Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sportscasters

Since we've been discussing how people talk about the sport...does anyone else think that sports commentary in general, and NBA coverage in particular, has gone downhill in the last ten years or so?

Now I must admit that I've been spoiled being a Blazer fan, and my standards are high. Whatever knowledge of basketball I have came from a lot of places, but one of the biggest influences was just listening to Steve Jones for hundreds and hundreds of games. He had a way of explaining esoteric concepts like on-ball pressure and off-ball movement that was both accurate and accessible. And there are still a few color commentators out there who at least try to teach the game. But generally speaking, especially on a national level, sports broadcasting has become less and less about the sport and more and more about the broadcasters.

The clearest example is the premium placed on predictions nowadays. When folks talk about the draft, for instance, there's less emphasis on whether teams actually fulfill their needs than on who predicted the order right. When the national guys are sitting in the booth at pre-game or halftime, they don't break down the game as much as speculate about it, usually in the broadest generalizations possible. These folks are nationally respected figures, supposedly authorities on the sport, and the best they can come up with is, "Team X has about as much chance of winning as Joey over there has of getting with Jessica Simpson." Excuse, me...what? It's like a street magician's trick where they pick the most likely outcome, talk about it as if it were certain, then crow about it when they're right (most of the time because they go with the favorites) and ignore it when they're wrong. Then, of course, there are the guys who pick the opposite just so they can seem like geniuses every once in a while. Either way, the commentary is all about their prognostication, their personality, and their bragging rights and very little about the contest. What, exactly, is this teaching us again?

It's not like I don't have fun making predictions myself from time to time, but in the end predictions are like...well...let's just say that everybody has one. They're not supposed to be a substitute for talking about the game.

I know most of this happens because big personalities make big money, but I also think that at a certain level people around the league--that's league officials, broadcasters, and everybody in the circle--really have lost faith that the sport will shine on a regular basis. In some ways the showmanship betrays a lack of confidence that the game itself is the entertainment. It's like someone said, "Fewer people are watching. What can we do? More jokes! More over-the-top statements! More personalities!" Has it worked, I wonder? Or does it say something when the people that cover the game don't act like they believe that it's worth watching (or talking about) on its own merits? At least that's the message that comes across to me.

In any case, if one is going to indict the general level of fan discussion about the sport, one can't ignore the fact that much of what we see on T.V. is on the same level. I don't have a problem with the fact that not everybody in broadcasting can be a Steve Jones, I just mourn the fact that apparently fewer and fewer folks want to be.

--Dave

4 Comments:

Anonymous Brian said...

Interesting observations concerning NBA coverage. The question that leaps to my mind when I read this is do most NBA viewers really want the kind of commentary that you're mourning the loss of?
Don't get me wrong, I'm with you in appreciating the Steve Jones type of broadcasting. However, it seems to me that sports casting is merely following the wider network TV trend of dumbing down content in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator of viewer.
Also, think about the type of fans that the NBA has been most obviously courting up until the last couple of years: the hip-hop, throwback jersey wearing, gangsta wannabes. I'm guessing by and large these guys aren't as interested in the technical aspects of the game as a lot of older fans might be.
I think another contributing factor here was how for much of the '90s and early '00s the league was so intent on focusing its promotions solely on the stars rather than on teams. This inevitably led to the sportscasters following suit and simply keying in on what the big names were doing on each play rather than on the teams themselves. Couple that with how so many teams would simply run isolation plays for their stars, and you can see why things have ended up the way they are.
Now I think we have a certain generation of sportscasters who simply don't know enough about the team game to give a Steve Jones style commentary.

12:47 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Yeah...in a nutshell it just could be that I'm getting old. But I'm only in my 30's! It's too soon to be fondly remembering the way things used to be.

I've known some hip-hop, throwback-jersey-wearing guys who were very up on the nuances of the game, but I understand in general where you're coming from in all of T.V. aiming for the lowest common denominator nowadays. Darn that Jerry Springer anyway! I do think there's a wider audience out there being missed, however.

12:53 AM  
Anonymous Mortimer said...

Steve Jones is the best color commentator working today (and the best I've ever listened to, ever, I believe). He knows what he's talking about, doesn't engage in stupid hyperbole, and is technically perfect as well.

Bill Walton is the opposite of Steve Jones. He can't go 30 seconds without claiming some random player or single play is the best/worst ever, and he simply doesn't seem to know anything about the game he made a career out of. Although Walton won a championship for the Blazers before I was born, and I'm supposed to revere him... I can't stand him.

The broadcasts think that recent, popular ex-players as color commentators will bring in more viewers perhaps, or that viewers will relate to their insight more. Too often (Magic, Isiah), they are awful at the job. People watch a game for the teams playing, but someone like Steve Jones can really bring it to life and add depth and layers to what we can't always see on the screen.

Know what I mean?

10:45 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Yes, exactly. I don't want to paint all of the new generation with the same brush. Hersey Hawkins, for instance, is a color commentator that I think does a fine job and helps you see more of the game than you would have otherwise. But it seems like the ones who make it to the national level are more often than not hired for their name or gimmick more than their ability to actually do the job. Of course T.V. execs would argue that the first and only job is to glue eyeballs to the screen, but that's part of what I'm talking about. In most sports, the coverage of the sport is starting to eclipse the sport itself. One wonders if we'll ever reach a time in our society when we don't even need reality, just some kind of show purporting to cover it. Oh wait...we're kind of there now, aren't we?

--Dave

11:02 AM  

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