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Did NBC Make Riley Its Host to Give NBA Telecasts a Face Lift?

Is NBC guilty of sexploitation?

That word was being thrown around in the late 1970s, when networks were hiring such people as Phyllis George and Cheryl Tiegs as sports commentators. They were just pretty faces, the critics said.

Well, this is the ‘90s, and the question now might be: Is Pat Riley merely another pretty face?

NBC, realizing that the former Laker coach would be on camera more if he worked as a studio host, surprisingly gave him that role.

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Riley has no experience as the host of a live TV show, and it’s not an easy job. He admitted he has a lot of mechanics to learn. Stepping into a commentator’s role no doubt would have been easier.

Riley has some experience as a commentator, although he told David Letterman Wednesday night that he mainly just said, “That’s right, Chick,” during his tenure as Chick Hearn’s partner.

However, Hearn, who should know, thinks Riley will be just fine as NBC’s NBA host.

“I really think he’ll do a remarkable job,” Hearn said Thursday. “Some things might be a little strange to him, but they’ll give him plenty of rehearsal time, and with his personality and appearance, he can’t miss.

“What they’ve got in Riley is a two-position player, someone who could be a commentator or a host.

“I will say that Riley has a tough act to follow. Pat O’Brien was the best I’ve ever seen, but that isn’t to say that Pat Riley couldn’t eventually be even better.”

One thing now clear is that Riley wasn’t kidding when he once told O’Brien, during a halftime interview, “I want to be you. I want your job.”

Add Riley: By making him the host, NBC may have created a sticky situation.

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The plan is to have two equal broadcasting teams. And Riley and Chuck Daly, as the commentators, would have been about as equal as possible.

But now Daly, if he accepts NBC’s offer to become a commentator, would clearly be No. 1 ahead of any other commentator.

So who would get him, Bob Costas or Marv Albert?

Last add Riley: At least all the media speculation that has been surrounding Riley will finally die down.

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The daily reports, the conflicting reports, sportscasters fighting over who scooped whom, the back-stabbing, the unnamed sources--it all got to be a little ridiculous.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Riley said from New York Wednesday. “Certain people in the media, I call them buzzards, just wouldn’t let the story die. It was incredible.”

Riley said that after a meeting with Laker owner Jerry Buss in February, he virtually decided that he wouldn’t be back as coach. He said the final decision was made about two weeks to 10 days before it was announced.

“Dr. Buss and I decided to wait to make the announcement until a new coach could be hired,” Riley said. “We had no idea all the fuss we would create.”

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What Buss and Riley learned was, with so much competition among the media these days, you can’t sit on a major announcement.

The basketball season may be over, but the sport is still on TV in a variety of forms.

The finals of the Coup de Hoop three-on-three competition among amateurs, taped last weekend in Venice, will be on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” Saturday.

And Monday at 6 p.m., the One-on-One Collegiate Challenge at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, N.J., will be shown on pay-per-view. The event is being carried by most cable systems, and the cost is $12.95. Some systems will charge $17.95 on Monday.

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The participants, all eligible for next Wednesday’s NBA draft, are Lionel Simmons, Gary Payton, Chris Jackson, Bo Kimble, Travis Mays, Bimbo Coles, Sean Higgins and Willie Burton, a late addition.

Burton, from Minnesota, replaces Syracuse’s Derrick Coleman, who was dropped after organizers were unable to reach him. Coleman’s advisers, however, say the player pulled out due to a dispute over insurance coverage.

The winner will earn $150,000.

The show also includes the finals of a national vertical-dunk contest, with a $50,000 first prize.

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The beginning height will be 10 feet 9 inches, and the basket will be raised after each round. The top qualifying height was 11-4.

Joey Johnson, the brother of Dennis Johnson of the Boston Celtics and a former Banning High star, won the L.A. regional competition with a height of 11-3.

Add one-on-one: Cynics might snicker, but Billy Packer, hired to be the color commentator, isn’t.

“If I were an NBA scout, I would pay attention,” he said. “This competition will show the raw skills of a player, plus what kind of competitor he is.”

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Packer, who will work with Maryland play-by-play announcer Johnny Holliday, picks Kimble to win the one-on-one competition.

“He’s strong enough to go inside, or he can hit from outside,” Packer said.

Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, which has posted odds on the event, made Simmons the 6-5 favorite, Payton the 2-1 second choice, Jackson 3-1 and Kimble 4-1.

Recommended viewing: Coverage of last year’s Escape From Alcatraz triathlon will be shown as a 90-minute special on NBC Sunday at noon. The GGP Sports-produced show is tremendous. It’s far more than just a sporting event.

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The host is Fred Roggin, who demonstrates his versatility. He serves as both an announcer of the race and as sort of a tour guide of the island, and handles both roles well.

The triathlon, a Bay Area event since 1981, begins with a grueling 1 1/4-mile swim from the island, followed by a 16-mile bike ride and a 13-mile run.

A record is set in the men’s race, and there’s a controversial finish in the women’s race.

Ratings game: First-round World Cup games were watched in an average of only 463,000 English-speaking homes nationwide. The 12 games on TNT averaged a 1.0 rating.

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Just about anything does better than that.

TV-Radio Notes

Attention, boxing fans: NBC will take a look at the greatest rounds of all time on the latest edition of “Sports Showcase” Saturday at 2 p.m. (1 p.m. in San Diego). . . . The USA network recently conducted a call-in poll, asking viewers what heavyweight fight they would like to see made. With nearly 5,000 viewers responding, 45% picked George Foreman-Mike Tyson, 40% selected Buster Douglas-Tyson, and only 15% wanted Douglas-Evander Holyfield.

The CBS baseball game Saturday at 10:15 a.m. is San Francisco at Houston, with Dick Stockton and Jim Kaat reporting. This will be the fourth Saturday in June, and the No. 1 announcers, Jack Buck and Tim McCarver, have yet to be seen in Los Angeles.

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SportsChannel’s World Basketball League telecast Saturday at 7:30 p.m. has Saskatchewan playing the Las Vegas Silver Streaks, who are owned by pay-per-view mogul Rick Kulis. The WBL is an international league of players 6-feet-5 and under. . . . The Boston Shootout, with eight all-star high school basketball teams from throughout the nation competing, will be televised by SportsChannel Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. both days. The Los Angeles team is led by Artesia’s Ed O’Bannon.

The Raiders announced that Jim Plunkett will be involved in KFI’s game-day coverage next season, joining Chris Roberts on the “Raider Talk” pregame and postgame shows. . . . The Nabisco Dinah Shore women’s golf tournament, scheduled for next March, has switched from NBC to ABC.

Tom Reilly, a producer of ESPN’s “SportsCenter” for 10 years, has been hired by Prime Ticket to work on its half-hour news show, set to begin on Oct. 1. He’ll report to Sol Steinberg, former Channel 4 sports producer. The plan is to use four anchorpersons, who have not yet been hired. . . . Bob Wheeler, ABC Sports publicity director, has left the network to take a similar position with the Prime Network, headquartered in Dallas. Prime Ticket is part of the Prime Network. . . . Pro beach volleyball stars Sinjin Smith and Randy Stoklos will appear on MTV’s “Awake on the Wild Side” program Monday at 8 a.m.


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