Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I don't care for ESPN/ABC's NBA coverage

Hello there. This one goes out to my main man Matt.

Stephen A. Smith. Chad Ford. Chris Sheridan. Marc Stein. David Thorpe. John Hollinger. Tim Legler. Mike Tirico. Bill Fucking Walton. Tom Tolbert. Sean Elliot. Brad Nessler. Brent Musburger. Mark Jackson.

Why am I putting all these random names together? Because these hobos are all analysts for ABC and ESPN, who televise NBA games. Some of them write, some of them are on camera, some of them are just window dressing (I'm talking to you, Tirico). The sanctimonious whitebread marketing honchos who planned this out have been ruining my enjoyment of basketball for many years now and I would like to discuss exactly why there is so much bullshit going on at the network of Walt Disney. Furthermore, with devices like cheesy camera angles, crappy interviews, dumb graphics, and flatulent guest spots, ABC/ESPN downgrades their coverage to a level below shit. Just to top it all off, they have cut down on games being shown on network TV by about 65%. Thanks a lot!

Let me start with the crack (no pun intended) writing team ESPN puts forth (Smith, Ford, Sheridan, Stein, Legler, and Hollinger).

ESPN is responsible for popularizing the biggest embarrassment to sports in many years, Stephen A. Smith. He's the kind of guy a white network executive goes home to his wife and talks about like this: "I met this interesting guy, honey. And he's BLACK! And he had so many interesting opinions, but he didn't sound like he was straight OFF THE STREETS! And he's even WELL EDUCATED! Can you believe it, honey! I'm going to give this guy a job! I think we're really going to get some STREET CREDIBILITY! It'll be great for our basketball coverage!" (Al Jaffe, ESPN's human resources guy, says Smith has "huge upside" and "a unique talent...He makes people sit up and take notice, and not many people can do that. He cuts through the clutter, and not just because he's loud. He's water-cooler fodder, a lightning rod...Quite frankly will show viewers his full personality. It troubles me that he's always been labeled as a loudmouth. That summarizes TV in a nutshell...people don't delve into the whole person.") [Notice the juxtoposition of "not just because he's loud" to "it troubles me that he's always been labeled as a loudmouth".]

Stephen A. Smith was born in the Bronx, which should make him tough, but does not. Before his foray into sports, he attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. That's right, he was kind of like LC; he wanted to design accessories and cute little knick knacks and shit like that. I guess he had a change of heart, because he then went to the same school as Louis Farrakhan, another great prognosticator. Farrakhan, of course, once noted: "Here the Jews don't like Farrakhan and so they call me 'Hitler'. Well that's a good name. Hitler was a very great man...he rose Germany up from the ashes of her defeat...and rose her up and made her the greatest fighting machine of the twentieth century...Now I'm not proud of Hitler's evil towards Jewish people, but that's a matter of record. He rose Germany up from nothing..." This statement is similar, strictly in terms of accuracy, to most of the complete garbage that Smith spews now that he is a writer/announcer.

First of all, Smith knows nothing about basketball. In 2005 at the NBA draft, while everyone, including the draftee could hear him, he said of the eighth pick "The pick makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, when you think about how they traded away Vince Carter, virtually for nothing, again we sit here today, wondering, what on EARTH is Rob Babcock [the GM] doing!" That pick was Charlie Villanueva, who finished second in rookie of the year voting despite not playing early in his rookie season. (Whom I wish I still had on my fantasy team.)

Stephen, of course, thinks he is the man. He often starts sentences with "As a black man..." For instance, when ESPN canceled his show because no one cared what he had to say, he said: "As a black man, the biggest nightmare is to be perceived as a buffoon, in any form or fashion. I'd rather have people perceive me as too serious, even evil." He also dreams big: "My dream has never changed - I've always wanted to be Ed Bradley's successor on 60 Minutes." (Maybe that's why he had his studio producers, who had trouble selling tickets to his show, e-mail Cubs fans asking them to come to the show when Dusty Baker [the embattled Cubs manager] was the boo [story here]. I think I read about Ed Bradley doing that once on 60 Minutes.)

One other thing that makes me mad is the way he emotes his belief that he is a cool black guy. He feels this way, probably, because he brown noses cool black athletes like Allen Iverson, and sometimes makes references to rap [it might also because he's surrounded by many stiff whites at ESPN]. The problem is, being a little fashion bug, that sissy doesn't know a thing about the great art we call rap. For instance, on his radio show, he once played the beat from Shook Ones, by Mobb Deep. He then said "that's the beat from 8-mile...Eminem in the house...but we're not talking about Detroit today, we're talking about New York." As all my readers I'm sure know, Mobb Deep is quintessential New York rap, and anyone from New York with any interest in rap whatsoever would know that this is about the least credible thing a black man from New York could possibly say. It is so ludicrous that I don't have the writing talent to express my feelings. God.

I don't want to lose focus here, though. ESPN also has flunkies like Chad Ford working for them. Mark Cuban says of him: "The new moron in town is Chad Ford of" (Full entry here.) Chad Ford is one of these guys who thinks that European players are the greatest thing on the planet and that every one of them will be great because American players [read: blacks] can't shoot the ball anymore.

He has a J.D. from Duke University, seems like a smart guy, and doesn't really write poorly, but he just doesn't know a thing about basketball. Also, he doesn't research his stories or substantiate him. He's a bad journalist. Peter Vescey calls him "Chad Fraud". He often takes news briefs from teams and then reports him as if he's breaking the story himself. He has no respect for any of the tenets of journalism, nothing important to contribute, and is so full of himself for actually going to Europe to look at players that he fancies himself a scout.

Here are some examples: He has said that Pavel Pozolkolin was the next great big man (for those of you who don't remember, this was some 7'4" Russian motherfucker who was drafted by the Knicks and has kicked around as a practice squad goon for a couple of years). He said that Martynas Andriuskevicius would be a future No. 1 pick (though fully healthy, he has played only six games for the Bulls). He said of the 2003 Knicks draft "Drafting Sweetney, another undersized power forward on a team filled with them gets a "c"...but landing the other guy you thought about taking at No. 9, Maciej Lampe, was a huge draft steal. I've seen Lampe play enough to know that his slide wasn't warranted. Lots of teams dropped the ball on him...he'll make the Knicks fans happy...Grade A-" (In three seasons, Lampe [at left] is averaging .7 ppg., and happens to be the one of the ugliest fuckers in the NBA.) He said that the Pistons should get an A+ for drafting "the best big man in the draft", getting Darko Milicic. (Who would want poor shooting guys like Chris Bosh, David West, or Josh Howard?) He said of Mladen Skularac, a Mavs pick who turned out to be a bust: "You'll hear his name again..." On the 2002 Phoenix Suns' draft he said: "It was a strange draft for the Suns. Stoudemire might be the Antonio McDyess replacement they've pined for the past few years, but he's a long way away...Grade: B-" Nice Job, Chad.

Chris Sheridan is less poorly qualified then these bozos, but makes me mad with his constant criticism of US hoops. He's one of these guys who thinks that we need to have more guys that can shoot, now that today's NBA players [again, read: blacks] are so nontraditional. I would agree with Sheridan that the system is somewhat flawed, but I think the problem is we are just letting to many selfish players like Jermaine O'Neal on the floor. Also, the team doesn't practice together, blah blah, you've all heard that before so I won't bore you.

Marc Stein never says anything interesting, does the same Chad Ford trick of claiming to break stories when in fact the teams are breaking them (actually, he does it more), and does that stupid NBA rankings page. I don't know what qualifies him for this, because he spent all of last year talking about how shitty the Heat were. On his first ranking of the Eastern Conference this year, he put the Heat, Bulls, Pacers, Cavs, Bucks, Raptors, Celtics, Magic, Wizards, and KNICKS above the Detroit Pistons. I mean, does this guy actually know anything?

David Thorpe I think might be okay, I haven't read his stuff much. However, he does use some statistics from John Hollinger, who I think stinks. Mr. Hollinger is responsible for ESPN's quantitative (statistical) analysis of basketball and is very self-important about it. His original website was described as "The Basketball Page for Thinking Fans."

Now, I kind of like quantitative analysis of all things, from stocks to hoops. It's neat to think about. But I don't like when people think they've got it right. In my mind, this a sign that they don't understand statistical analysis. Hollinger is of this breed, and his right formula is the PER, or Player Efficiency Rating, which tries to rate the best players, period. You can play with his formula for any team, or league, in any year or group of years, here. My biggest problem with these formulas is that it's very hard to quantify defense, which is very important, with statistics. I mean, Damon Jones lead the league in steals a couple of years ago, and he sucks at defense. Hollinger's PER formula says that over the last four years, Elton Brand is more valuable than Steve Nash, which is a crock of shit, and Steve Nash can't even D up. Tony Parker is rated higher than Joe Johnson, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace, Lamar Odom and Jason Richardson. I just don't think it's a great indicator. So I don't like Hollinger.

That covers the writers. What really drives me up the wall, though, is the television coverage. Oh, how I hate it. The camera angles are what really gets me during games. For instance: After a player scores, they always have to show him running up the court, even if there's a fast break going on. It drives me crazy. I hate their sky cam and their floor cam, both of which don't let you see all the players on the floor. I hate how when there's a wide-open break, they show the behind-the-hoop camera, which makes dunks look about fifty times worse than the regular camera. Don't believe me? Look at this and try to tell me the first angle isn't the best.

Then there are the hosts. Musberger, Legler, Tirico, Nessler, and Elliot are not terrible, but they are boring and unqualified. They don't know a lot about the game, can't crack jokes, and just don't seem comfortable as a conglomerate.

Some guys are really bad, like Mark Jackson, who is always boring, no matter what he says. It's incredible. Watch his analysis sometime. Plus, rather than be risky, he just repeats the safe lines whether right or wrong. I mean, if you're going to be wrong, at least take a leap of faith. Here's a sample of the boilerplate:

Q: If you could take one young player to start a team, who would take?

A: Is Kobe Bryant considered young? If so, there would be no question. His mentality, his approach -- he tries to seek and destroy. There is really nothing he can't do on the basketball court. The main thing is his will. He is not satisfied with just beating you. He wants to put the dagger in you. I think that is a lost art to a certain degree in this league.

Here's an example of him trying to be funny:

Q: What's the funniest story you have that I can repeat for a newspaper?

A: During the Finals last year, a drunk in a restaurant wanted to fight Dan Patrick and me. We were laughing. We thought he was joking. Dan thought he was friend of mine. I thought he was a friend of Dan's just being funny.

Come to find out that neither one of us knew him. We just laughed. We thought it was hilarious. We were actually in Dallas at the restaurant.

We were being funny. He wanted to know where the hot spot was in Dallas. We were like, 'There is a place called Chili's.' We were being sarcastic with the guy, thinking he had a sense of humor. It was hilarious. Dan felt very comfortable knowing I was there to get his back because I'm not really confident in Dan's ability on his own with his fists.

I mean, isn't it totally clear how awkward and unfunny this guy is? (The other question in the interview was who is the best point guard in the NBA; Answer: Steve Nash.) He's like the complete opposite of PTI; no insight, not funny, not even thought-provoking. How ESPN could hire both Jackson and Smith is beyond comprehension. (Notice how, to emphasize the funniness of the story, he keeps going "it was really funny/hilarious".)

Tom Tolbert is a huge tool and I won't waste time with him. He knows nothing.

The big kahuna of crappiness is that washed up ex-hippie, Bill Walton, who seems like he is really nice and would be really fun to go to a game with. However, paradoxically, he is a terrible announcer. He is just too damn loud. He's like a white, slightly smarter Stephen A. Smith. He's on the show for the same reason; He's the hippie equivalent. He's a hippie who makes a ton of money and doesn't really do anything for any of the idealistic reasons of a hippie (i.e. give money to charity, try to stop war), but just has the kind of attitude that a big time executive will think is good for ratings.

And he's an idiot. I'll let him explain:

"Steve Nash is the most unathletic player in the league."

"Mick Jagger is in better shape than far too many NBA players."

Rasheed could be the best player in the game.”

“Yao Ming is the best thing to happen to the NBA in a long time. He is just a beautiful person inside and out. The vision, the creativity, the gentleness of spirit … he has it all.”

"Kenyon Martin is the 2nd best player in the Eastern Conference."

"Greg Ostertag is one of the top centers on this planet!"

[Tony Parker makes a pass, which gets deflected out of bounds by an opposing defender. Spurs ball] "Tony Parker just made the worst pass... in the history of Western Civilization!"

"Manu Ginobli is one of the greats. Not just of this generation, but of all time."

On Larry Johnson in the NBA Finals: "What a pathetic performance by this sad human being. This is a disgrace to the game of basketball and to the NBA. He played like a disgrace tonight. And he deserved it...Why would the Pacers ever double-team Larry Johnson? He wants to be double-teamed so he can pass. Why is Indiana double-teaming a man who only scores 8 points a game?" (Side note: I would love to see him say this to Larry Johnson's face. Grandmama would be up to some serious shit.)[Oh, and this was from the series where Larry Johnson hit perhaps the largest shot since Jordan's retirement shot, proving Bill to be a complete dipshit.]

He is also a front-runner, has an annoying tone ("the Knicks are terrible") and nothing to support his being a blowhard. He's considered one of the 50 greatest players despite having only two good
seasons, while Dominique Wilkins, who scored 26,000 points (in the top 10 all time) is not. He's an overrated bum.

There are many professionals out there, guys who used to work when the game was on NBC, that are much better than everyone named above. Even people I don't really like, like Peter Vescey, are actually smart and insightful, and know how to throw an insult.

I really miss Marv Albert, the grand daddy of announcing. He was recently fired by MSG for not being impartial during the Knicks' season of crappiness, as if he could have possibly saved that sinking ship. He might have a funky personal life, but he does a perfect play-by-play, knows when to shut up, and has a great announcer's voice. Put a guy like Wilpon in with him for the color commentary and you'd have a great team. Get rid of the camera angles and all the other bullshit, and you'd actually have a serviceable broadcast.

NBA ratings have been much lower since ABC bought them then they ever were with NBC. Kids can't watch basketball on network TV anymore, nor can people who are poor or who live in the country. The NBA will lose a whole generation of fans if it doesn't realize that despite ABC's massive royalty payments, they are doing a disservice to their fan base. Someone needs to make some changes somewhere. I just hope it comes soon.

As always, e-mail me at


Kodijack said...

Very good article. And your backup for your opinions was right on. Thanks.

JimmyValente said...

Thanks a lot. I'll give you one big Go Buffalos for that!

Anonymous said...

I like the use of the word, "flunkie."

James, I think you had someone else (though I can't remember the name) confused with Podkolzine...I'm pretty sure Podkolzine was the big Russian with rumors of heart or pituitary gland problems prior to the draft. He was drafted by the Jazz and traded to the Mavs. He was supposed to be good, but he sucked. He played 6 games in the NBA as well -- but he sucks.


Anonymous said...

James, go here and make sure you have "Show profile images on comments?" checked...this is driving me fucking nuts.

JimmyValente said...


When I said Podkolzone, or whatever his name is, was a "big Russian motherfucker", I don't think I had him confused. As you correctly pointed out "i'm pretty sure podkolzine was the big russian". Jerk.


MattG21 said...

...but he had no affiliation whatsoever with the Knicks. Jerk.