stallone movie trailer handbook.

My favorite of these is from before Game 1 of the 1996 Finals against Seattle, where Pippen and Kemp's showdown to determine the best hi-top fade in the NBA was so dramatic that an NBC producer picked up a red phone and dialed up the most dramatic theme music possible.

NBC took its musical cues from Detlef
Schrempf's haircut and his menacing demand for
Dick Bavetta's pants, jacket, and motorcycle

Do NBA broadcasts deserve a modicum of restraint and taste, or do they benefit from going into Adam West Batman territory from time to time when a series demands it? Can the overdramatic NBC style work in the twenty-first century or does it belong in the dustbin with pump sneakers, snap bracelets, and movies where the fate of the world rests in the curly locks of Jeff Goldblum? Perhaps mid-1990s basketball broadcasting can only work on mid-1990s basketball issues.

This summer, NBA on NBC presents
Carr vs. Robinson: This Dog is Only
Big Enough for One of Us
((in stereo where available))

The answer to these questions is perhaps unknowable, but the path to enlightenment surely involves an unholy combination of Nicolas Cage's maniacally vacant intensity, a series of increasingly hilarious clips from what is apparently a real movie, and a British interviewer's intrepid dedication to A Flock of Seagulls.

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