You couldn’t blame NBC commentator Magic Johnson for getting excited last Sunday when the Lakers, against all odds, won their second consecutive playoff game at Phoenix.
But some of the good folk of Phoenix thought Johnson got a little too excited, that he was showing bias toward his former team.
Johnson, before the Suns’ 101-86 victory over the Lakers in Game 4 of the series Thursday night, denied any bias, saying he was simply excited about what was taking place.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” Johnson said. “Before the series started, I said in the L.A. Times that the Suns would win, three games to one. Is that bias toward the Lakers?”
As for being critical of the Suns last weekend, Johnson said: “If I see something, I’m going to say it. When it’s playoff time, you’ve got to rise to the occasion, and I didn’t see that with the Suns in the first two games.
“They should have looked desperate in Game 2, but I didn’t see that in them. I was also critical of the Lakers when they looked disorganized in the third quarter.”
The one thing NBC asks of Johnson is that he be himself. The network does not want him to sit back and announce a game as a dispassionate observer.
Johnson, in his second year with NBC, admits he still needs to work on his English, but says that overall he is feeling more comfortable.
“Dick Enberg has taught me to relax and say whatever is on my mind,” Johnson said. “A lot of people at NBC have helped me, but Dick gets the most credit. I’ve learned so much from him. He’s the best of the best.”
Johnson has not been afraid to be critical, and said he’s heard things from players such as, “Hey, you dog me out.”
“That’s the way they say it,” Johnson said.
“I realize I may lose some friends. But if I lose them, I lose them. If they don’t realize that is my job, they weren’t my friends in the first place.
“If it wasn’t me criticizing them, there would be someone else in my place doing the same thing.”
Johnson, who says the first round of the playoffs has been the most exciting he can recall, will miss this weekend’s games. He heads for Europe today to play in exhibitions in Finland, the Netherlands and Belgium.
Johnson is playing with a U.S. team made up mostly of former NBA players, including Michael Cooper, Marques Johnson and Bob McAdoo. Two current players who are free agents, Kurt Rambis and Moses Malone, are also on the team.
“I’m really torn,” he said. “I want to go but I don’t want to go. These playoffs have been unbelievable, and I hate to miss them.”
It’s like old times around the Forum these days, and Chick Hearn, for one, couldn’t be happier.
During the season, Hearn said he kept having to tell himself, “Don’t lose the enthusiasm.” But it was tough.
“I kept wondering if we were in store for a series of bad years for the Lakers,” Hearn said. “But now I’m encouraged, I really am. I think this series has been a big turning point.
“I think Vlade Divac has shown he can be a force in this league, and the way Elden Campbell has played the past six weeks has been tremendous. With a good draft choice, I think the Lakers will be fine.”
Hearn said he has never heard the Forum as loud as it was for Game 3 Tuesday night.
One reason for the noise, he said, was that there were some new fans in the crowd.
“In the ‘80s, the season ticket-holders would always pick up their option to buy playoff tickets. This year, many didn’t, enabling the general public to buy playoff tickets, and the result was all that noise.”
The Lakers and Suns have also been a boon to TNT. Despite not being on until 10:30 in the East, Tuesday night’s game got a national cable rating of 4.6, the highest during the playoffs so far by a full rating point. Second highest was a 3.6 for two Charlotte-Boston telecasts. The first Chicago-Atlanta telecast got a 3.5.
Overall, TNT, through its first 13 NBA playoff telecasts, is averaging a 2.9, up from a 2.5 at the same juncture last year.
Complaints coming this way indicate that a number of cable systems have cut away from the end of TNT telecasts too early to black out local Laker and Clipper telecasts. Apparently, many cable subscribers missed the exciting conclusion of Wednesday night’s Charlotte-Boston game and the final seconds of New York’s overtime victory Thursday night over Indiana.
Come on, cable operators, get your act together and assign someone to make sure TNT telecasts don’t get interrupted when the game is on the line. That’s the kind of thing that gives the cable industry a black eye.
How embarrassing that KMPC, the Clippers’ flagship station, had to farm out the last two playoff games in order to carry regular-season Angel games. It should have been the other way around, considering the importance of these Clipper games.
The good thing, though, is that at least KMPC gave the games to KNX, which has a stronger signal than KMPC’s sister station, K-LITE.
NBC’s new four-year contract with the NBA includes a provision that would bar the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks from having their games televised by superstations WGN in Chicago and TBS in Atlanta, the New York Times reported Thursday. The NBA tried to reduce these telecasts from 25 to 20 games before the 1990-91 season, but the courts ruled the superstations were free to televise 30 games a season. Now, the NBA is trying to ban these telecasts altogether to protect the exclusivity of its national contracts.
These are good days for Prime Ticket, which carried the Lakers and Suns on Tuesday and Thursday and tonight has the Kings and Vancouver Canucks at 7:30. . . . Channel 13 did an outstanding job on the first four Clipper-Houston games, particularly Wednesday night when the station stayed with the excitement at the Sports Arena through the last three timeouts. Producer Dave Goetz, feature producer Heidi Palarz and associate producer Kim Meza deserve much of the credit for the slick look. Saturday’s game will be on NBC at 10 a.m., with Marv Albert and Mike Fratello reporting.
Ira Fistell, former KABC talk-show host and one of the most knowledgeable baseball people around, has been hired by XTRA to do a Sunday afternoon baseball show, beginning May 16. ESPN baseball commentator Dave Campbell will handle the first half of what will be called “Baseball Sunday,” from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with Fistell doing the second half from 1 to 4 p.m. XTRA also talked to Al Downing about doing the show, but Downing said the station didn’t offer enough money. . . . Ted Shaker, former executive producer of CBS Sports, has been hired by Sports Illustrated as a consultant as the magazine begins to explore television opportunities.
KMPC’s Jack Snow and the guy who threw all those passes to him, 1964 Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte, will be the featured guests at a Notre Dame alumni dinner next Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the Beverly Garland Hotel in North Hollywood. The public is invited. Details: (213) 382-5004. . . . What if they gave a Howard Cosell tribute and nobody came? According to what XTRA’s Chet Forte, a former ABC colleague, said on the air Thursday morning, that’s exactly why plans for a Cosell tribute have fallen by the wayside.
Programming snafu: Channel 4 will show this week’s edition of “This Week in Baseball” Saturday night/Sunday morning at 3 a.m., so set the VCR. This week’s show features a behind-the-scenes look at Bobby Bonilla and Barry Bonds when they recently served as co-hosts of VH-1’s “Top 21 Countdown.” The show will also have a Mother’s Day special featuring Ken Griffey, Brian McRae and Bonds, who are better known for having famous fathers. . . . Attention soccer fans: The 112th English FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday will be televised live on pay-per-view on Saturday, May 15, at 7 a.m. by some Southern California cable systems. The suggested price: $14.95.
The big pay-per-view event this weekend is the boxing tripleheader from the Mirage in Las Vegas--Julian Jackson vs. Gerald McClellan, Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Terrence Alli and Lennox Lewis vs. Tony Tucker. Generally when there’s a multi-fight show on pay-per-view, it means there isn’t a single fight big enough to carry the program. In this case, though, the Jackson-McClellan fight, the first one on the 6 p.m. card, should be a good one. Asked to compare this card with the June 7 Tommy Morrison-George Foreman pay-per-view fight, commentator Ferdie Pacheco, who will work the telecast with Al Albert and Bobby Czyz, said: “This is a legitimate show. The other is a sham.”